The effects of thousands of impoverished trappers and wolf bounties in northern Alberta early in the 20the century on predators, and its relation to the myth of the harmless wolf.

Valerius Geist

November 26th 2010

The effects of thousands of impoverished trappers and wolf bounties in northern Alberta early in
the 20the century on predators, and its relation to the myth of the harmless wolf.

Dear Colleagues,

I have been digging into historical literature in my quest to understand why in North America the myth
of the “harmless wolf” took such a severe hold, to the point of perverting scholarship and quite
probably leading to the death of some believers. The conventional view of the harmless wolf, which I
also believed in throughout my academic career and four years into retirement, is in sharp contrast to
experiences elsewhere. Yet, it certainly coincided with my personal experience pre-1999, after which a
misbehaving pack of wolves settled about our and our neighbor’s properties at the edge of a farming
district in central Vancouver Island. The unexpected behavior of these wolves led me to investigate
wolf behavior for the first time. I subsequently discovered that the wolves were much the same in their behavior, whatever their origins, but that circumstances lead to vastly different outcomes. In general, the evidence indicates that wolves are very careful to choose the most nutritious food source easiest obtained without danger. They tackle dangerous prey only when they run out of non dangerous prey, and they shift to new prey only very gradually, following a long period of gradual exploration. Wolves are very sensitive to strangeness, including a potential prey species strange to them. Garbage is the easiest and safest food source for wolves, and they do take advantage of such. Once they are habituated to people due to their proximity, they may begin to investigate people. The ultimate exploration of a strange prey by a carnivore is to attack such. Hence, the danger from habituated wolves. However, they need not have garbage, just a shortage of prey to begin investigating and eventually attacking humans. This means that as long as wolves have sufficient natural prey, they leave livestock alone. As long as they have livestock they leave humans alone. When short of natural prey and livestock they turn their attention to humans and their habitations and may even break into such to extract cattle, horses, pigs, sheep or poultry. Dogs and cats are attacked before that. We humans are next in line, primarily children. But even then the initial attacks are exploratory in nature and clumsy, allowing some victims to escape. However, this scenario is of exceptional scarcity in North America, though it is practiced occasionally by coyotes targeting children in urban parks.

The discrepancy, however, between global and conventional American experiences with wolves is crass. Wolves have killed thousands upon thousands of people as chronicled by European and Asian sources, yet in North America documented fatal attacks are few and disputed. The differences are real. What then was going on in the past century in North America to make wolves so harmless? I felt I had obtained part of the answer that showed that wolves are wolves wherever they occur, but that circumstances can generate very different outcomes in wolf behavior.

I continued digging.<<<To finish reading, view and/or download this PDF file>>>