Monday, June 18, 2012

Wolves Don't Attack Humans … Really?

You might be forgiven for thinking that wolves raised in captivity from birth, and habituated to contact with humans on a regular basis, should be like pet dogs. Big, beautiful, impressive, lovable pet dogs.

In fact, of all the animals who have ever lived in our family, the one I remember with greatest fondness is a Malamute-Lab-Wolf mix who became my constant companion when outdoors. We raised him from a puppy so small I could hold him in the palm of my hand. I've never known a more non-territorial, gentle, loving animal who was friends to everyone and everything that walked by. He loved the snow (Malamute), loved to play in the water (Lab), and would sing with me a favorite Wolf song when the moon came up. He lived with us for 11 years, until he became ill. His final act of compassion for me was that he, in typical wild animal style, went off to die by himself — and in spite of my 2-day search for him, remained hidden from view. I never did find his final resting place, and I wept as if I had lost a child. Still today, I have momentary fantasies about him showing up at the doorstep, having found his way home.

I mention all this only to convince you that I am not prejudiced against wolves. I believe they are among the most magnificent canines on the planet. Still and all, a wolf is a wolf. And there are folks who make it their pseudo-religion to believe that wolves simply do not attack humans. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Wolves DO attack humans, sometimes killing them. But so do Pitbulls and German Shepherds and other large domesticated breeds. Horses sometimes attack and kill humans, so do bovines that are raised by and habituated to people.

So the point of all this is not to single out the wolf as a particularly deadly animal — but only to put to rest the myth that wolves do no attack and kill humans.

In point of fact, just yesterday a female zookeeper was attacked and killed by wolves at a wildlife park in Sweden. These wolves had been raised in the park since birth and were in contact with humans on a routine basis. The keeper was a longtime employee and had worked with this particular group of wolves since they were born. So they knew her, and she knew them, and was experienced in working with them.

It's not clear yet what prompted the attack. All that is known is that she entered the compound to "maintain contact with the wolves," and was found dead later with evidence pointing to wolf attack.

With wild wolf proliferation on the rise in the American west, the issue must be raised about the safety of humans in wolf habitat. If wolves that have been raised since birth in the company of humans will attack and kill their keepers, what are wild wolves capable of?

Maybe this can put to rest the ridiculous myth that wolves don't attack humans. Farley Mowat was evidently not working with (or perhaps didn't care about) complete knowledge of the facts when he wrote Never Cry Wolf — a book that leans on the philosophy of "never let the facts get in the way of truth." Unfortunately, the facts don't substantiate his version of the truth.

For us, the lesson should be that when you're in wolf country (or bear or cougar country), you're in their house. Don't underestimate them — or any other wild animal (you should see what a moose can do when he takes a dislike to you). Respect these animals, understand that they are wild and likely view you as an uninvited intruder in their world. Be able to protect yourself, if necessary.

1 comment:

  1. Marie and I got a husky with some wolf in her when we lived in Montana before I moved here. She was mostly husky so was more hyper than wolf. She could sure jerk me off my bike if she decided to go a different direction.

    Anyway, we went to a presentation by some folks with a wolf, and a husky, it was okay with them for the most part but it damn sure didn't want anything to do with the rest of us.

    For us, the lesson should be that when you're in wolf country (or bear or cougar country), you're in their house. Don't underestimate them.

    It's like living with a woman. :-)