Humans and Wolves
Wiping out Wolves – a history. By means of hunting with horses and dogs or trapping in pits, traps and cages, wolves were completely wiped out in England by the early 1500s. Scotland killed its last wolf in the mid-1700s. Most European countries eventually finished off their wolf populations soon after.
A few still live in eastern Europe, India, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Middle East. No one knows how many survive in Russia and China.
Most wolves in North America are found in Alaska and Canada and hunters, from whom most of our knowledge of this shy creature comes from, say they are now almost impossible to find…
This extreme attitude toward wiping out wolves can be seen to the fables and legends about the animals that originated in the Middle Ages and still survive today. In the Middle Ages, wolves were also thought to be in league with the forces of evil, many legends connected the wolf with Satan and the dark powers of the supernatural world. See the tales area for some more information on Wolf Tales.
In America, Wolves served as models for hunting and played a significant role in the religious lives of the plains tribes and other groups of North American Indians.
The powerful and courageous wolves were seen as representatives of important natural forces or spirits.
Images of wolves often appeared in religious ceremonies and Indian healers included wolf skins in their medicine bundles, the collections of sacred materials that they used used for curing illness.
Other native American hunters who have known the wolf intimately are the Eskimos. Today as in the past, groups of Eskimos share their homeland on the cold northern tundra with wolf packs, hunting the same prey and leading the same kind of nomadic life.
Indians of earlier times and the Eskimos of today, respect the wolf for its skill as a predator. They also admire the wolfs dedication to the welfare of its companions, a model of social behaviour for humans as well as animals.
Eskimos like Indians, sometimes kill wolves for their skins or for other specific reasons, but they believe that they are taking the life of an equal, not slaughtering an enemy.
Such coexistence between wolves and humans is possible only when there is no conflict between their ways of life. Conflict quickly arises when humans begin to produce their own food instead of hunting wild animals and gathering plants. Wolves have no choice but to continue their way of life, but now they may find their prey limited except for the herds of sheep and cattle.
When this happens, their image in human eyes changes they are up longer considered admirable and courageous hunters but dangerous predators to be controlled or exterminated…
Wiping out Wolves – getting serious.
The change from a hunter/gatherer way of life to one based on farming and herding started about 12,000 years ago, and since then wolves and humans have been colliding in many parts of the world. In Europe, many forests were cut down during the Middle Ages to be replaced by forms and fields, and wolves lost their natural homes, driven to seek prey in human areas of habitation.
When European settlers came to North America in the 1500S and 1600s, they found wolves inhabiting the deep forests and wide plains of the continent. Here there might have been room for both human and animal predators to live their separate lives in peace, Instead, North America became the scene of the human races most successful killing campaign against the wolf.
Inspired by the traditional European hatred of the wolf, the early settlers attacked the wolf using pits, traps, and poison. Bounties – cash rewards given by authorities to anyone who brought in the hide or some other part of a dead wolf helped things along. The American war against the wolf did not really get under way until the 1800s, when people began to move onto the great plains in the center of the country. Here there were enormous herds of buffalo, which served as a food supply for Indian tribes and for large numbers of wolves. All three of these – Indian, buffalo and the wolf were doomed to be brought almost to the point of extinction by so-called civilization.
At first wolves were hunted for their thick winter fur and a good price in European markets. Then as cattle and sheep grazing became common, wolves were killed because they preyed on the herds of domestic animals. (Their natural prey, the buffalo were wiped out during another concentrated massacre of wild life, but thats another story..)
The most common way to eradicate wolves by the American wolfers or wolf hunters, was to use Strychnine, it was placed in the carcasses of dead buffalo, cattle, or sheep. Wolves feeding on the animals would die, painfully. And so would any other creature – coyote, dog, bird, even human – that ate the poisoned flesh. It did not discriminate.
No one knows how many animals were killed during the last half of the 19th century, when the anti-wolf campaign was most active in the western part of the United States. Perhaps 1 or 2 million wolves died, and thousands of other creatures fell victim.
By 1900, there were not many wolves left in the western United States. The few remaining animals were still being pursued by wolfers rancher, and herders eager to eradicate the species completely from existence in America, In 1919, the government joined the antiwolf campaign, passing a law that called for the extermination of wolves on federally owned lands. By 1942, when the law was abolished 25,000 more wolves had been killed by the government plan.
This was the last phase of the organized campaign to eradicate the wolf. By this time, it had been virtually exterminated in most parts of the country.
The situation remains almost unchanged today…
Today the wolf is classified as an endangered species in most parts of the United States. This classification means that the killing of wolves is strictly controlled by federal law. For most wolves, such protection has come too late. The killing has already taken place, and the millions of animals slaughtered in the past cannot be brought back to life. Ironically, most people now agree that the world is a poorer place because of their loss.