The Wolf

Destiny, perhaps from the very beginning, claimed the wolf as a symbol. Has any
other animal stirred human passions the way the wolf has? Its haunting howl, its
incredible stamina, its brilliant eyes, and its superiority as a predator all
have been reviled as nefarious, and even demonic, traits. Ironically, these same
characteristics have also been revered as belonging to a majestic, and sometimes
spiritual, creature – a symbol of the magnificent, untamed wilderness.

In truth, the wolf is neither evil nor exceptionally good – neither demon
nor god. Wolves are simply predators. Their role as a predator must not be
reduced, however, to that of savage killer. Wolves, like humans, need to eat to
survive. In this process, wolves also provide a service: they help preserve
nature’s delicate balance by keeping herds of deer, elk, moose, and other large
mammals in check, as well as keeping these populations strong and genetically
viable by preying on the weak and sick.

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Both the idealized wolf and the demonic wolf are creations of the human
mind. It is not easy to transcend the image of the Big Bad Wolf that has filled
our myths and legends, but if we know only this wolf we do not truly know the
wolf at all. And what we do not know, we fear. Our fear is perhaps the greatest
threat to the survival of the wolf, for it causes us to react rather than act,
to repel rather than respect. But this fear and hatred did not always separate
man and beast
Man the hunter once looked on the wolf the hunter with admiration. Man and
wolf both used their keen intelligence to overcome the disadvantages they faced
in their day-to-day existence. Survival for both was enhanced by hunting and
living in groups or packs. And, at one time, the chance of survival for each was
also increased by following, learning from, and adapting the skills of the other
to its own advantage.

As long as man’s daily living was earned primarily as a hunter, he knew a
respect for wolves, and coexistence was relatively peaceful. Eventually, man and
wolf took up together in a process of domestication that brought a different
meaning to their coexistence. Even while those early ancestors of man’s best
friend enjoyed this new relationship, the wolves that did not come in from the
cold were beginning to be cast in a different and less favorable light, for the
dog was not the only animal toward whom man turned his attention in the early
days of animal husbandry. Some ten thousand years ago, man discovered great
value for himself in domesticating animals such as cattle and sheep – it was far
easier to herd sufficient numbers of animals to supply adequate food than to
hunt them.

Man left the forest for the field, and the wilderness became a vast and
frightening entity. While the domesticated dog was soon pressed into service to
guard these herds of goats, cattle, and sheep, his cousin the wolf was now seen
as a threat and an enemy. The wolf, again a symbol, stood not for majestic,
bountiful wilderness, but rather for foreign, untamed wilderness that must be

Category: Social Issues