Crying for the wolf

In the popularity index of animals of the wild, the wolf ranks abysmally low. We love the lion and the tiger for their magnificence, the leopard for its speed and quiet.

Published: 17th April 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th April 2022 06:56 PM   |  A+A-

In the popularity index of animals of the wild, the wolf ranks abysmally low. We love the lion and the tiger for their magnificence, the leopard for its speed and quiet. In fact, all the big cats get at least a smile from us, be it the puma, the jaguar or the shadowy snow leopard.

Similarly, the elephant, and the monkey, the ape are among creatures we look upon with kindly eyes. 
But the wolf, though a  forerunner of the dog, who is a much-loved family friend across the world, finds little favour. In fact, we hardly spare it a thought. The entire canine family inhabiting the wild suffers the same casual negligence of attention. And no one sheds a tear for the wolf that, straying into territory once its own but now claimed by farming, is killed as a dangerous enemy.

Perhaps, it is the fairy tales we grew up reading, where the big bad wolf waits for the little girl dressed in a red hooded cape as she wends her way through the forest to meet her grandmother that has predisposed us against the wolf. Perhaps it is the wolf’s tendency to raid farms and carry away chickens and lambs that fuels the antagonism. 

But like every other animal, pleasant or unpleasant to man, be it the bear, the mongoose or the hyena, the wolf too has a role to play in keeping Nature’s balance. A recent report that India’s wolf numbers have decreased alarmingly should then ring serious alarm bells among those who are guardians of our wild heritage. 

Some years ago, a popular WhatsApp video was doing the rounds. It showed how the re-introduction of 14 wolves into Yellowstone National Park changed the entire scenario of the park. In what seemed to be a miraculous transformation, the park bloomed richly with an abundance of flowers and plants, many of which had been decimated and seemed to have vanished forever.

It was not magic, but just the wolves being, well, wolves. As was in their nature, they hunted deer. It brought down the numbers and also kept the deer from grazing in areas where they could easily fall prey. Thus entire tracts, left free of hungry mouths, came alive with new plants, trees grew thick and swayed in the breeze. The plants attracted larger numbers of insects and bees, and the birds that fed on them returned in larger numbers every succeeding year. The trees got back the near-extinct beaver population which thrived with the sanctuary of the dams they made. The dams attracted otters. The wolves killed coyotes and that helped increase the mice and rabbit population. These in turn made hawks and hunting birds and a host of migratory birds return to prey on them.

The growth of vegetation stopped erosion and the banks of the rivers stabilised. Park rangers found the park rich and full, and realised the wolves had actually done much of their conservation work. So, let’s spare a thought for our wolves, and our forests, and find ways to ensure the wolves do not become only an illustration in a fairy tale. Efforts to conserve through tracking and breeding—saving wolf lives—is as important as saving the elephant or the tiger. In fact, every animal has an equal right to live as Nature meant it to. 

And yet, God knows we do precious little to give them that right.

Sathya Saran

Author & Consulting Editor, Penguin Random House


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