Few species have captivated humans, for better and for worse, quite as much as wolves; however, many of the things we associate with them are factually untrue. This week, October 21–27 is the 5th Wolf Awareness Week celebrated across the U.S. offers an opportunity to celebrate and educate ourselves about these magical creatures.
Until recently, wolves were almost eliminated in the U.S. because of hunting and other predator control programs. Unfortunately, like many animals, it is their relationship to humans that allows them to be either protected or wiped out. Now more than ever, it’s important to recognize wolves as essential souls in our ecosystem, thanks in part to Yellowstone’s efforts.
Many of the archetypal images we have of wolves come from outdated and uninformed sources, in honor of WAW (I'm not sure if they actually use that acronym or not), here are some common myths about wolves ripe for debunking:
1) “Alpha” dog or “leader of the pack”
This turned out to be a misnomer that still exists today and I believe perpetuated many of the myths about wolves and their aggressive nature. A leading wolf researcher from the 1960s, David Mech, coined the phrase “alpha wolf” and then came out several years later retracting his research, his statement is below:
“The concept of the alpha wolf is well ingrained in the popular wolf literature at least partly because of my book "The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species," …despite my numerous pleas to the publisher to stop publishing it…We have learned more about wolves in the last 40 years than [sic] in all of previous history. One of the outdated pieces of information is the concept of the alpha wolf. "Alpha" implies competing with others and becoming top dog by winning a contest or battle. However, most wolves who lead packs achieved their position simply by mating and producing pups, which then became their pack. In other words they are merely breeders, or parents…”
To me, the wolves are the priestesses and parents of the woods--their hierarchy based on connection and breeding, not competition. Wolf packs are often led by a male and female wolf who have mated, it’s not that hierarchy or dominance doesn’t exist in packs, but it is more of a family dynamic rather than one determined by fighting.
2) Lone wolf or outsider
In the wild, wolves aren’t alone for long, they need a pack to survive. In modern times, this phrase has been used to describe those who commit terrorist attacks. Somehow the idea of someone not fitting in, being just cause for committing heinous crimes. If I were a wolf, I would be very offended. Wolves are highly social animals who value interdependence and aren’t able to survive long by themselves.
Most wolfpacks hunt in groups of four and without a group aren’t able to kill an elk, except for one in Yellowstone, my idol Female 06, but more on her some other time. Lone wolves die in the wild, they don’t leave the pack because they didn’t fit in. Usually it's because as many wolf pups get older, they leave the pack in search of their own or to create one. Some studies showed that while unrelated adult wolves live together in captivity, that isn’t the case in the wild packs are created as families.
3) Wolves are dangerous to humans and livestock
Wolves have been portrayed as being predatory as hunters for sport and killers of livestock and people. This misnomer has made killing and hunting of them more justified. Though simple research reveals this is simply not true. Wild wolves are afraid of people and more people and only dangerous if they become habituated or domesticated with them. According TWA, n the past 100 years only 2 people have died from healthy wolves, whereas 50 cases of death by black bears and 30 every year by dogs.
The impact on livestock has been a major reason given for create hunting programs, though the numbers show it is very minimal. While the first response is to kill a wolf, though a recent documentary The Trouble With Wolves, highlights that domesticated livestock lose their ability to protect themselves. In the film a rancher couple explains how they trained their cattle to move more in herds making them less susceptible to attacks.
Below are a few of my favorite ways to support the misunderstood world of wolves (tell me more!!!):
Sponsor/adopt a wolf:
Visit a sanctuary:
Donate to conservation/education:
Please tell me more recommendations!