"We humans fear the beast within the wolf because we do not understand the beast within ourselves"
~Gerald Hausman~

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The Evolutionary history of the wolf is not totaly clear, but many biologists believe that the wolf developed from primitive carnivores known as miacids. Miacids ranged from gopher-sized to dog-sized animals, and appeared in the Lower Tertiary about 52 million years ago. Miacids in turn had evolved from Cretaceous insectivores. The direct descendants of miacids today are animals called viverrids, which include the genet of Africa.

Relatively late in the evolutionary history of miacids came the appearance of the first canid (Cynodictis). One of these was called the dawn-wolf. This creature had a long body and looked like a elongated fox; it could live and climb in trees; it was also thought to be related to feline species. Some authorities believe that canids originated in North America and then spread to Asia and South America, while others ascribe that a small type of wolf crossed into Siberia from Alaska, where it eventually developed into the larger, present-day grey wolf. The grey wolf then migrated to North America, where it populated what is now Canada and the United States, except for the southeastern section of the latter country. That area was populated by the smaller red wolf (C. rufus, which may be a result of the hybridization of grey wolves and coyotes). Still Others believe that the dog family originated in North America, migrated to Asia, and then returned.

Wolf ancestors began to develop in the Paleocene, about 60 million years ago. By the Miocene, about 20 million years ago, canines and felines had branched into two separate families. In one wolf ancestor, Tomarctus, the fifth toe on the hind leg became vestigial and is evidenced today by the dew claw on both wolves and dogs.

Research of wolf history by Robert Wayne at the University of California suggests that a number of wolf-like canids diverged from a common ancestor about 2-3 million years ago. The first grey wolf, Canis lupus, probably appeared in Eurasia sometime in the early Pleistocene period, about 1 million years ago. Around 750,000 years ago, it is though to have migrated to North America.

The Dire Wolf, Canis dirus, larger and heavier than the grey wolf, evolved earlier and the two co-existed in North America for about 400,000 years. As prey became extinct around 16,000 years ago due to climatic change, the dire wolf gradually became extinct itself. Around 7,000 years ago the grey wolf became the prime canine predator in North America.

Pack Life

Wolves lead a complex social life. They form groups called "packs," which are typically composed of a dominant mated pair ("The Alpha Pair"), their offspring, and an assortment of other adults, often with some genetic relationship to the "first family." In May or June the dominant female bears a litter of up to ten pups in a den in some secluded location. Life in summer centers around this den site, and later, a "rendez-vous" site. The whole group assists in the upbringing, helping to feed the mother and young with prey from the hunt, acting as "nursemaids" when the mother herself goes hunting, and guarding the area from predators like grizzly bears. By fall the pups are able to roam freely and the group may become more nomadic.

The life of the pack is finely tuned to the hunt. When moose or caribou are abundant, wolves live in larger groups to enable pack hunting. A pack uses a distinct territory, which it defends against other wolves. During winter wolves may travel long distances, especially when the main prey is a migratory species such as caribou. Many other foods will be utilized if available, such as moose, mountain sheep, marmots, ground squirrels, hares, mice and even spawning salmon.

Human Interaction

Wolves and people evolved in Ice Age Eurasia and spread throughout a large part of the world in each other's company. Hard times must have occasionally thrown them into severe competition, but the wolf human relationship was governed by mutual tolerance and respect. This changed when humans assumed pastoral and agricultural life-styles and began campaigns to exterminate their old competitor to make the world safe for large numbers of domestic animals, or to divert the wolf's share of wild meat to an ever- increasing human population. The result has been the elimination of wolves almost everywhere that people dominate the land.

In today's increasingly crowded world, wolves are valued as a symbol of wilderness, and of ecosystems healthy enough to support large predators. People in regions with wolf populations are coming to recognize a special responsibility toward these creatures. Along with new appreciation has come disagreement about wildlife management practices for wolves. Some hold that no wolves should be trapped or hunted. Others emphasize traditional use by rural people of both wolves and their ungulate prey (caribou, moose, etc.). Yet others, recognizing the pressure that wolves can put on prey populations, argue for deliberate reductions of wolf populations under some circumstances. And the need of reindeer herders to protect their herds remains a dilemma for wolf management. The State of Alaska recently convened a wolf management planning team representing the wide diversity of opinion. The team found that wolves must be considered in the context of the entire ecosystem, recognizing the interconnectedness of wildlife users, prey, predators and habitat.

Wolves depend on large tracts of habitat and substantial populations of their principle prey species; moose, caribou and mountain sheep. All these are threatened by human population growth, development, habitat conversion and fragmentation and over-hunting. Wolves must also be protected from mechanized harassment, and even from disease and genetic alteration through breeding with dogs if they are to survive in the wild. It stands to reason that all human uses of wolf habitat must balance the needs of wolves and people. For instance, when wolf populations decline drastically because of low prey availability, human hunting of the prey stocks should be curtailed.

On the other hand, temporarily reducing wolf populations might sometimes be desirable to allow depressed prey populations to rebound. Modern reindeer husbandry conflicts with healthy wolf populations. Consequently, populations of wolves are low in central Beringia. For example, in 1989 the number of wolves on the Seward Peninsula was estimated at only 50 to 150 individuals. In Chukotka recent decades have seen an official policy of shooting wolves from helicopters to protect reindeer herds, but there seems to be a shift away from this policy.

It is said that in olden times wolves and people worked out a balance, with wolves taking what they needed from the herds, and Chukchis hunting only individual wolves that had become wasteful killers. Is it possible that such balances as these can be reestablished, not only in reindeer husbandry but all human endeavors, so that the song of the wolf will always be heard in Beringia?

Wolf Howling

Wolves howl for many reasons. Wolves howl as a way of communicating with other wolves. Wolves howl when they are rallying for a hunt, mourning, communicating with another pack of wolves or when a pack member has become separated - a lost wolf howls and the other members of his pack respond, giving him a sound to guide him home. Pack members recognise each others voices. Howling can also serve as a declaration of territory or a sign of protection such as protecting a fresh kill.

Large packs of wolves will howl more than smaller packs of wolves. This is because smaller packs do not want to draw un-necessary attention to themselves. Adjacent packs may respond to each others howls, which can mean trouble for the smaller of the two. Therefore, wolves tend to howl with great care.

Wolves howl at various levels of tones and pitches which tends to prevent a listener from accurately estimating the number of wolves involved. This concealment of numbers makes a listening rival pack wary of what action to take. For example, confrontation could mean bad news if the rival pack gravely underestimates the howling packs numbers. People have often guessed, based on listening to howls, that a pack of wolves contained up to 20 individuals, when there were only 3 or 4.

Wolves tend to howl the most during the twilight hours, usually before the adults go and hunt and on their return. Wolves also tend to howl more during their breeding season and throughout rearing of pups. The wolf pups in turn will begin to howl and will be provoked into howling sessions quite easily. Such random howling usually has a communicative intent and has no adverse consequences so early in a wolfs life. Howling becomes less random as wolves learn to distinguish howling pack members from rival wolves.

There are many misconceptions regarding the reasons why wolves howl. Contrary to popular belief, wolves do not howl for the sake of howling at the moon and despite the traditional imagery, wolves do not always sit when they howl - they often remain standing. Under ideal conditions, a wolfs howl can be heard from as far away as 10 miles (16 kilometres). A wolf howl can last between 3 and 11 seconds at a time.

In addition to howls, wolves can also produce whimpers, growls, barks and squeaks. Whimpering tends to serve as either a submissive or friendly greeting sound, since young wolf pups and wolves attempting to appear submissive often whimper. Wolves growl when they are attempting to threaten another wolf or are behaving aggressively. Wolves rarely bark, however, they may do so as an alarm call or during play. Captive wolves who have been exposed to domestic dogs may bark more often than wild wolves or captive wolves who have not been exposed to domestic dogs.

Farley Mowat

Farley often writes about wildlife, the environment, and the way that humans pose a danger to their natural habitat. In his twenties, Farley served as a scout in the Canadian Army and fought in World War II. His war experience helped him when he wrote "The Regiment." When he returned from the army, Farley accepted a position as a government biologist in Northern Canada. Farley's assignment was to study the wolf population and their behaviour. The Canadian government was concerned because the caribou population was shrinking, and they thought that wolves were killing the caribou, so they asked Farley to find evidence to support their suspicions.

Farley Mowat was the man who introduced me to the injustice of animal abuse. Wolves are the most humane of non-human mammals and live in loving well developed family groups. Canadian authorities once suspected that wolves were destroying caribou herds. Mowat taught them something they did not want to know. Man was the mass murderer, not wolf. Hunters with guns, not wolves with sharp teeth. Sure, they ate an occasional caribou. Native Inuit Canadians respect the wolves. They thin out the herd by eating the sick and infirm. In that regard, wolves keep the herd strong. Mowat observed that the major food source for wolves in the Canadian wilderness was field mice, not caribou.

Source: http://www.northernlightswildlife.com/wolf_info.html


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