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The Big, Not so Bad Wolf By Trish Jackson

wolves
I recently saw a post on Facebook bemoaning the fact that more gray wolves are being re-introduced to the federal forest lands in Arizona and New Mexico. The article went on to say that the Boy Scout groups would now have to re-think their camping operations in those areas for fear of wolves attacking the children. Really? They don’t mind the mountain lions (known to attack humans) or bears (known to attack humans), but are afraid of wolves. While wolves have attacked humans in the US, they are definitely not the only danger, and I can only think the fears are because humans are conditioned from the time they are very young to be afraid of the big bad wolf.

If anyone took the time to educate themselves about wolves, they would be surprised to find out what structured, intelligent and fascinating creatures they are. A pack is usually made up of 10 or fewer members. Every member within the pack has a specific title and rank, and somehow they all know their designated tasks and how the hierarchy is supposed to work.

Rank order is established and maintained through a series of ritualized fights and posturing, and by psychological means. High-ranking status is more often than not determined more on personality and attitude than on size or physical strength. At the top is the alpha female, and then her mate—collectively the alpha pair—who are usually monogamous except when they are closely related to one another, in which case the female may choose to mate with a lower ranked male instead. The alphas have the most freedom, and are the most likely to breed, but are not always the only ones.

Second in charge is a beta wolf, or wolves, whose duty is to protect the alphas, and they are often more aggressive and larger in size or stronger than the others below them. Others in the pack range in age. The females help take care of the cubs, while the males hunt. The Omega wolf is the lowest ranked, and may be designated as ‘nanny’ to the youngest cubs.

Wolves are social animals and a lone wolf is one that has most likely been exiled from a pack and is in search of a new pack.

Wolves, like dogs, communicate through a variety of specialized sounds, howls, growls, grunts, whines and barks, and body language like standing tall with the tail up or hunching down and pulling the tail between their legs. They use eye-contact and facial expressions to show emotions—baring teeth, pointing ears forward showing dominance, and closed mouths, slit eyes and pulled back ears indicating submission.

Howling is not unique to the wolf, but the wolf howl can be heard up to six miles away, and anyone who has ever heard it knows what a distinctive and haunting sound it is. Alpha wolves usually have a lower pitched howl, and it seems there is no one particular reason for howling.

Here’s the most interesting fact for me. Wolves have played an incredible part in the environment in areas where they have been re-introduced, particularly Yellowstone Park, where they were introduced in 1995 after 70 years of absence. They hunt together as a pack, and as such, are a formidable opponent and are able to take down large animals like elk. Researchers believe that wolves may help mitigate the impact of climate change, and have documented how they have actually caused the rivers in Yellowstone to stabilize and become healthier. This is partially because they keep grazing animals like elk on the move, which has allowed certain plants to recover and not be totally destroyed, thus curbing erosion. This video on youtube explains how they have changed the rivers in Yellowstone and benefited coyotes, bald eagles, golden eagles, black bears, ravens, magpies, red foxes and more than 20 other species. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q

wolfNeedless to say, the wolf’s greatest enemy is man, and will continue to be until humans are educated about them. Please share this article to help spread the word.

Trish Jackson writes romantic suspense thrillers and romantic comedy, and loves to include fictional animals that are not limited to dogs in her stories. http://www.trishjackson.com