I have always loved wolves ever since as an eight-year old wolf cub I and my mates gathered round Akela, our pack leader’s totem.
I once spent a night at a friend’s flat which was located near Regent’s park, London. It was full moon and thought I was hallucinating when hearing wolfish howls coming from the park. I need not have feared I was going mad. The atmospheric howling was emanating from the wolves’ enclosure in the park’s zoo – now, alas, no more as far as these supernal animals are concerned…
Last Friday, 24th October, at Bagni di Lucca’s Circolo Dei forestieri at 5pm there was an interesting conference on the Wolf. This was no David Attenborough type natural history lecture on an exotic species but on something which touches us all deeply who live here. For example, I’ve had three rabbits and three Muscovy ducks killed in winter by what most probably were wolves coming down from the Apennine ridges above me in search of food.
Wolves used to be restricted to the wilder areas of the Abruzzi national park in southern Italy but have in the last thirty years gradually moved up, following the upper ridges of the Apennines, until they’ve finally reached Tuscany.
As an endangered species wolves are protected and it is a criminal offence to kill one whether by shooting or poisoning. At the same time, there is still a lot of debate of how man can live peaceably with this most noble of canidae. The problem is that fewer and fewer people live in the remoter reaches of the country and the areas in which wolves feel safe in are ever increasing, Paradoxically, however, younger people are taking up abandoned pastoral areas since jobs in cities are now particularly rare to find and they, too, need to re-establish a pact with wolves.
The most famous pact established between man and wolf was that between Saint Francis and the wolf from Gubbio but this, today, would require a rather particular kind of person (and wolf!) and is clearly not very feasible. A better system would be to section off land use so that wolves are encouraged to hunt wild boar and deer rather than prey off goats and sheep. This would require a higher number of forest rangers which, with the present economic cuts, is not very likely.
Although wolves may opportunistically attack domestic animals they can also be subject to illegal hunting techniques which include that horrible method of strewing poisoned carcasses around the landscape. This not only kills them off but also decimates domestic pets like dogs and cats. There are many examples of this barbaric practice reported in the local newspapers.
Another problem the wolf has is that his image, largely projected through those films which exploit myths associated with lycanthropy, or the power of certain humans to transform themselves into werewolves, has had a bad press, Like cats, wolves have had a mixed, and often bad, reception through the ages. From their apogee of respect and worship in ancient Egypt, cats descended into an abyss of misunderstanding and fear. In mediaeval times felines, especially black one, were even considered witches’ familiars and drowned or hung for their association with the evil ones.
The same fate overtook the noble wolf. In early Indo-European cultures the world was worshipped as a strong deity. Among the Dacians (the present day Romanians) , for example, whose name derives from the ancient root daoi meaning wolf, the animal was considered the king of all beasts and the only one who could help humans defeat the enemy. The tribesmen would wear the pelts of these animals as protection in battles (ever seen the film “Gladiator?”). For ancient Greeks the wolf was associated with Apollo, the sun god. The Germans have had a particular love for the wolf and even the Nazis could perhaps be praised for being the first government to give the wolf status as a protected species in Europe.
Best of all, of course, is Italy whose great Roman empire could not have been founded had Romulus and Remus not been milked and kept alive by the she-wolf.
Today, the wolf is making a come-back from extinction (as happened in the UK where the last wolf was killed in Scotland in the seventeenth century) or near extinction. This is ultimately a good thing for the presence of the world, as is the presence of healthy lichen on a tree, is yet another sign that those parts of the world it inhabits are healthy places, or else it would not have chosen to live there!
So, don’t keep the wolf from your door if you don’t want the world to degenerate even further into ecological ruin and decay!
That, essentially, was the message delivered in this most interesting conference in which Forestry rangers, our local mayor, shepherds and farmers and researchers (all girls) were able to have their say in the proceedings, and the documentation of their findings was both extensive and interesting.
We are truly in for the day of the wolves and I look fowards to the time when wolves will be re-introduced to many parts of the UK (the four-legged variety, of course. There are too many of the two-legged ones already for my liking!)