Friday, April 5, 2013

Creature Feature/Mythbusting: WOLVES.

There is no animal more polarizing than the gray wolf, Canis lupus. Either you love wolves or you hate them. It is virtually impossible to find somebody with a neutral opinion on wolves. Well, lucky you: that's what this blog is attempting. Let's establish the various reputations that the wolf has had through the ages, shall we? Then we'll bust them like balloons in a shooting game.

The wolves in question are always some variety of Canis lupus. This species ranges from North America into Europe and Asia. They are carnivores and survival machines, hunting in packs and running prey down until it cannot keep moving. Unbeknownst to the wolves themselves, they have also left quite a mark on the human psyche.

GRRR! (Source.)

If you were born before the internet was a thing, you probably still have some remnant of the Fairy Tale Wolf stuck in your psyche. This is the wolf that ate Little Red Riding Hood in one gulp and was also trying to go after the three little pigs. This is the wolf that can walk as a human during the day, only to become a feral, man-eating canine at night. Oh, and bar abnormal conditions (humans threatening them, disease, humans threatening them with diseases), these wolves don't exist.

Let us make this very clear: Wolves do not hunt people. At least, not under normal circumstances. They would much rather avoid Homo sapiens sapiens as much as wolfishly possible. Domestic dogs attack humans more than wolves ever will. If you want to count the two as one species, as I'm prone to doing (they can screw each other just fine), then yeah, wolves are serial killers. If not, wolves are terrified of humans. We're just silly and make the fear mutual.

What wolves will attack is livestock. That is what makes them a threat to humans. By and large, they will avoid humans, but we've entered their territory - with food at that. It's like someone with a pie suddenly coming over, only you, the owner of that house, are not allowed to have any of the pie. Kinda rude, isn't it? These pies are fat, slow, and docile, too. Yes, humans are dickish to many species, wolves included.

WolfJesus died for your sins! (Source.)

Then there's the equally-wrong flipside of the coin. There are wolf fans who treat the wolf like it is some sort of sacred animal that should be prized above all others. This has varying degrees, from people who simply have wolves as their favorite animals to people who roleplay their wolfsonas like humans. The general idea is that wolves are almost exactly like humans with fur, if not idealized humans with fur. These wolves do exist, but certainly not how you think they do:

A little reminder: We do not know, 100%, what goes on inside a dog's head. Dogs have the longest history of domestication of any animal, and there's still too much foreign about them for us to say that we truly know how they tick. If dingoes are any indication, dogs can revert back to wolfishness, and then some, in a surprisingly short amount of time. Wolves do not eat babies. Dingoes do, or at least can.

With that in mind, imagine how little we know and understand about a canine that is perfectly content to live its life without ever touching humans. That is how far wolves are removed from humans in terms of behavior. Rabid wolf fans ("wolfaboos") are often guilty of anthropomorphizing. It's a common crime that has led to mental train wrecks in dogs around the world.

Yes, it is very true that wolves have been persecuted. (I'm not fully sure whether they count as the most unfairly persecuted animal ever; bats, snakes, rodents, and insects could easily give them a run for their money.) Yes, they form family units like humans do. There're some theories out there that wolves may have taught primitive humans how to hunt in groups. That does not make them humans with fur.

If you want a human with fur, you want a dog. As in, a domesticated wolf. Wild wolves do not want to so much as make eye contact with humans. Even dogs have different rules from humans, but they are closer than wolves in that regard. Dogs can mate at any time of year with relative freedom, just like humans; in a wolf pack, only the alpha male and female are allowed to mate. Every wolf wants to get laid, so there are always challenges for dominance. Any wolf lover who acts unaware of wolf rank is kidding themselves.

So, what wolf should you be looking for? The "scientific wolf," as the Field Museum put it.  Look for neutral facts. Read up on why wolves and other apex predators are important to the environment. See some wolves at Big Run Wolf Ranch (or similar) or your local zoo. The Field Museum has a great exhibit about wolves going on right now. This sounds weird coming from a blogger, but the most rabid, vicious wolves you will ever meet are on the internet. Handle those wolves with care.

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