Throughout ancient history the wolf was admired and respected as a symbol of strength, intelligence and courage. Neolithic artists duplicated its image on cave walls. Shamans sought its power. Even Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, were reportedly nurtured and raised by wolves. Eventually, this noble legend became the 'bloodthirsty savage' of Euro-American lore. Hatred of the wolf, which sometimes preyed upon livestock, reached hysterical proportions. Fear over economic loss led to the near extermination of the wolf from western Europe, southern Canada and the United States.
Today, most authorities agree that all dogs are descended from wolves. Controversy remains over where wolves were first domesticated. Some experts believe that domestication first occurred in the Near East between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago. Impressive in size and strength, wolves were easily recognized as the largest members of the wild dog family. From nose to tip of tail, "man's best friend" averages 5 feet in length, stands 2-1/2 feet at the shoulder and weighs up to 155 pounds or more.
During the summer when pups are too young to travel, the pack establishes a small home range of 15 square miles or less. To ensure the safety of the pups, pack life revolves around the den. When a hunting group leaves the den area at sunset, a "babysitter" is always left behind to protect the pups. When the hunting party returns the next morning, they'll feed the pups, then curl up near the den to rest. One faint yip of puppy alarm is enough to wake them. Springtime arrives on a gust of warm air. The growing and gangley pups are eager to explore. From spring throughout summer, puppy hood is a whirlwind of energetic pouncing, chasing, dashing, eating and exploring. These puppy pastimes are about more than just play and enjoyment. In subtle ways, the rambunctious siblings are developing their hunting skills, establishing their rank and learning wolf "language" - each an important behavioral prototype for life as an adult.
Perhaps the most heartfelt appeal of the wolf is the expressive nature of its face. Unlike other animals, the wolf can express how it "feels" through a variety of subtle facial gestures. These gestures are amplified by black and white markings that outline the wolf's eyes, ears, lips and muzzle. The ability to convey "feelings" like fear or excitement ensures clear communication between pack members and fosters a spirit of cooperation and friendliness.
Like every living creature, the wolf needs more than merely a chance at survival. Large tracts of wilderness lands, the freedom to roam unharmed and a natural balance of good resources are all essential to the wolf's survival. And should we not want what is in the best interest of the wolf? Wild animals and wild places inspire us and sustain our spirits. Perhaps the 21st century will see new conservation initiatives, in the spirit of giving back, rather than taking away.
Charles A. Lindbergh once said, 'In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.' Wilderness lands are essential to the survival of the mysterious and elusive wolf. Leaving behind prior misconceptions and learning to understand the wolf's role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem, will help to ensure its survival. And so will the understanding that this symbolic creature is synonymous with wilderness. Without one, the other cannot exist.