Dispelling the Myth of the Big Bad Wolf: Sustainability Story of the Week
Tales such as Little Red Riding Hood or The Three Little Pigs have conditioned us from an early age to fear wolves. Their reputation as ruthless killers put a target on their backs and led to centuries of mass slaughter, which nearly wiped them out completely.
The truth is however, that the ruthless villain depicted in our childhood books is actually a timid animal that is much more likely to run away from humans than attack them. In fact, the chances of being attacked by a wolf are about the same as being struck by lightning! As for the age-old “excuse” that wolves are a serious threat to livestock, scientists have found that, this too, is a myth. A study by the USFDA has shown that wolves only killed 8,100 cattle in the United States in 2010. To put this in perspective, dogs killed 21,800 cattle… Moreover, contrary to popular belief, predators are not the biggest threat to cattle. The biggest killers are actually respiratory problems, which were responsible for the death of over 1 million cattle, followed by digestive problems (505,000), problems with calving (494,000) and weather (489,000). In short, the way that farmers treat their cattle is significantly more relevant than the number of wolves in the area. Shooting wolves is not only a very weak way to protect livestock; it is cruel and unjustified. Not to mention that there are many non lethal alternatives to prevent wolf attacks on livestock. Livestock guarding dogs are an effective way to keep wolves and other predators at a safe distance. Fences and scare tactics such as alarms and lightning have also proven to be effective.
Therefore, there is no foundation for the persecution of wolves. As the remaining wolves were facing extinction, the environmental movement gained momentum in the 1970s and attitudes towards wolves started to shift. Their crucial role in the environment became obvious and nothing illustrates this better than the example of Yellowstone National Park. After a 70-year absence, wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Shortly after, scientists noticed incredible changes for the better in the ecosystem. The reintroduction of this native predator led to a cascading effect that helped restore the natural balance of the ecosystem. Wolves preyed on the elks that overpopulated the park, thus reducing their numbers. This also altered their grazing behaviour with the elks avoiding areas where they were most exposed to wolves. The result was less pressure from over grazing, notably on riverbanks, where riverside species such as aspen and willow were able to regenerate. It also reduced erosion, which allowed for birds, fish, and beaver populations to return, and so on throughout the different levels of the ecosystem.
Norway has also recently chosen to side with the wolves by reducing the hunting quotas from 47 wolves to 15. Wolves, while still on the endangered list in many countries, are on the path to recovery. Ecotourism, through its educational and conservation efforts, plays a big role in dispelling myths and negative folklore surrounding wolves. Not to forget that this is a win-win situation. Wolves can create significant economic benefits. A study showed that wolf ecotourism brings in 35.5 million dollars annually to the three states surrounding Yellowstone National Park.
To sum it all up, As the death of Yellowstone National Park’s most famous wolf, who was shot legally as she ventured just a few meters out of the park, showed us, it is still way too easy to kill wolves and get away with it.
If you’d like a chance to see these amazing creatures in the wild, go on the Tracking Wolves and Moose in Winter trip in Sweden, or the Winter Wolf Tracking Trip in France.