Deanna Molnar and a bronze wolf created by Mary Anne Barkhouse and Michael Belmore that can be seen at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection. The artists’ work explores ideas of nature versus culture.
Wolves. The first image that might arise in your mind when you hear that word might be the lone silhouette of a wolf howling its lament beneath a full moon. The wolf is solitary, hunting in the dead of night, and is a vicious, bloodthirsty predator that is primed to attack whatever creature enters its path. It is cunning, like a serial killer that hunts down its victims ruthlessly.
You might think of the wolf in the classic fairytale “Little Red Riding Hood”, who tricks the little girls grandmother into thinking he is her granddaughter, and then again deceits Little Red Riding Hood into believing the wolf is her grandmother. In this story the wolf is a clever and beguiling hunter, using his wits to capture his prey. Similarly, the Big Bad Wolf is an antagonist who is described as a sly creature that just wants to kill the little pigs.
These are the quintessential tropes about wolves that we share as a culture. The problem with the illustration of the wolf as an evil, coldblooded killer is that it conjures fear in people. This fear has caused wolves to be hunted to excess by humans.
Some people fear wolves because they think they might pose a threat to their livelihood. Farmers who own stocks of animals think that because wolves are a top predator, they will reduce stocks of sheep, cattle, deer and elk. This simply isn’t true. While wolves do hunt these animals as their natural prey, they tend to eat only every 2 days, and will choose prey that is already weak or sick. A healthy, wild wolf will generally not kill more than is absolutely necessary for its survival.
We need wolves. They are an essential component of the rich biodiversity in our environment. When humans endanger or cause a species of wolves to go extinct, it causes overpopulation of the wolves natural prey, such as sheep, deer, hare or elk. Overpopulation can cause sudden crashes within these populations, which is detrimental to not only their survival but to the ecosystem as a whole. Therefore wolves are necessary to maintain a natural balance between species in their ecosystem.
In Yellowstone, wolves are indispensable because they help maintain a strong gene pool for elks. No other species can do this. Wolves also help redistribute elk populations so that the vegetation the elks eat can regrow, which provides food for other species such as beavers. We need wolves because without them, this biological system would deteriorate.
People may fear wolves because of the negative light that our media often depicts them in. In contrast to the lone, hostile wolf that is often described, wolves are social animals. Jim and Jamie Dutcher examined that wolves are capable of real compassion and form incredible bonds with their packs, much like human families. Wolves also have a distinct language with a wide variety of sounds and howls, which is used to communicate within packs and increase bonding. According to Annie B. White, wolf packs are like a mirror of our human society. The striking difference between wolf packs and human societies is that wolves are actually less violent with each other than humans are.
We need wolves because historically, they have been meaningful in our religions and mythology. They are often considered a source of strength, empowerment, and can teach us about our own society, since their pack formations are similar.
Though our society has adversely illustrated these unique creatures, wolves are incredibly social animals with honorable traits. We need wolves because they are a key species that contributes to biodiversity and to the conservation of ecosystems. We need wolves because they can teach us about the importance of family bonds and remarkably, wolves can teach us about living more peacefully with one another.