The Big, Not so Bad Wolf By Trish Jackson

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.

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.

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8 thoughts on “The Big, Not so Bad Wolf By Trish Jackson

  1. Trish Jackson

    I recently spoke with a woman who went to a wolf sanctuary in NY where they camped with the wolves and everyone was told to howl, and the wolves howled back. Gives me goosebumps just imagining it.

  2. Clayton Bye

    I enjoyed your piece Trish, but one must remember that most widely held beliefs have some truth to them. I believe it is right, when in the wolf’s domain, to hold onto a respectful fear. Wolves are ferocious predators–and a man is a lot smaller than an elk. I learned this lesson while living in the arctic, where every time I was outdoors I was hunted by wolves (or at times threatened by polar bears). In fact the wolves were so serious about their pursuit, that in the dark season, anyone going more than a few feet to the next building was required to take a loaded rifle with them. I remember the lesson well enough, along with the one where I accidentally got between a momma bear and her cubs, that it is wise to carry a rifle when walking in the northern woods where I now live.

    1. Trish Jackson

      Clayton you are SO right. All wild animals are potentially dangerous, and one must always understand that predators are predators. They hunt for food, and if humans looks like food they will hunt them. I just found it strange that the leaders of the boy scouts are not afraid of bears or cougars thinking the kids are prey. Have you written about your experiences in Arctic? I’d love to know more.

  3. Micki Peluso

    Thankks, Trish. I love wolves and read everything I can about them. I know of people who keep them as pets, or rather equals, by becoming one of the pack. I also heard that like gorillas, if you submit to them, they may not attack … unless extremely hungry or with youngsters to feed.

  4. John B. Rosenman

    A wonderful post, Trish. And the video ain’t bad either. Trees quintuple in height and all those species that return because of the wolves’ return. The positive change in the rivers is also impressive. Yes, you have to be careful with wolves, just like you do with many other animals. Still, wolves have gotten a bad rap. The Big Bad Wolf association is part of the problem, and many of us pick it up in childhood. There’s also bad PR from the movies. I loved the movie Grey, but wolves should bring a class action suit against it.

    Your discussion of the class structure of wolves is enlightening. So an Alpha female is at the head? Sounds like one way in which they’re more advanced than humans!


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