Wolves and humans

There are plenty of organizations concerned with wolves in the UK. This link takes us to a site selling hybrids very close to wolves not so much as pets as companions (the site warns) and this organisation is working to reintroduce
I visited these people, the UK Wolf Conservation Trust last nght. They see themsleves as principally concerned with education about wolves; their wolves act “as ambassadors” fulfilling the trust’s founder’s ambition “to dispel the myths and misconceptions that surround them.” It might be said therefore that by looking at long-term conservation through education they hold a middle way between the re-introduction approach and (if I can say this without sounding too damning) the “tamer nature” approach of domesticated wolf hybrids. Of course, taming, living with and breeding from wolves can’t just be dismissed as a modern fad; it could be argued it is one of our oldest animal-human relationships. I like to imagine the symbiosis of human hunters and wolf packs listening for and watching one another’s hunting movements (and maybe a long period where ‘we’ scavenged off ‘them’ and maybe vice versa – and the even longer period [which we are still in] where we compete for space and food, and then at some point in one of those periods, that first time a wolf stood cautiously to one side and some human threw her or him a piece of offal… Pure mythology on my part.

But if that’s my aetiological myth, I felt close to it at Howl Night last night. Hearing wolves howl spontaneously as the twilight deepened was wonderful; managing to tune my voice into howling with a wolf – specifically this wolf – got me thinking about why our voices can be so alike. A sort of convergent evolution suggests itself – the need to communicate in similar terrains for similar tasks with similar groups – and this leads me to the big question I want to explore,one I’m always exploring really: what is this relationship founded on, and what are its characteristics?

It strikes me there are two elements that I can explore – two  interrelated issues I’ve already touched on in this post, but which I need to come back to: competition and symbiosis.

Do we fear and love the wolf because it competes – or competed at least – with us, especially when we moved to raising livestock which it took?   It might be argued that we developed, perhaps, a respect, an understanding of it – but at the same time a rivalry, even a fear that occasional confrontations will have done nothing to dispel.   Perhaps Steven Mithen’s fascinating book the Singing Neanderthals (an interesting critique is here)  might have some insight – I must have a look  back at this.   I also wonder whether we fear and love the wolf because we have lived close to it, tamed and shaped it, and the pure wolf seems somehow to remind of this process? Is the former what gives us the werewolf, the predatory danger, and the latter gives us the named and befriended ambassadors we met and howled with last night?

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