Destiny, as keeping these populations strong and
Destiny, perhaps from the very beginning, claimed the wolf as a symbol.
Has anyother animal stirred human passions the way the wolf has? Its haunting howl, itsincredible stamina, its brilliant eyes, and its superiority as a predator allhave been reviled as nefarious, and even demonic, traits. Ironically, these samecharacteristics have also been revered as belonging to a majestic, and sometimesspiritual, creature – a symbol of the magnificent, untamed wilderness.In truth, the wolf is neither evil nor exceptionally good – neither demonnor god. Wolves are simply predators. Their role as a predator must not bereduced, however, to that of savage killer. Wolves, like humans, need to eat tosurvive. In this process, wolves also provide a service: they help preservenature’s delicate balance by keeping herds of deer, elk, moose, and other largemammals in check, as well as keeping these populations strong and geneticallyviable by preying on the weak and sick.
Both the idealized wolf and the demonic wolf are creations of the humanmind. It is not easy to transcend the image of the Big Bad Wolf that has filledour myths and legends, but if we know only this wolf we do not truly know thewolf at all. And what we do not know, we fear. Our fear is perhaps the greatestthreat to the survival of the wolf, for it causes us to react rather than act,to repel rather than respect. But this fear and hatred did not always separateman and beastMan the hunter once looked on the wolf the hunter with admiration.
Man andwolf both used their keen intelligence to overcome the disadvantages they facedin their day-to-day existence. Survival for both was enhanced by hunting andliving in groups or packs. And, at one time, the chance of survival for each wasalso increased by following, learning from, and adapting the skills of the otherto its own advantage.As long as man’s daily living was earned primarily as a hunter, he knew arespect for wolves, and coexistence was relatively peaceful.
Eventually, man andwolf took up together in a process of domestication that brought a differentmeaning to their coexistence. Even while those early ancestors of man’s bestfriend enjoyed this new relationship, the wolves that did not come in from thecold were beginning to be cast in a different and less favorable light, for thedog was not the only animal toward whom man turned his attention in the earlydays of animal husbandry. Some ten thousand years ago, man discovered greatvalue for himself in domesticating animals such as cattle and sheep – it was fareasier to herd sufficient numbers of animals to supply adequate food than tohunt them.Man left the forest for the field, and the wilderness became a vast andfrightening entity. While the domesticated dog was soon pressed into service toguard these herds of goats, cattle, and sheep, his cousin the wolf was now seenas a threat and an enemy.
The wolf, again a symbol, stood not for majestic,bountiful wilderness, but rather for foreign, untamed wilderness that must beconquered.