Friday, 23 February 2007

Call of the Wild

I watched a programme a few days ago called “Caribou and Wolves” about the Canadian Artic Tundra and two of its most important species and their complex relationship. I have always found wolves fascinating. Besides their beauty, they have this haunted look in their eyes and the howl of a wolf strikes right at your inner core, the call of the wild. I read Jack London’s book by that name when I was about twelve and absolutely loved it, but this feeling turned lukewarm when I became an enlightened teenager- I did not like his portrayal of the Native Americans. I learnt from further reading that while espousing socialist views, he held many racist views about non-whites and believed in the superiority of the white race.

Historically, human attitudes to wolves have varied, from the reverence of Native Americans and Ancient Rome to the largely negative image of Western folklore. In Europe and particularly North America, the fear of wolves combined with “modernisation” and a desire to conquer the wild led to wolf populations being decimated. However, significant research beginning in the first quarter of the last century, public education programmes aimed at demonstrating the importance of wolves to the eco-system and countering the myth of a dangerous beast and specific laws protecting wolves have resulted in some change in public perceptions of these beautiful animals and an improvement in their numbers. However, much remains to be done. Recent reactions to growing wolf populations caused by reintroduction programmes highlight that this fear is deeply rooted in humans. Hunters also continue to argue, erroneously, that wolves compete with them for prey, while ranchers and farmers view them as a threat to their livestock instead of acknowledging that continued destruction of natural habitat and therefore their food is what leads wolves to attack domestic animals.

I read an article earlier today about the reappearance of some twenty wolves on the heaths of Lusatia, a region along the German-Polish border. While wolves were largely killed off in much of Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, there are now isolated groups of wolves in Spain, Portugal, Italy and France and bigger populations in eastern and Central Europe. Ecologists and biologists have welcomed this development but old fears have emerged and a campaign has been launched to have the wolves shot. Let us hope common sense prevails.