Mankind has been fascinated with the wolf since the dawn of civilisation. This is evident in cultural mythology such as the traditional children’s fable Little Red Riding Hood and the long told tales of horrifying werewolves. Perhaps this obsession stems from the wolf being an ancestor of the modern dog. Wolves share the characteristics of modern dogs with their keen sense of smell, strong jaws, and acute hearing. Another reason wolves are such a topic of interest to mankind is their similarities in social conventions and behaviour to us humans.
Wolves belong to packs much in the same way we belong to our families or a group of friends. These packs (usually in groups of 6 to 20) are organised into a dominance hierarchy with an Alpha pair acting as leaders of the packs (much like a father of a family) dominating over the Beta or second in command as well as the Omega the lowest standing member. Further similarities are shown in body language such as the tensing of muscles and baring of teeth conveying aggression for both wolves and humans. However without the use of language the wolves make up for the lack of communication with amazingly accurate sense of smell. This sense of smell can be used to receive messages from other wolves which excrete pheromones from glands in their tail. The tail can also be used as visual communication with the tail rising again for aggression and the tail being tucked between the hind legs to communicate submission. This communicative nature also allows the wolves to hunt as a pack intelligently which has unfortunately affected farmer’s livestock, as a result wolves have been intentionally exterminated from many countries.
Wolves have thrived all over the planet, including North America, Europe, and Asia. This is largely due to their adaptations to cold climates such as their thick coat consisting of an outer layer of bristles and a waterproof inner layer that conserves body heat. Their paws and pads also conserve heat against harsh winter conditions with their special blood vessels which allowed them to survive in central Europe and North America until they were hunted to extermination. Although their diet (in North America) is 97% undomesticated animals they were hunted for their coats and 25kg-40kg of edible meat.
Conservation efforts have been made to reintroduce the wolves back in those areas with the stigma against the infamous wolves having dissipated through re-education on the species. The wolf is often represented as man’s link to his primal origins in the animal kingdom, perhaps this is the symbolism that has made the werewolf such a long lasting myth. Reflecting on this it would be a shame for this beautiful animal to become nothing but a myth, but with these positive conservation efforts being made the future of the wolf is looking hopeful.