WOLVES, HUMANS AND LIVESTOCK

WOLVES AND HUMANS

Wolves are generally shy and unapproachable around humans. When two species come in contact, wolves often adopt a submissive posture. But in rare occasions they have become habituated enough to the presence of humans that they have left the pups unattended while humans are near.

People interested in befriending a wolf are advised to lie on their back and assume a subordinate position. Some scientists believe that wolves find the normal standing positions of humans to be threatening. Humans have traditionally built campfires to keep wolves away.

Scientists study wolves by examining wolf dropping for fur, bones and patches of hide to determine what they are eating and by tracking them, specially on the snow. They determine sex by urination postures. Scientists track their movement with radio collars. They attach the collars after trapping the wolves or subduing them with tranquilizer darts. After some time the batteries in the collars wear out and have to be replaced and the wolves have to be trapped, tranquilized and re-collared.

No reports of children raised by wolves (i.e. Romulus and Remus), werewolves and wolfmen have even been substantiated. "And wolves do not howl at the moon," William Stevens wrote in the New York Times, "Howling is a means by which competing packs warn each other of their presence and, within the pack, of bonding socially; group howling sometimes seems to be something like a community sing."

Tips on Avoiding Trouble with Wolves

According to Western Wildlife Outreach: “Wolves avoid humans, but encounters sometimes occur when humans and wolves use the same habitat. Wolves that approach people, buildings, livestock, or domestic dogs are either habituated to humans, unhealthy, wolf-dog hybrids, or former captive animals. Wolf-dog hybrids can be especially dangerous because they lack the shyness of wild wolves. Even though wild wolves rarely threaten human safety, they are wild animals that should be respected and never approached.[Source: Western Wildlife Outreach westernwildlife.org ***]

At your home or ranch: 1) Never let wolves become comfortable around you or your home, or they may lose their fear of people. 2) Never feed wolves or other wildlife. 3) Garbage can attract wolves and other wildlife. Keep garbage in a secure location. 4) Do not leave any food outside, including scraps, pet food, or livestock feed. When possible, feed animals inside. 5) Keep dogs under supervision. Wolves can be highly territorial toward other canids. 6) Wolves can be scavengers, so bury dead livestock and pets. ***

While camping, hiking, and hunting: 1) Never feed, approach, or allow wolves to come near, or they may lose their fear of people. 2) Stay away from fresh wolf kills, dens, and rendezvous sites. 3) Keep a clean and orderly camp. Cook and store food away from sleeping areas. Suspend food, toiletries, garbage and other loose objects on a rope between trees, or in secured kayak hatches, out of reach of wildlife. Wolves have been reported removing personal and other non-food items from campsites. 4) Do not bury garbage. If you pack it in – pack it out! 5) Wash dishes in a container and dispose of grey water. 6) Near the coast use areas below high tide mark, away from camp, in an area of high tidal exchange for toilets – do not use the upland areas, wolves will feed on human excrement. 7) Keep dogs on leash to avoid encounters. If you encounter a wolf, make the dog heel next to you immediately. Standing between the dog and the wolf often ends the encounter, but never try to break up a fight between a wolf and a dog. 8) If hunting with dogs, put bells or beepers on your dogs to keep close track of them. Keep dogs under your control at all times and put dogs on leash if you see fresh wolf signs. ***

In your community: 1) Remind your neighbors to never feed wolves and other wildlife. 2) Promote the reduction of potential wolf food sources in and around your community. 3) Notify authorities about wolves that seem comfortable around people, seek human food, or frequent human areas. Early intervention can keep a problem from getting worse. ***

Humans Killing Wolves

Wolves have been killed by humans with rifles, poison, den digging and traps. Bounties used to be offered for killing them. In some places they are hunted from helicopters. Humans kill wolves for three main reasons: 1) fear that the wolves will attack people or eat children; 2) fear that wolves will attack and eat livestock such as sheep and cattle; and 3) for sport.

The main reason that wolves have become extinct in some areas is ranchers have retaliated for the loss of their livestock. A Norwegian farmer told the Los Angeles Times, "There's really no way to compromise with wolves and sheep. They can't exist together. Despite evidence to the contrary, hunters believe that wolves kill game and prized hunter dogs. Most evidence show that hunters usually kill far more hunting digs than wolves.

Wolf Hunting

Wolves are hunted from helicopters, using blinds, with poison and employing a number of different kinds of traps including knife traps, trapping pits and steel wolf traps. In old days wolfhounds and horses were used in Russia, Calling is a traditional wolf hunting method of Mongolia. The hunters go to the place where the pack is located early in the morning and will imitate a wolf's howl. The hunters howl in unison with the wolves and wait for the animals to come to them. Mongolian wolf hunting is usually done with the assistance of local herders. The use of gold eagles in the hunting of wolf pups has been practised in Central Asia by the Kyrgyz people. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Wolves are usually hunted in heavy brush and are considered especially challenging to hunt, because of their elusive nature and sharp senses.Grey wolves are notoriously shy and difficult to kill, having been stated to be almost as hard to stalk as cougars, and being far more problematic to dispatch with poison, traps or hounds. However, wolves generally do not defend themselves as effectively as cougars or bears. Some wolves will evade capture for very long periods of time and display great cunning. One specimen nicknamed "Three Toes of Harding County" in South Dakota eluded its pursuers for 13 years before finally being caught. Another wolf nicknamed "Rags the digger" near Meeker, Colorado would deliberately ruin trap lines by digging up traps without tripping them. +

In sport hunting, wolves are usually taken in late autumn and early winter, when their pelts are of the highest quality and because the heavy snow makes it easier for the wolves to be tracked. Adult wolves are usually too fast to be overtaken by wolfhounds, but not for well conditioned horses, especially in thick snow. A shot wolf must be approached with caution, as some wolves will play possum. Accounts as to how wolves react to being trapped or cornered vary. John James Audubon wrote that young wolves typically show little resistance to being caught, whereas older, more experienced wolves will fight savagely. +

Wolves and Livestock

When natural prey is wiped out wolves sometimes turn to livestock and even at animals like dogs and cats as sources of food. Wolves have killed a lot of livestock, which are easy pickings compared to normal prey. They are particularly fond of sheep because sheep are slow, easy to kill and don't put up much of a defense.

Wolf kills generally make up a very small percentage of overall livestock deaths. They are more likely to be killed by blizzards or drought, for example. The amount of livestock killed by wolves remains miniscule in comparison to livestock killed by dogs. The only animal to kill more livestock than domestic dogs in the U.S. are coyotes. Shepherds have traditionally used large fierce dogs to keep wolves away from their flocks.

To prevent livestock depredation Western Wildlife Outreach recommends the following: 1) At night, use range riders or dogs with cattle and herders or dogs with sheep. 2) Remove sick or injured livestock. 3) Delay cattle turnout until after calves are born and weigh at least 200 pounds and after elk calves/deer fawns are born. 4) Avoid areas near wolf dens and wolf rendezvous sites during spring and summer. 5) Use permanent or portable fencing, including electric fencing. [Source: Western Wildlife Outreach westernwildlife.org]

Study of Wolves and Livestock

Washington State University researchers who published their research in PLOS One found that when wolves were killed one year, more livestock were killed by wolves in the next. Marissa Fessenden wrote in Smithsonian.com: “The researchers looked at the number of wolves killed as well as the number ofcattle and sheep killed by wolves (called depredation) over a period of 25 years in Montana and 17 years in Idaho and Wyoming. (Wolf hunts are currently allowed in Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Minnesota but on hold in Wyoming.) For each wolf killed the previous year, the odds of depredation increased by 4 percent for sheep and 5 to 6 percent for cattle. [Source:Marissa Fessenden, Smithsonian.com, December 12, 2014 /=\]

“Of course, when many wolves are killed, that story changes. When more than 25 percent of wolves in the area were killed, livestock kills also went down. However, the researchers point out that 25 percent is the magic number because it exceeds the rate of wolf population growth. At that rate of wolf killing, all the wolves would quickly disappear. Those numbers might seem like a straightforward argument against wolf hunts, but the story gets more complicated. The researchers don’t know exactly why the statistics shake out this way. /=\

The lead author of the study, WSU biologist Rob Wielgus, explains one hypothesis in Rich Landers blog for The Spokesman-Review: “Wielgus said wolf killings likely disrupt the social cohesion of the pack. While an intact breeding pair will keep young offspring from mating, disruption can set sexually mature wolves free to breed, leading to an increase in breeding pairs. As they have pups, they become bound to one place and can’t hunt deer and elk as freely. Occasionally, they turn to livestock.” /=\

The inspiration for this explanation is that approximately 5 percent increase in depredation matched up with a 5 percent increase in breeding pairs for each wolf killed, reports ABC News. Similar research on livestock killed by bears and cougars also backs it up. Seattle-based KUOW reports that a better strategy might be to use non-lethal control measures like guard dogs, light and sounds that deter wolves. "It really underscores the need to prevent conflict between wolves and livestock in the first place," Chase Gunnell, of the advocacy group Conservation Northwest, told reporter Courtney Flatt.

Wolves, Folk Stories and Fairy Tales

Wolves were featured in Aesop's fables, which date to around 500 B.C., and the Romulus and Remus story about the founding of Rome. Many famous fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Pigs feature wolves. The predators have also shown up in Paleolithic drawings and ancient ceremonies of tribes in Russia, Japan and the Pacific coast of America. There are thousands of stories involving wolves in countries and culture all over the world.

The medieval Book of Beasts said the devil "bears the largest similitude of a wolf, he who is always looking over the human race with his evil eye, and darkly prowling the sheepfolds of the faithful." In modern lexicon wolves are aggressive men who harass women and the wolf whistle is their call. There are also the "wolf in sheep's clothing," the werewolf, the "lone wolf," a "wolf pack" of submarines and countless others.

Wolves are one of the animals capable of killing men that have come in frequent contact with people in northern latitudes, where all these stories originate. The reason why wolves pop up so often in stories may have something to with their howls or attacks by rabid wolves or wolf-dog hybrids. Willa Cather wrote a story about Russian wolves that pursued a sleigh until a bridal couple was thrown off to appease them.

Wolf Totem

The novel “Wolf Totem” has been one of the best selling books in China in recent years and won the Man Asian Literature Prize. Written by Jiang Ring, a former Red Guard who spent much of the 1970s in Inner Mongolia, it is about a man much like the author who is sent to Inner Mongolia to teach the herdsmen there. During his stay he is the one who receives an education--about life on the steppe, especially wolves who are despised for killing the herdsmen's animals but are revered. Central episodes include adoption of a wolf cub by the main character and a ferocious battle between a starving wolf pack and a herd of wild horses. The book has also recently been translated into English by Howard Goldblatt.

Howard Y. F. Choy of Wittenberg University wrote: “Wolf Totem became a cultural sensation in China when it was published in 2004---a flashpoint for historical, spiritual, and cultural concerns. Although Jiang Rong intended his debut novel as a political fable to appeal for freedom and popular elections, it has often been regarded in commercial circles as a business handbook for the practice of wolf wisdom in market competition. As a cultural phenomenon, its wolf symbolism is as celebrated as it is controversial: it critiques Confucianism in light of militarism, calls for environmental protection and sustainability according to the law of the jungle (or, in Jiang Rong's own term, “grassland logic”), and advocates “peaceful” survival of the fittest through territorial expansion and a renewed space race." [Source: Howard Y. F. Choy of Wittenberg University, MCLC Resource Center Publication , April 2009]

“Jiang Rong is a pseudonym of Lü Jiamin, a former political science professor and democracy activist jailed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Wolf Totem is a quasi-autobiographical novel about a Han Chinese urban intellectual's personal experience on the steppes in north-central Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Chen Zhen, the author's alter ego, spends a decade of nomadic life in the Ujimchin Banner on the Chinese border of Inner and Outer Mongolia. It is in this contact zone that the protagonist ponders the complex interrelationship between Mongolianness and Han Chineseness. He soon becomes fascinated with Mongolian wolves and Genghis Khan (1167-1227), the phantom of a wolfish heroism that once occupied China and founded a vast empire across Eurasia. When Chen risks a clash with his hosts' totem and taboos by adopting a wolfkin as a pet, he finds himself adapting to a nomadic brave new world, where he witnesses a wilderness paradise in the process of being lost to the impact of internal colonization. The novel closes with Chen's burden of guilt over having ‘snipped off the canines of the . . . cub, stripping him of his freedom with a chain during his short life, and in the end crushing his head." [Ibid]

“The pleasure of reading is swiftly aroused in the beginning of the novel by its wolf lore---pages of breathtaking descriptions of wolf raids on gazelles and prized horses, followed by bloody wolf hunting. The problem with such pleasure is that the gory graphic details render violence not only delightful and entertaining, but also sublime and sacred. Wolves are portrayed as warriors and strategists, with high spirits and esprit de corps, and masterly hunting tactics in spying, encircling, ambushing, assaulting, and intercepting; they are, moreover, apotheosized as messengers from Tengger, Mongol heaven. Nevertheless, these powerful sections of the narrative fail to develop into an interesting story, as they soon yield place to the grandiose theory of evolution one third of the way into the novel. As Lee Haiyan observes, in the course of the “scientific experiment” of raising the cub, Chen Zhen's “loving gaze that elevates it to a mythic being is also an epistemological gaze that reduces it to a lab creature." Little Wolf is simultaneously deified as the object of a new totemism and objectified by “wolfology” at the same time." [Ibid]

"Structurally, each of the thirty-five chapters opens with epigraphs excerpted from historical documents or studies. An example is the legend about Mongolian ancestry from the opening of The Secret History of the Mongols : “At the beginning there was a blue-grey wolf, born with his destiny ordained by Heaven Above." Indeed, Jiang Rong rewrites 5,000 years of Chinese history in the last 50,000 characters of his 500,000-character book so as to make it conform to his lupine discourse. .".The author concludes his grand narrative by opining that the Chinese people are not so much “descendants of the dragon” as “disciples of the wolf” and that nomads are the ancestors of the Han farming people. Seeking a barbarian civilization in the term “civilized wolf” as a modern transition from ancient “civilized sheep” to future “civilized man," he advocates “nomadizing” peasant mentality and the necessity to “Mongolianize” Han culture. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the jarring sermon that comprises the last one tenth of the work has also been cut from the English rendition."

Efforts to Control Wolves

In some places scientists have experimented with radio collars that release nausea-inducing chemicals that are activated when entering a place with livestock and radio collars that set off strobe lights, sirens and loud noises that are activated by sensors triggered by the collar.

In other places ranchers are using burros. One scientist told Discover, "Burros have an absolute bad attitude towards canines. They go nuts. They go running at them, they start flailing their hooves, gnashing their teeth. It is great. They are very, very protective." Another advantage with burrows is that are cheap. Theycost around $300 a piece and primarily eat grass.

Tiger urine collected for a zoo has been spread in places with livestock to ward off wolves. Some conservationist believe the only way that wolves and humans are going to be able to cohabit the same places is that ranchers are going to have to be compensated by the government for animals taken by wolves.

Wolf Culls

The traditional way of dealing with problem wolves is to cal for a wolf cull, or a mass killing of wolves. In 2005, Antoine Blua of Radio Free Europe wrote: When the wolf population Russia's Orenburg region in the southern steppes increased as a result of "migrant" individuals from neighboring Kazakhstan roam, “two hundred hunters there received a bounty of 1,000 rubles ($36) for each animal they killed. The campaign was aimed at culling the wolf population to keep it at 500, thus helping to contain the damage that wolves inflict on the cattle and hunting industries. The wolves are believed to take an unwanted toll that amounts to hundreds of thousands of rubles annually. [Source: Antoine Blua, Radio Free Europe (RFE), March 15, 2005]

Around the same time AFP reported: “In Bulgaria, thousands of hunters are covering the countryside in an officially sanctioned wolf cull. The wolf population in the country is presently estimated at 2230, an 11 percent gain over the 2003 level. Attacks on livestock have increased, particularly in the area near the border with Greece. [Source: Agence France Press, February 19, 2005]

In 2011, there were calls for a cull of wolves in France as the predators were spreading there. There were 66 confirmed wolf attacks in France in the first half of 2011. Wolves reached the Vosges Mountains on the Alsace-Lorraine border for the first time in 80 years.

Wolf Compensation in France

Antoine Blua of Radio Free Europe wrote: “Gilbert Simon is vice president of Ferus, a nongovernmental group that defends the continued presence of wolves in France. He says compensation for damages in France can reach up to 150 percent of the sale price of an animal killed by a wolf. But Simon says that -- even in France -- reconciling the interests of ranchers with the presence of wolves is hopeless. He says that cohabitation is another matter, however. "We try to promote cohabitation by all means possible among shepherds, breeders, and the wolves. That doesn't mean reconciliation. I don't have any illusions. Breeders feel more comfortable when there are no wolves. [And] I don't see how they could change their mind," Simon said.[Source: Antoine Blua, Radio Free Europe (RFE), March 15, 2005 ^^^]

“Wolves were effectively eradicated from France in the early 1940s. Fifty years later, they enjoyed a return when animals spread into the country's southeastern mountains from neighboring Italy. While there has been no outcry among the French public over the returnees, ranchers are lobbying fiercely against the intruders. They claim wolves killed nearly 3,000 animals in the Alps in 2003, translating into financial losses and other hardships. Environmental groups counter that French ranchers must adapt to the newcomer, using defense dogs and fences to protect their livestock.”

Endangered Wolves and Conservation

Wolves were once the world's most widely distributed land animal. Now they are extinct in many places they were once plentiful such as many parts of the United States and Europe.

Sentiments about wolves mainly fall into two categories: 1) Green-minded urban dwellers who love them; and 2) farmers and ranchers who hate them. A Spanish conservationist told the New York Times, "Wolves can live thanks to urban dwellers tolerance. But farmer's say 'Kill all of them.' There is no common ground. We have a social war in the name of the wolf."

There are pro-wolf gatherings with wolf howl imitations and wolf websites in which wolf lovers can donate money to conservation projects and buy wolf pins, T-shirts, posters, books, coffee mugs and books.

Wolves have been reintroduced to some places such as Yellowstone National Park and the state of Washington in such numbers that even Mech has suggested there long term survival is dependent on careful management and controlled killings.

Wolves Back in the Land of Romulus and Remus

In January 2005, evidence of wolves was found near Rome, the city the wolf-suckled twin Romulus and Remus are said to have founded around 2,500 years ago. AFP reported: “Ecologists are excited by the discovery of the young wolf's carcass along a roadside, seeing it as the fruit of a 30-year protection programme after Italy's lupine population flirted with extinction in the 1970s. Up to now, Italy's few dozen packs have been largely confined to isolated areas of the Appenine mountains, and wolves haven't been spotted in the environs of Rome for 70 years. However, farmers in the Castelli Romani national park, where the wolf was found, have been complaining for weeks of damage to their livestock attributed to a wild animal, local newspapers reported. [Source: AFP, January 17, 2005]

Aged around seven months and weighing 22 kilos (48 pounds), the wolf found in the national park January 12 had been hit by a car. A veterinary examination showed that it had not eaten for the previous three days. "It's wonderful for our protection campaign that such a specimen has been found in our region," Italian newspapers quoted biologist Daniele Badaloni as saying. "But it's essential that this presence not be seen as a threat by local farmers," he warned. "I understand that farmers and people with livestock might be alarmed, but people have to bear in mind that wolves cause less damage than dogs," said Badaloni.

“Centuries of trapping wiped out the animal across much of western Europe, and by the mid-1970s only about 100 wolves survived in isolated areas of the Appenine mountains. But the dog-like animal has made a comeback since it became a protected species in Italy in 1976, and numerous packs have since been documented. Park biologists say they are trying to reassure farmers that the wolf poses no particular threat, even less so to humans.

Legend has it that twins Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome in 753 B.C., were discovered and raised by a she-wolf after being abandoned by their natural mother. A statue of the wolf suckling the twins stands outside Rome's city hall and is the official symbol of the city.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2016

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