Why Do We Need Wolves?

WHY DO WE NEED WOLVES?

Why do we need wolves? As a fiction writer, my first response is that wolves are important, for fairy tales and fantasy, so we have a ready-made antagonist.  Kidding aside, why are wolves so important? What made me think about wolves in the first place?

ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

I read a news article about Wisconsin hunters and the DNR, that’s why!

Gray wolves (canis lupus) were removed from Endangered Species Act protections in January, 2021.

So what does the Wisconsin DNR do? They decide that this is clear sign of recovery, and point to declines in game animals due to wolf predation. They carefully dole out  hunting tags. Three days later, it all backfires.

Wolf
As I interpret this statement, the DNR is saying that they want to kill wolves so hunters can kill more of the deer.

Kill wolves so hunters can kill more deer. What?

Before I get myself more rattled about the WI DNR’s decision, let’s back it up and look at these highly intelligent, social animals, starting with their mystique!

Plus, it’s World Wildlife Day! We don’t need a better reason than that!

Mythology of Wolves Louie wants to know
Louie wants to know all about wolves!

MYTHOLOGY OF WOLVES

Because of my fiction writing, I’m intrigued by psychology and mythology. Wolves have a rich history, intertwined with humans.

Wolves have a central place in the folklore of cultures from the North American Arctic to the Indian jungle to the Chinese tropics. The roles of wolves in mythology are diverse, ranging from wise hunter to wild animal.

Sue and Louie __science blog at the beach
Okay, Louie isn't a wolf but his ancestors are! More on that below...
Little Red Riding Hood and a wolf
This wolf is definitely not Louie's ancestor!
Fenrir, a giant wolf, is one of the most terrifying figures in Norse mythology.
Fenrir is a monster that threatens the worlds of humans, gods, and giants. (See? Ready-made bad guy!)
In “The Wolf of Zhongshan” a fairy tale from southern China, a clever wolf uses logic to almost get his way.
Of course the big bad wolf in little red riding hood has his way with grandma and little red riding hood.
I'm going to keep it clean but couldn't resist the double entendre.
The wolf’s wise nature is highlighted in Algonquin Mythology.
Chibiabos, is a great wolf-spirit is a fair and kind ruler of the land of the dead.
This positive attitude about wolves plays forward to 2021.
More on that below!
And across the pond, in Italy, Romulus and Remus, the mythic founders of the “Eternal City” of Rome, were famously saved by a wolf.
Romulus and Remus
Rudyard Kipling masterfully showed us the social side of wolves in "The Jungle Book."
Mowgli, an orphan boy is raised by a wolf pack, and because of the wolves, is honorable.
In the musical fairy tale "Peter and the Wolf," by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, the wolf must adapt to civilization.
The wolf mystique continues in literature today!
My critique partner has a middle grade fantasy coming out September 2021!
THE WOLF'S CURSE
In a twist on The Boy Who Cried Wolf, a twelve-year-old apprentice is shunned by his fearful village after he claims to have spotted a Great White Wolf. He embarks on a quest to clear his name while the mythic––and dangerous––Wolf follows close on his heels.
Click Here to read more about it
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Maybe I ought to stop here, before I venture into werewolf territory!

Hm….I can’t resist. Just one, I promise!

FULL MOON and WOLVES
Werewolves and full moons are intertwined in our psyches!
werewolf legends
Werewolves!

WEREWOLF LEGENDS

In 1521, a passerby saw blood on the ground. He followed the trail to a cottage, where a man was having his arm bandaged by his wife.
Good samaritan? Read on...
The passerby thought this suspicious and reported it to the authorities.
So NOT a good samaritan
The authorities arrested the man and tortured him until he confessed
For what, you ask?
For committing heinous crimes such as diabolism, murder, and eating human flesh.
That must have been some torture!
Italian interrogation room where authorities hung people by their arms while questioned
The man Michel Verdun, also gave up the names of two others.
All three men were executed and burned. (Not sure in which order?)
They became known as the werewolves of Poligny.
Michel Verdun, Pierre Bourgot, Philibert Montot
Thank you, neighbor!
I’ll take my electricity and running water and DNA evidence!
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WOLVES: THE ANCESTORS OF LOUIE! And your dogs, too!

Here’s another answer to the question, ‘why do we need wolves.’

The origins of dogs dates back thousands of years. Dogs evolved as domesticated descendants of the wolf. (I know, you knew this but it’s cool.)

The dog diverged from a now-extinct population of wolves 27,000-40,000 years ago. The modern grey wolf is the dog’s nearest living relative.

Wolf ancestors of Louie
Regal Arctic Wolf
Louie and wolves
Quite a resemblance to the regal wolf! Especially the regal part!

In 2017, a study showed that 9,000 years ago the domestic dog was present at what is Zhokhov Island in Siberia. The dogs were selectively bred as either sled dogs or as hunting dogs. (Photo on right of cave art clearly depicts hunting dogs.).

Ancient dogs in cave art
Dogs attacking a mouflon. What the heck IS a mouflon?

DOGS! DOGS! DOGS!

Today dogs are the most variable mammal on our planet, with 450 separate breeds!

I could wax poetic about dogs for some time. (In fact, here’s a post about how your pet manipulates YOU!

Let’s get back to why we need wolves! And how man messes things up.

canis lupis why we need wolves!
We need wolves

Wolves first appeared in the early Pleistocene period, which was about a million years ago. Wolves adapted to the entire planet…until we decided otherwise.

Wolf Range _ past and present
Man is the ultimate predator

Why, you ask?

WOLVES AND NATURE'S COMPLEX CONNECTIONS

We need wolves.

Wolves are a classic example of nature’s complex connections. 

I’ll cite a documented horror story below. (NOT a fairy tale.)

Yellowstone Goes Haywire
These predators reshape riverbanks and change the course of rivers!
Rivers shaped by wolves
River, not shaped by these guys.

YELLOWSTONE GOES HAYWIRE

Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872
This was our first national park!
Ranchers in the area worried about a new park and their livestock.
No, not elephants. I wanted to see if you were actually reading these slides.
In response to the ranchers, the wolves were eradicated from the park.
The last pack was wiped out in 1926.
Change came quickly!
Free from predators, the elk population soared. Large areas of the park were stripped bare from their foraging.
Riverbanks were hit hard.
Elks didn’t need to hide, from the wolves! Why not eat the juicy grass and tender saplings where they could also get a drink?
The now desolate landscape didn’t provide enough sustenance for the birds.
Populations and number of species drastically declined.
Beavers rely on willows and poplars, nutrient-rich trees that love the water.
Since all those trees were ending up in the stomachs of the growing elk population, the beavers had nothing to gnaw on.
They disappeared.
Riverbanks became wastelands.
Without the trees, the soil eroded. Rivers meandered and changed course, leading to more seasonal flooding and more erosion.
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This folly continued until 1995! Finally, someone figured it out and released wolves captured from Canada back into Yellowstone.

why we need wolves
The wolves are about to turn things around...
What happened next was a ‘trophic cascade.’
A change in the ecosystem, starting at the top of the food chain.
The wolves did what they do. They ate the easy-to-catch elk.
Elk that had no clue how to hide from a predator, or even what a predator WAS.
Generations of the good life made them forget.
Elk populations declined. This gave the little trees at the riverbanks a chance to grow.
(Okay this is a swale but you get the idea!)
Plus, the elk learned to be afraid of the wolves.
They avoided the open areas and riverbanks. Hid out in the woods.
Trees grew even faster!
Like magic!
Rivers stopped meandering. Erosion slowed.
Birds and beavers returned.
Beavers built dams, which slowed water flow even more.
Ponds formed. Birds feasted on what grew in the ponds.
In fact, the bird species in Yellowstone became even more diverse than before!
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Flash forward to now.

The US still allows the killing of wolves, on the grounds that this can help conservation.

DOES CULLING WORK?

Culling is the reduction the population of (a wild animal) by selective slaughter.

Kill to conserve? Does that work?

I don’t want to admit this, but a study done in 2016 by the University of Wisconsin showed that culling a wolf population slowed population growth by 92%. Technically culling works. Populations decline.

Culling works. The science backs this up. That said, ecosystems are more complicated than that! 

Why Do We Need Wolves?
You suspected as much!

Interestingly, intolerance for wolves and inclinations to poach wolves rise when the government culls wolves.

If the government thinks it’s okay to kill wolves, people’s attitudes towards them plummet.

Read More Here

PARADOXICAL FINDINGS

Here’s another weird fact.

The more wolves that are killed to protect livestock, the more livestock is killed. How is this even possible?

It has to do with wolf hierarchy and social learning.

Mythology of Wolves _susan berk koch
Whose legs are those?

WOLF HIERARCHY

Wolves live in family groups containing a breeding pair (alpha pair) along with related sub-adults, juveniles, and pups.
The alphas are the only breeders within the group as they limit reproduction by their subordinates.
Strict!
When one of the alphas is culled (aka killed) this disrupts the family unit.
No kidding!
Subordinate wolves, who often outnumber the breeders, are then free to go to town.
They reproduce!
This potentially increases the number of breeding individuals in the area, thereby increasing the population of hungry wolves.
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SOCIAL LEARNING

Another contributing factor to more livestock deaths by wolves is social learning.
Experienced wolves pass on their knowledge.
This includes how to hunt.
If the remaining pack hasn’t learned the skills necessary to take on bison or elk, they may instead turn towards easier pickings.
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It is interesting to note that this paradoxical finding is not just found in wolf populations.

Lethal control of cougars (aka puma or mountain lions) results in younger, inexperienced cougars more likely to attack livestock.

Cougars does culling work?
Without an older cougar mentor, inexperienced cougars are more likely to attack livestock
Coyote litter size increases with culling
Coyote litter size increases with culling

In a similar vein, coyote litter size and frequency of breeding actually increases when a population is culled. (study here)

Another study showed that state-funded coyote removal campaigns have failed to reduce sheep predation by these coyote populations.

There are other options!

 

Why We Need Wolves
Other options to killing? Nice!

NON-LETHAL OPTIONS TO CULLING!

Guard dogs!!

Louie is a wolf-like
Louie's willing to give it a go!

In a South Africa study, 91% of guarding dog placements decreased livestock depredation

Seems a little strange in some ways to pit a domestic dog against his ancestors. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense.

Click Here

YET THE CULLING CONTINUES

Back to the news article.

At the end of February, 2021, the Wisconsin DNR dispensed the wolf tags.

Wisconsin wolf hunters blew past the state’s quota in just three days, exceeding the quota by more than 50%.

The area Native Americans disagreed with this decision. They said in a statement:

Why are wolves so important
Why are wolves so important? You know why!

…Hunting in late February, a time when fur quality is poor and wolves are in their breeding season, is regarded as especially wasteful and disrespectful.” 

Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission

WOLVES ARE IMPORTANT TO OUR ECOSYSTEM!

Louie isn’t the only one who thinks that wolves are important. Many people are wolf advocates!

Check out the map on the right!

Why We Need Wolves-Sue Berk Koch science blog
Wolves belong on our earth. Mustard = established Red= extinct Green =reintroduced after populations were eradicated

I know, I sound as if I’m up on a soapbox, but we are the penultimate apex predator. We must preserve nature for future generations of all life on Earth. As human populations continue to grow and expand further into wilderness areas, we need find better alternatives to coexist with wildlife.

WORLD WILDLIFE DAY!

On top of that, it’s actually World Wildlife Day

How often does it happen that I manage to get a post published on a day designated to mark an important milestone, anniversary or event?  

This is the first time! Huzzah! Go, me!

Go, World Wildlife Day, March 3, 2021.

WHY DO WE NEED WOLVES?

You know what Louie thinks. What are your thoughts? 

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50 thoughts on “Why Do We Need Wolves?”

  1. Thanks for writing this important piece! My kids and I read a book about the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone and how much it helped the entire ecosystem by cutting down on over-grazing by certain wild animal which allowed rare flowers to return which allowed rare butterflies to return, etc. I think you should sent a copy of this great post to the WI DNR!

    Reply
  2. I thought all dogs were considered to be the same species, just having different varieties, like the difference between a white and a black person or a white person from Eastern and Western Europe? Dogs have a few variables that create differences that can give them distinct appearances, but they’re still the same species

    Reply
  3. Definitely learnt something new here which I didn’t recognise. I will just say though I’ve heard some fantastic reviews on the Yellowstone National park I’ve always wanted to go and would you say this is a place where you will find many wolves at a time.

    Reply
    • I’ve never been to Yellowstone, either! We went to Brooks’ Falls in AK, also a National Park, and saw many many bears! The only wolf I’ve seen in the flesh was in our back yard! It gave me quite a scare. Thanks, Luke.

      Reply
  4. I had no idea what happened in Yellowstone! People tend to worry about the prey, not the predators. Thanks for writing about this.

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    • I think endangered predators do garner attention but yes, you picked up on my point. The second a species is removed from the endangered list, they are often at risk once more. Thank you!

      Reply
  5. Hello sue this is a very enlightening article. Who would’ve thought we really need them? All I know that The Twilight and Vampire diaries will never be a hit without the wolves. Thanks for the very entertaining piece. I wish you have been my science teacher .

    Reply
    • HA! What a good point. Where would Kristen Stuart and Robert Pattison be without Stephanie Meyer taking advantage of wolf mythology? Not to mention HBO and True Blood. Vampire Diaries, too! What a lovely compliment, thank you! I wish I’d been a science teacher too, though I’m not so sure parents would have liked my approach. …

      Reply
  6. I’m sure I will love science more and look forward this class. Nevertheless I’m happy to meet you here and let’s continue the science class with loads of entertainment. And more wolfy series to binge watch ahahaha.

    Reply
    • HA Thank you! I am happy that you’re here. I love science and I love chatting. (I’m sure you noticed.) I must now admit that I haven’t watched Vampire Diaries. I’ll add it to my list!

      Reply
  7. I can appreciate that population culls can be beneficial, especially in regions where one species is too dominant and overpopulated the area. An animal finally being declared ‘not endangered’ doesn’t exactly sound like overpopulation, and I can’t believe people would be so desperate to kill wolves they’d exceed the quota so quickly. It’s disappointing reading, but I’m glad you shared this!

    Reply
    • That’s why it upset me. Barely off the endangered species list, the rifles are sighted on wolves, and 72 hours later, the DNR had to shut down what they started. I’m glad you took the time to read my post. Thank you!

      Reply
  8. Wow, I knew some of this but definitely not most of it. Thank you for sharing this interesting information. I think preserving wildlife is so important and it pains me to see how much we are messing with the nature all of the time. It’s so sad that they allowed hunting when wolves were barely off the endangered species list. Where is the logic in that? Ugh. Thank you again for sharing!

    Reply
  9. This was such an interesting and truly learned a lot from it! I was shocked by what happened after the DNR but not surprised anymore about human nature. Thank you so much for sharing this!

    Reply
  10. I’ve read only two of your posts so far and I have to admit I haven’t come across such a diverse blogger on Twitter. First poisons and now wolves… what topics! And I enjoyed reading and learning every word! Thanks for educating me on the two subjects! Also I’ve read on many animals whose presence is way too important of which we are completely oblivious about, so wolves cant be any different. Keep it up! <3
    Isa A. Blogger
    http://bit.ly/39f9FN0

    Reply
  11. Wow, I really was reading this post with a big interest! I love wolves and I find them very majestic animals and it was very interesting to read about them from a totally different angle! Thank you so much for this post! I really learned a few new things and I am very happy about that!

    Reply
  12. Wow this is amazing! Thank you for sharing this detailed post! It’s so interesting to find out more about wolves and why we need them! Wolves are great animals and they should be protected!

    Reply
    • It’s a tricky business because people are naturally afraid of them, but they need our protection, just like cute birds or frogs. Fun fact: there have been no human wolf deaths on record in Wisconsin or Michigan. Thanks!

      Reply
  13. Such an interesting post and I barely knew any of it! Had no idea about them barely being off the endangered list before they were hunted again.

    Tash – A Girl with a View

    Reply
  14. I absolutely loved reading this! It’s so important to bring awareness to endangered animals, thank you for sharing all of this information! 🙂

    Reply
  15. This was super interesting to read, I’m a big dog lover, I even wrote a post about the importance of animals a few weeks ago (and talked about wolves a little bit). It’s really fascinating to learn more about them (I mean last year all I could have told you about wolves was what I learned in the vampire diaries or even twilight haha)…. I had no idea about all of this though, so thank you so much for raising awareness of it all 😀

    Reply
    • I’ll need to check out your post about the importance of animals, since I am –obviously– in agreement. I’m so happy that you picked up a few facts from my post. You’re very welcome. And thank you so much!

      Reply
  16. Another brilliant post! I’ve been fascinated by wolves and their uses in fiction for a while and I loved how your post took us through the history of these majestic animals!

    Reply
  17. This is such an interesting post. I didn’t know much about wolves before reading this post so thanks so much for sharing!

    Reply

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Susan Berk Koch author

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