Inter lupum et canum.

The wolf is known to be one of the most successful canids to stalk the earth.
It is found from just 7 degrees south of the North Pole right down through china, Arabia and the Americas into India, Africa and even in Japan.
It has adapted to every habitat nature has thrown at it, from scorching deserts, grassy tundra and swamps, in forests and frozen wastelands, it has adapted to living around heavily populated areas and ventures into cities and towns. It can survive in temperatures from as low as -70°F up to 120°F. It has even gone as far as entering into our lives and into our living rooms.

The wolf is diverse, from the southern species weighing just 29 lbs (14 Kg) to its huge northern sub-species weighing between 100-180 lbs (78 Kg). On average wolves are between 4.5 to 6 feet long and stand at around 26 to 32 Inches tall, although some reach a height of 3 feet. They have fur of every colour, browns, greys, reds, black and white and mixtures of these. The southern wolves of Arabia tend to eat small prey and have territories as little as a square mile, but the northern wolves of Siberia and the artic can have a territory that cover over 1000 sq miles. They can live as solitary animals only coming together to mate and raise cubs or live in packs of up to around 30 animals dictated entirely by prey numbers.

The wolf is an animal superbly evolved to adaptation.
They will eat anything, seeds and berries, carrion, garbage, mice, fish and crabs, worms and insects, birds, deer and antelope, as a pack they will tackle huge prey such as moose, bison and wild boar.
They can walk over 50 miles a day and run at speeds of up to 38 miles an hour. Wolves are excellent swimmers and have been known to swim as far as 8 miles, perhaps aided by the webbing between their toes. Wolves have longer legs than dogs, narrower chests and larger feet; these differences enable the wolf to cover large distances through snow, swamps and grassland, and are beneficial to the wolf when hunting. Wolves, when dispersing have been documented to cover over 800 miles in search of a territory or a mate. Though finding a mate is probably the reason for long distance dispersal, as we all understand how far the search for love can take us.

In our modern world of farming and agriculture the wolf has adapted to taking domesticated animals, horses, sheep, fowl, cats and dogs. What we have to remember is that these species were the prey of wolves thousands of years before we began to farm and tame them. In Italy and Spain domestic animals make up 60% of the wolves diet, 40% of these are dogs. The reasons for this are simply explained :
_ Firstly game animals are rare due to the overactive hunting of our carnivore Italian cousins,
_ secondly domestic animals are normally well guarded by both shepherds and huge anti wolf dogs,
_ and thirdly there are a large number of stray and feral dogs.

In France, before the re-emergence of the wolf, we used to suffer heavily from attacks by feral dogs, sustaining around 80 to 90 attacks per year. Since the wolves return these attacks have dropped to just 1 or 2 a year, and whereas before we would have to stake out the kills in order to dispatch these dogs, now we no longer seem to have to, occasionally we will find a skull or a wolf scat full of dog hair, the wolves are keeping the feral dogs down. This cannot be a bad thing, as packs of feral dogs are becoming a nuisance all over Europe and in Africa and India, spreading disease and even attacking and killing pets, livestock and even humans. Wolves take the blame for a lot of these attacks. I myself have been attacked by packs of feral dogs in Romania and I can tell you it was a very frightening experience. Feral dogs have no inborn fear of humans so can be extremely dangerous. I would rather face wolves any day.

Wolves seem to target dogs over other domestic animals, perhaps this is because they do not tolerate other large predators in their territories. Or perhaps because dogs react strangely to wolves. Aggressive dogs do not show deference and are therefore killed immediately and submissive dogs give off the wrong signals and smells so they too do not stand a chance, the wolf has a bite ratio of around 1500 pounds per sq inch, double that of even the largest dogs... But maybe they just do not like to see what dogs, their descendents, have become ? Dogs exhibit the same behavior, which is why they guard us and our flocks, and why shepherd guarding dogs are so efficient.

Perhaps for wolves dogs are just easy prey ? The studded collars we buy for our dogs today are remnants from the spiked collars that they used to wear to protect them from wolves. This shows that wolves have always killed dogs for one reason or another. Dogs are generally free to roam around, whereas our other livestock are kept penned, so wolves have more chance of coming across unguarded dogs over other livestock. Some wolves take advantage of this.
In Romania they tell of female wolves in season, entering into towns and villages at night, leaving a trail of urine mixed with menstrual blood, and then going back, up into the forest before dawn. In the morning, the people let their dogs out and the males do what male dogs do best, frothing at the mouth they take off into the forest. Most of these are never seen again. What is waiting for them there ? A loving female or a pack of hungry mouths ?

Around Yellowstone national park the wolves that were reintroduced began a campaign of terror that hit the headlines. The wolves began taking domestic dogs wherever they found them, up to the point of going onto peoples porches and killing the dogs that were chained there. One woman spent over 12hours in a kayak to protect her Labrador while the wolves circled the lake waiting for her. Why these wolves chose to do this is still unclear. Perhaps the winter was hard and natural prey hard to come by. Perhaps this pack just hated dogs ? One farmer came up with the idea that it was tactical : the dogs guarded the farms making the livestock impossible to attack, maybe the wolves worked out that if they killed the guard dogs they could then feed unhindered.

Wolves are highly intelligent, and are great problem solvers, in France one of the first anti-wolf methods we used was electric fencing around our flocks at night, and in one case the wolves learnt that by running up and down outside the fencing, they could spook the sheep into stampeding and breaking down the fences so that the wolves could then pick them off once they were outside. They did this six times until the shepherd changed his guarding methods. In 1998, 98% of attacks were at night, but by the year 2000 with the introduction of penning the sheep at night, and by having guarding dogs and night guards, the wolves switched to attacking during the day when the sheep were in the forest or drinking from the rivers. Four attacks on four different flocks were on the day the shepherds first took the sheep up to the higher pastures, as if the wolves had waited all winter for them and knew exactly which day they were coming and where they would be.

Despite the normal behavior of wolves when they find dogs on their territories, dogs and wolves do sometimes interbreed; genetically they are the same so hybridization is possible. In the wild wolves rarely breed with dogs, even though they have shared vast parts of their ranges for thousands of years.
Normally wolf/dog hybrids are the result of human interference, the Eskimos and American Indians crossed their dogs with wolves for greater stamina and hunting ability. As was done elsewhere over the centuries, to design the hunting, shepherding and guarding dogs that we see today. Wolf/dog hybrids are becoming very popular in the U.S.A. and it is calculated that there are around 300.000 there today. Many hybrids though end up being euthanized as they do not make good pets, they are unstable and hard to control, their hunting instincts are still strong and they are a nightmare with other pets and small children. And as they undoubtedly need 50mile walks every day to avoid them becoming bored and therefore problematic, they don't have much hope of survival in a flat house or small family unit.

Occasionally wild wolves will mate with feral dogs, possibly the wolf has come into season and is a long way from finding a mate, with the extermination of wolves some areas have very few, and dispersing animals may never find a mate, perhaps they are outcasts from their own pack or the survivor of a pack devastated by hunters. Obviously the urge to mate is what drives all species and when a dog meets a wolf or vise versa it is always possible that they will form an emotional attachment, mate, and produce offspring, maybe the wolf or dog is just looking for a bit of rough.
Evidence of hybrids has been found in North America, and in Europe. In Bulgaria 30% of wolves tested showed traces of dog D.N.A. This is sure to get worse as more feral dogs appear and the wolves branch out into new territories, seeking new mates.

Wolves are exceptional parents. Every member of the pack will feed and care for the pups. Putting themselves between the pups and danger, and allowing them to eat first, even when there is little food. Wolves have also been seen to adopt pups from other packs and even to adopt puppies from dogs. Myths tell of wolves adopting children and although hard to prove, they have sprung up in many cultures and many different parts of the world. We have seen instances of dogs adopting and feeding kittens, badgers, fox cubs and even lion cubs. Perhaps this stems from wolves, the mothering instinct is overpowering in many species, and nursing or hormonal mums will adopt even teddy bears and dolls.

D.N.A. shows that the domestic dog is descended from the grey wolf (canis lupus) testing has shown that the dog was probably a mutation that took place around 15,000 years ago somewhere in Asia. Though multiple origins are much more likely. Fossil evidence shows that the dog mutation appeared around 35.000 years ago but did not become apparent until 15000 years ago. Opinions differ...

The aborigines had dingoes with them when they crossed the ice bridge to Australasia around 30000 years ago. Showing that wolf/dog mutations were around long before then. The dog arrived in the Americas with the first humans and did not evolve separately there. Apart from the genetic similarities the social behavior of dogs and their similar vocalizations to wolves is seen to be evidence of the lineage. Primarily in dogs a change in the skull formation was evident, it became smaller, with a shortening of the muzzle and thus a crowding of the teeth. These attributes are similar to those of a juvenile wolf, and suggest that an adult dog retains a juvenile morphology. Such retention is also recognized in behavior, so it appears that over time some wolves never grew into adults? And thus dogs were born. Some scientists argue this point and believe that a dog has its own set of unique characteristics and behaviors that arose when humans began to settle, and created a unique niche where food sources became static. This would show an initial development of dogs, involving a natural selection process resulting from voluntary action by the animal and not in fact by humans domesticating them.

The transition from wolf to dog took centuries, and probably depended on selective pressures and other factors. No-one knows when or how domestication took place, whether humans kept wolf pups or whether the mutations were already well underway when domestication occurred. Wolves or wolf/dogs probably scavenged around human settlements then as they still do now. Familiarization with humans from a young age probably helped domestication along the way. Early wolf/dogs were probably not bred for any specific traits, but were more likely to breed freely and only associate with humans for food.

If wolf pups are raised by humans, they will bond to their surrogate parents as they would to pack members. We can thank the wolf for the deep social bond that our dogs make with us. And, once the dog has accepted us or our flocks as its family it will protect its surrogate pack. Sometimes they will even give up their lives for us so deep is their social bond. We love our dogs because they love us, showing us affection and a lifetime of friendship. Anyone who has kept a dog can relate to this, our dogs pine when we are not there and bond with us as individuals, often ignoring others attempts to control them. They sulk when we tell them off and ignore us if we upset them. And they love us with a passion that even our human relationships have trouble to emulate. Even a dog that is beaten every day will welcome its owner with affection and pine for weeks when separated from them.

Over hundreds of years we have been adapting dogs to our own uses. For hunting initially, then for shepherding and guarding, both us, and our livestock, as companions and even as fashion accessories. We train them as guide dogs and for search and rescue, and as dogs of war. Recently it has been found that dogs can recognize diseases before they are diagnosed, and can warn us of epileptic fits and heart attacks. They can even detect cancers. Perhaps they have retained this trait from the senses wolves use to select their prey. Wolves often target sick or weak animals, even when there seems to be no external evidence of this. They just seem to know. Humans have learnt hunting techniques from wolves. The Indians covered themselves with wolf pelts to get closer to buffalo and perhaps learnt stalking and ambush from them. Indians also used to herd prey over cliffs, a trait that wolves still adopt today. The sign for scout is the same as the sign for wolf in most Indian cultures. The Pawnee tribes were known as the wolf tribe for their prowess as stalkers and hunters. And the wolf in Indian mythologies is known as a teacher.

Over the centuries we have persecuted and exterminated the wolf for what is represents as well as what it really is, the persecution has been far out of proportion to the danger that wolves pose. Strange then, that we live and love their closest relatives, and do not start a mass execution when a dog attacks and kills a child. Dogs attack, wound and kill people around the world every day. Wolves do occasionally kill humans, though it is rare. In the olden days before guns and a large population, history shows that wolves did target us as prey, and perhaps with the protection we show the wolf today, when their numbers rise sufficiently, they will start to do so again. And we as history shows will begin our extermination once more, and then go home to sit with our dogs at our feet, and not make the connection.

The wolf is the sum total of what we believe.
What we think it represents, and what we want it, and need it to be.
What we choose to believe is always more important than what is real.

©Troy Bennett

Close this article

Are Wolves back in Great Britain ?

Wolves are back and roaming the countryside of Great Britain ?
As well as all the sightings of big cats and lynx, porcupines, coati-mundis, wallabies and wolverines, people are beginning to report sightings of wolves? Whether they are truly out there remains to be seen.
If they are, I am sure that they will at some point give themselves away. Being pack animals they leave more signs of their presence than the cats, which are solitary. They will certainly leave more dead livestock around. And if they are there, how long has it been?

I got my first report from a woman in Wales who swears she saw a wolf in the Hafren forest.
That was over three years ago and it got me thinking. If people were quite happy to let their exotic pets loose into the wilds then why not wolves. Were they released as far back as the Wild Animals Act in 1976? Have they been hiding out there ever since?
Wolves are notoriously hard to see in the wild and if people are not looking they will certainly not see them, or perhaps people are seeing them and thinking they are dogs.
Or, is even seeing, not believing. If you don't believe it, then they cannot be there!
Has it been more recently, with people seeing how well they were doing in Europe or with the trend for wolf/dog hybrids that you can now buy on the internet?
Once you have brought a wolf hybrid into your home and it has demolished your furniture, killed yours or your neighbor's pets, tried out its natural dominance on you or begun to look at your children in a funny way, what do you do with it? Take it to the vets and have it put down, or release it into the forest? 'Oh the romance of the wolf wandering the forests again.' We have all read Jack London's 'The call of the wild.'

In America they euthanize hundreds or wolf/dog hybrids every year. In England we do not know how many there are, let alone how many are killed. It would be interesting to find out. And for every hundred that are put down how many are released by caring owners who simply couldn't bear to kill a healthy animal.

I put a notice on the Wolf Society of Great Britain's notice board asking if anybody had seen or thought they had seen a wolf in England. I got so many responses that I believe they are out there. With sightings from Somerset, Wales and many in Northumberland. People are beginning to believe they are out there too.
Maybe there are people who have seen wolves but don't think that anyone would believe them, or some who have released their 'pets' and are protecting them by keeping quiet.

Imagine. The wolves are back roaming the woods and grasslands of Britain. The reintroduction proposals and projects are now null and void.
And the frequently asked questions. Can we reintroduce this species? Is it too dangerous? What about our livestock? Our children?

The wolf is back and is it answering these questions itself?

©Troy Bennett

Troy has not given out the details or whereabouts to these sightings as he wishes to gather new sightings and put them together to map out likely areas without influencing people.

If anyone has seen or thinks they might have seen or heard a wolf in Britain he would be very interested to hear about it : contact Troy

Close this article