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Endangered: Understanding Wolves

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Endangered: Understanding Wolves
Roxanne Green
Devry University
Cynthia Pengilly
April 10, 2011

Understanding the wolf and their ways of life is the key to saving these animals from extinction. Throughout time people have killed wolves out of fear, because they want their fur, or because they have lost livestock to a wolf. Fear comes from not knowing, not understanding the wolf and their life. Loss of livestock happens because people take over the wolves land and territory, killing off the wolf’s prey and introducing livestock. By education people can become familiar with the ways of the wolf and help this very important animal from becoming extinct.

Endangered: Understanding Wolves The beauty of a wolf is breath taking; they are fascinating creatures that will set fear in most people. They have been the center of attention in myths, legends, and folklores creating a relationship that is not only ancient but complex between humans and the wolf. Wolves are social predators that live in families and they develop packing orders. The wolf is the largest member of the canine family. At one time they lived in large areas in North American, Europe, and Asia. The most common threat and source of death for the wolf has been people. Over time they have been hunted so much that they are now near extinction. Wolves are feared animals; they are misunderstood, people want their fur, and complaints of livestock being killed by wolves are leading these animals to extinction at the hands of humans.
Why Are Wolves Feared?
The history of a relationship between wolves and people date back to ancient times. With stories such as Little Red Riding Hood or The Three Little Pigs, all which the wolf plays the villain, people have learned to fear them. There are legends made up about wolf encounters dating back thousands of years stating that people were turning into wolf-people and attacking others. It was once said that wolves would wait and sabotage people, attacking and killing them (Ellis, S., & Sloan, M. 2006). In the eyes of humans wolves are always notorious, and stories almost always come to a bad end. Kids are taught at a young age to fear wolves because they are dangerous and mean animals. So there from our very childhood we start misunderstanding the wolf and their social life, conditioned to fear them. Reports of wolf attacks on people, livestock, and pets have people scared of these animals. In all actuality these occurrences are rare, as reported by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, only 20-30 attacks were reported during the 100 years of the 20th century, 3 of them being fatal due to rabies. For comparison, fatal brown bear attacks were at 71 during this same time (NINR, 2002). If a wolf attacks a human it may be for the following reasons; disease such as rabies, extreme hunger, in a controlled setting such as a zoo or refuge a attendant being attacked or in other rare instance of a wolf that is overly aggressive, and lastly a person that has walked into an area where a wolf has just made a fresh kill. In controlled settings such as zoos there are documented attacks on humans, the reason behind these attacks is because the captive wolves do not have the learned fear of humans as do wolves in the wild. The wolves’ predatory instincts kick in and unfortunately it is the human zookeepers that are attacked (Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 2011). Attacks in the wild happen but not nearly as often as other wild animal attacks. Not only is this fear superficial, but unnecessary for the sake of the wolf. It is not the wolf’s nature to attack humans, it is however their nature to shy away. This shyness that a wolf demonstrates has given the wolf a mystical reputation (Menatory, 2005). In that they are shy, they are also curious and that is the reason that people see wolves sniffing around, examining and investigating new and unknown things in their environment. Unfortunately, what people don’t understand people will fear and what they fear, they will destroy. That is why it is important to for people to gain knowledge and understanding of the wolf and spread this information so that wolves can be saved.
Understanding the Wolf and Their Ways
Wolves should be respected and understood. They have a complex social life; they dislike solitude and require a pack to live well. The average size of a pack is usually 8-12, but can vary in size based on the location and availability of resources. Within the pack a very difficult and complex structure exists. The structure is pyramidal: at the apex is the Alpha pair, followed by the Beta pair, then come the clan’s adult members in varying degrees of submission (Menatory, oodH
2005). The alpha pair leads the pack; they are not necessarily the largest wolves in the pack. They are the decision makers; they decide how to protect their pack and territory. They are generally the only pair that will mate. The betas are generally the biggest and boldest of the pack. They are the disciplinarians of the pack; they enforce the rules passed down by the alpha pair. The lower pack members are known as the mid-ranking wolves. The primary role of the lower ranking wolves is to cause an illusion of being more wolves in the pack than there actually are. This is a way of protection and to help defend their territory. The pack also includes the hunters, the nannies and the omegas. The omegas are responsible for defusing tension within the pack, they are essential for the survival of the pack. Some wolves are chased out of the pack, forced to live in solitude, why this happens is still not understood (Ellis, S., & Sloan, M. 2006). For those wolves forced to live outside the pack life becomes very difficult. A lone wolf does not have the protection of the pack; they become targets of humans and other predatory animals. A wolf’s strength is in its pack without the pack they are likely to die. Wolves communicate in many different ways. They can be seen showing their teeth as a sign of dominance or lowering their heads as a sign of respect to a more dominant wolf. Wolves display their position within the social order by the position of their head. Intimidation is often used by a higher ranking wolf to gain a demonstration of respect from lower wolves, sometimes resulting in a growl if the intimidation fails to work. Vocal communication is a large area of communication for wolves. They use different whines, yips, yaps, growls and howls to communicate with the pack (Harrington, F.H., 2000). Another source of communication amongst wolves is the position of the ears, upright and forward demonstrates respect for a higher ranking wolf. Scent marking is a source of communication used by male and female wolves. Wolves identify each other by the smell as easily as they do by appearance. Alpha wolves are inclined to consume the best part of a kill which results in their smell being stronger than lower ranking wolves. Marking is also used to defend the wolves’ territory from other packs. Marking is also used during mating season for wolves locating mates for the first time (Menatory, 2005).
Wolves naturally are inclined to create ties of affection with other wolves; they are very social animals forming very strong bonds between others. Wolves form a monogamous relationship for their entire life (Ellis, S., & Sloan, M. 2006). They will mate only with their partner until one or both die. The loss of a partner is known to devastate the other partner and a wolf can be seen mourning the loss. This monogamy helps prevent a large increase in population but also hinders the attempts of bringing this animal back from the brinks of extinction. Wolves can regulate the births to suit the space available and the number of members in the pack so that they will all eat regularly (Menatory, 2005). The regulation is set to the reproduction by one pair, the alpha pair. The social behavior and communication between pack members during mating season is very interesting. Postures are exaggerated – aggression, fear, boldness, and submission – as well as the general behavior are increased by the excitement. Males are not always the dominant one in the mating ritual, females can be the dominant one pursuing the mating. Not all mating attempts are successful. Females younger than two years old, are not sexually mature and cannot conceive, nor is it allowed within a pack for her to mate. Males are not sexually mature until they are around three years of age. Because of their inexperience at the time of mating they often lose their right to mate until they become stronger and more experienced (Menatory, 2005). This reproduction cycle is one reason wolves have had a very difficult time recovering from the mass attacks brought against them by humans. Because wolves are only able to reproduce once a year and after a certain age their numbers have decreased greatly in the wild.
A wolf cub is born blind and deaf. They do have terrific sense of touch and taste and their balance is excellent. At approximately three days the cubs are stumbling around their den returning to their mother for milk and warmth. Wolf cubs open their eyes around ten days, enabling them to explore and discover the world around them. At about 15 days old they get their teeth allowing them to chew. At this point the mother wolf realizes there is nothing that she can do and she will take the body and bury it. In some cases if a wolf cub is ill the mother will end its suffering (Ellis, S., & Sloan, M. 2006). Wolf cubs like dogs are nursed for approximately six weeks; the wolf cubs are protected jealously by the mother. Once the cubs are weaned the mother wolf looks to other female wolves to nanny her cubs while she hunts. All of the pack is involved in protecting these cubs and stay very close to the den. The pack also feeds the cubs; the adults will regurgitate part of their last meal and offer it to the cub. Wolves are very playful with the cubs, playing several times daily. These games are forming the cubs hunting and socialization skills within the pack. The life of the pack is consumed with the needs of the cubs as well as educating them, this is essential for future success of the pack and the wolf species. The most crucial time of the wolf cubs’ life is the first six to nine months. Unfortunately, many do not survive because of starvation, human persecution, or loss to predators such as bears. People are responsible for the largest number of wolf cub deaths from hunting, poisoning, or general loss of wolf habitat.
Why Are Wolves Hunted?
Wolves have been and continue to be hunted for a number of different reasons. Over in Europe wolves were hunted to near extinction for their furs. Wolf furs were used to make coats, mittens, cloaks, blankets, and various other things. 6,000-7,000 wolf pelts are traded internationally every year. It takes approximately 10-15 wolves for a fur coat to be made. Each year more than 50 million animals are killed for their fur, for humans’ pleasure (Humane Society of the United States, 2011). Wolf hunts are organized now for the mere sport of killing a wolf. Organized wolf hunts in two states, Montana and Idaho, have been given the approval by a federal judge to reduce the wolf population by 20% (Associated Press, 2009).The fur being the trophy is taken by the hunters and the rest of the animal thrown away.
As people settle into new areas closing in on the wolves’ natural habitat, their food supply begins to run off. People set up farms, ranches, homesteads, housing developments, etc., in areas that wolves have lived for many years. With the developing and construction this chases off most wildlife, which leaves the wolf with barely anything to hunt. That is until the cows, sheep, goats, chickens, and all the other farm animals are brought to the land. These animals are now the only thing the wolf has to eat as their normal prey ran away as a result of all the noise and construction from the new people moving in. In situations such as this a wolf will kill livestock or pets. Livestock attacks are not as common as many think, in fact they are rare. Wolves will attack livestock or domestic animals if they are starving and there is no other prey around.
Other reasons the wolf is hunted goes back to early statements of the fear people have of them. People fear the wolf because they do not understand them; because they don’t understand they fear them and what they fear they destroy. Organized wolf hunts have been going on for years. In Alaska they legalized the hunting of wolves with the use of helicopters. Is that really a fair hunt; is it really a hunt at all? I would say not, these types of hunts are slaughters. These hunters are going in with only the intention on killing these large misunderstood animals because of fear.
The key to saving a very important animal is to understand them. Wolves are a very important element in the balance of nature. They help control over population of many wild animals such as rodents, deer, elk, and many others. Wolves at one time were in abundance in North America, however in the lower 48 states only about 3000 are alive today. Wolves will continue to be feared unless someone takes the time to educate people in the areas in which wolves live. With this fear comes devastation, as these animals will be killed off in great numbers by the organized hunting that is allowed by state governments. The wolf cannot possibly recover from these organized hunting sessions. If something is not done these beautiful animals will be slaughtered to extinction. Ranchers will continue to poison and shoot these animals unless they are given the information needed to help them to understand how to avoid livestock attacks. People need to be informed about the basics of wolves and that there is no reason to fear them, just respect them and their territory. Wolves fear people far more than people fear them. They are important we need to take the time to listen and learn about the wolf.

Associated Press (2009, September). Federal judge says gray wolf hunts can continue. Retrieved April 3, 2011 from
Ellis, S., & Sloan, M. (2006). Spirit of The Wolf. New York: Parragon Publishing.
Hamashige, H. (2010, October). National Geographic News. Wolves to Be Hunted if Removed From U.S. Endangered List. Retrieved April 3, 2011 from
Harrington, F.H. (2000, November). What’s in a Howl? Retrieved March 20, 2011, from
Humane Society of the United States (2011). Infurmation – Facts About Fur Trade. Retrieved April 3, 2011, from
Linnell, J.D.C, Anderson, R., Andersone, Z., Balciauskas, L., Blanco, J.C., Boitani, L., Brainerd, S., Beitenmoser, U., Kojola, I., LIberg, O., Loe, J., Okarma, H., Pedersen, H.C., Promberger, C., Sand, H., Solberg, E.J., Valdmann, H., Wabakken, P., Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (2002, January). The Fear of wolves: A review of wolf attacks on humans. Retrieved April 10, 2011 from
Menatory, A. (2005). The art of being a Wolf. New York: Barnes & Noble Books
National Wildlife Federation. Wildlife Library-Gray Wolf (2011). Retrieved March 19,2011, from
Smithsonian National Zoological Park. North America Facts Gray Wolf (2011). Retrieved March 20, 2011, from
Wyoming Wildlife. Wild Times(2003). Retrieved April 3, 2011, from

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