Animal Studies Bibliography
Marvin, Garry. 2012. Wolf. Reaktion Books.
(Summarized by Jessica Bell, Animal Studies Program, Michigan State University)
The wolf has never been seen as a carnivore pursuing a necessarily carnivorous life in a morally neutral manner. Demonized and despised, the wolf has been the target of extensive extermination campaigns. However, when wolves were nearly gone, a new cultural space opened up for a reimagined wolf. This reimagined wolf is the scientific wolf and the wolf as icon of the wild.
The first wolf species appeared between 2.5 and 1.8 million years ago. Before the eradication campaigns of the past 500 years, the wolf was the world’s most widely distributed wild land animal. The wolf was named canis lupis (dog wolf) by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. The order of the name, which places dog ahead of wolf, suggests that the dog is the basic species and the wolf the secondary species. Thus, it could be interpreted that the wolf is a dog “gone wrong”. The notion of the wolf as unnaturally carnivorous is echoed throughout history.
A wolf’s body is built for efficient hunting. It has long feet and very strong incisor and canine teeth. The jaw of a wolf has twice the power of the largest domestic dog. Wolves’ non-retractable claws are blunt from contact with the ground and have no grip, so wolves must get very close to their prey in order to make a kill. The average pack size is 3 to 11 wolves, but a pack is not necessary for wolves to hunt. This suggests that the primary purpose of the pack lifestyle may be social stimulation. The size of the pack is determined both by social relationships within the pack and by prey availability. A wolf pack generally consists of a breeding pair and the offspring of that pair. Typically, only the breeding pair continues to mate. Members of the pack assist with raising the pups. The mother’s mate brings her food in her den, and the young adults help watch the cubs. Wolves are very territorial; the size of the territory depends both on food resources and the presence or absence of neighboring wolves.
Wolves live in a rich multi-sensory world in which the pack members use complex signals to communicate their emotional and physical state. Howling, the best-known signal used by wolves, is just one of various auditory, olfactory, and visual signals that wolves use to communicate. A wolf’s howl can carry 6 to 10 miles, depending upon the terrain. Howling serves several functions related to reunion, social bonding, spacing and mating. Inter-pack howling serves as an avoidance mechanism so that rival packs don’t encounter one another. The harmony of howls depends on context. Inter-pack howling tends to be disharmonious, to make it appear that there are more wolves than there are. Within packs, howls tend to be harmonious when wolves are apart and disharmonious when they are together. This suggests that wolves emphasize that they are part of a group when separated but signal their individuality when close.
The new model of wolf social life refers to a breeding pair rather than to an alpha male and an alpha female. Conflicts within the pack are reconfigured as inter-family disputes rather than ruthless power disputes. This new model creates a perspective of human concerns reflected in the lives of wolves, indicating that scientific conceptualizations of wolves can never be fully separated from cultural ideas.
For centuries, the wolf has been feared. The domestication of livestock led to mutual dependency and ownership, and to fear of the wolf as predator. Negative perceptions of wolves can be traced as far back as Aesop’s fables. In one famous fable, “The Boy Who
Cried Wolf”, the image of a wolf approaching is used as a generic image of danger. In many of Aesop’s tales, the wolf is a clever deceiver, tricking people and disguising his true nature. For example, several stories focus upon naïve shepherds who treat wolves as they would domestic dogs, and who suffer tragedy as a result. The image of the wolf in Aesop’s fables contributed to the notion of the wolf as an enemy of mankind who uses guile to slip into the human world. Much of the symbolism of early Christianity emerged from a pastoral economy and used imagery related to sheep and wolves. Jesus is portrayed as a shepherd and the Lamb of God. Christian believers are portrayed as “lambs among wolves”, with the wolf as the emblem of moral and physical danger and evil. The image of the wolf changed with the introduction of Jesus’ “wolf in sheep’s clothing” metaphor. Wolves become not simply predators, but also deceiving, excessive, immoral creatures with wicked intent.
The image of the wolf as criminal and deceiver has been perpetuated throughout the centuries. Tales of people who became wolves in order to do evil (werewolves) circulated and many people were tried, tortured, and killed for being a werewolf. One famous werewolf, Peter Stumpf, was tortured and executed and a carved image of a wolf was placed with his severed head. The carved image of the wolf, in this instance and in others, came to represent evil and criminality. Later, wolves killed by human hunters were displayed in public places to demonstrate the punishment of criminal animals. The story of Little Red Riding Hood, first published in 1697, also contributed to the perception of wolves as deceptive and rapacious. This story also introduced the concept of the sexually rapacious wolf.
Building upon the image of wolves as ruthless and violent, warriors in many cultures have identified themselves as wolves through the use of wolf names or wolf parts. In the Second World War, German U-boats were referred to as wolf packs. Hitler associated himself both personally and militarily with wolfish terms He identified himself as “Conductor Wolf” while on the phone and was proud that his name was related to the old German word for “Noble Wolf” (p. 76). Associations with wolves were used to justify unregulated cruelty, violence, and killing.
This association of wolves with evil and criminality led to extensive campaigns to eradicate wolves. Charlemagne, founded the Louveterie in 812, an institution charged with killing wolves in royal forests. Across Europe, the wolf was eradicated or reduced to small numbers through the use of traps, snares, and bounties. In North America, the indigenous population had occasionally hunted wolves, but with respect and in moderation. With the arrival of the European colonists, widespread wolf eradication began. Wolves were demonized as criminals and emblems of the dangerous and godless wilderness that threatened the social and religious order. They were not simply classified as nuisances or vermin; they were enveloped in a cultural system of vengeance and punishment. Their predation of livestock was perceived as theft and “they were not simply hunted; they were hunted down”(p. 89). The American colonists, who often had not been allowed to hunt in Europe, were resentful of hunting regulations and of rival predators. Wolves were not only blamed for killing livestock, but for killing wild animals such as elk and deer. Beginning in 1630, bounties were established. Dead wolves were put on display as though they were criminals.
Wolf hunting accelerated in the 1800s for several reasons. Between the 1830s and 1880s, buffalo herds in the West dwindled from 30 million animals to practically extinct.
The plains were filled with rotting buffalo carcasses. Driven for the desire for wolf pelts, which had become a desired commodity, hunters killed wolves drawn to the buffalo carcasses. Also, the wolf became the object of intense hatred among US ranchers. Their calls for the eradication of the whole species, and the development of industrialized killing tools such as traps and poison, led to the mass killing of wolves. The belief that total eradication was necessary, and the use of industrialized killing tools, was exported from the US to other countries such as Japan. Trapped wolves were displayed and often tortured before being killed. The few wolves who managed to escape (temporarily) become legends. The most famous of these wolves is Lobo, who was finally trapped in New Mexico in 1894.
Wolves were even eliminated in national parks. By 1931, ¾ of the Bureau of Biological Survey’s budget was being used for predator elimination. However, starting in the 1930s, the notion of a balance of nature, which included predators, began to emerge.
Not all cultures viewed the wolf as evil and criminal. Many indigenous cultures across the world have respected wolves and included them in their creation myths and as deities. Examples include the Koyukon people of Alaska, the Ainu people of Japan, and the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Canada. For these peoples, wolves and human beings are seen as part of the same physical and cultural world. Thus, the notion of wolves intruding upon human territory is not present. In fact, many of these peoples have rituals in which wolves are part of the process of creating people who are fully able to participate in society.
There are also multiple stories of wolves nurturing humans. The most famous of these is the story of Romulus and Remus, the founding story of Rome. In this story, a female wolf, portrayed as tender and protective, nurses the children after they have been discarded from human society. There are multiple more recent stories of children being nurtured by wolves. Most concern cases in Uttar Pradesh, India. While fictional, the story of Mowgli from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, first published in 1894, is perhaps the best-known story of a child raised by wolves. Mowgli and his relationships with the wolves formed the founding myth of the Wolf Cubs, an organization founded by Robert Baden-Powell in England in 1907. Powell viewed wolves as having a supportive, orderly, and disciplined society, which he strived to imitate in this organization. When this organization spread to America, and became the Boy Scouts, it distanced itself from its wolf origins. For example, the “wolf scouts” became “cub scouts”.
Before the 1890s, the wilderness was cast as the enemy of the pioneer. However, by the end of the 19th century, some people had begun to rethink the concept of wilderness. Work by biologists Sigurd Olson and Adolph Murie helped demystify the wolf, bringing scientific knowledge to the image of the wolf. In 1944, the conservationist Aldo Leopold, who had previously killed many predators, had an altering experience. After killing a wolf, he watched the “fierce green fire” (p. 144) die in her eyes, and rethought the sense and ethics of killing such a creature.
Leopold’s description of senseless, and morally and ecologically wrong, killing echoed across America and the world. In 1963, naturalist Farley Mowat published Never Cry Wolf, an account of a Canadian wolf pack. This text emphasized the vulnerability and human-like qualities of wolves and was made into a Disney film in 1983. This text and the subsequent film built upon the sentiment of Leopold’s writings and contributed to the growing perception of wolves as unthreatening and ecologically necessary.
Many children’s books also helped alter perceptions of wolves. Julie of the Wolves, written in 1972 by Jean Craighead, illuminated the complex social life and intelligence of wolves. Eco-Wolf and the Three Pigs, written by Laurence Anholt and Arthur Robins in 2002, recasts the three little pigs as the villains. Celebration of wolves is also present in the feminist literature of Angela Carter and Clarissa Pinkola-Estes. These authors emphasize that, like women, wolves have been persecuted because they are viewed as threatening. Pinkola-Estes urges women to connect with this wild spirit and run with the wolves. Because the wolf has been persecuted, it is a suitable emblem of freedom.
In the 20th century, Native Americans and wolves have been linked in positive, spiritual ways. Both the wolf spirit and the Native American spirit have become symbols of harmony with the natural world. There is a growing desire to connect with wolves. WolfQuest is a virtual version of Yellowstone National Park that allows players to see the world as wolves would. The International Wolf Center and other wolf centers allow visitors to see and interact with wolves in person. The wolf howl has been transformed from a sound that inspires terror to a sound that inspires relaxation; earlier generations would have found this unimaginable.
There is a still a war surrounding wolves, but the nature of that war has shifted. Previously, the war has been against wolves, Now, the war is between humans over the wolf. The reintroduction of wolves is a controversial issue, one that involves both biopolitics and biology. Pro-wolf activists are labeled by their opponents as naïve urbanites, while anti-wolf activists are labeled by their opponents as domineering and anti-wild. These two groups have different conceptualizations of the wolf, conceptualizations that will impact the life, death, and survival of this species.