THE WOLF: FRIEND OR FOE?
Mankind's love/hate relationship with the wolf.
At some far distant time and in a far distant place, no-one knows quite when or where but probably about 15,000 years ago in Central Asia, a hunter-gatherer adopted an abandoned baby wolf and raised it up. Very likely he took it home and his ‘wife’ and children cared for it. Under their nurturing it became a friend and an asset, possibly as an aid to hunting, possibly as a guard to their hearth, possibly as a warning which kept other animals off. As it was an asset other members of the tribe tried to do the same thing and gradually, as the tame-wolf population grew and interbred they became less fierce and slowly developed into dogs.
That is quite a thought—just 15,000 years ago there were no dogs, just wolves!
With that in mind it is not surprising that humankind has always been fascinated by wolves. I will admit, right now, that if I had to choose a favourite animal it would be the wolf. I don’t know why, I just admire a lot of things about them. I have obviously seen them in zoos and on TV documentaries and a magic moment was when I saw one in the wild. I described the experience in my book of animal folk tales ‘Where Dragons Soar’:
(Where Dragons Soar and other animal folk tales of the British Isles published by The History Press 2016. ISBN 978 0 7509 6186 8 )
“One of my own most magical animal experiences was (almost) meeting a wild wolf in a forest in Central Europe. It was high summer and my wife, Sue, and I had stopped for a picnic in a glade half-way up a mountain. Suddenly everything seemed to go quiet and across the glade behind Sue strolled a wolf—out of the trees, across a few yards of open grass, and then it disappeared again. It did not look our way, although I am sure it knew we were there. It just walked by, minding its own business, almost as if we were not worthy of its notice. Sue knew nothing about it until later when I told her. People have suggested that it was a dog but wolves and dogs look and move very differently as you will know from all those films where they use German Shepherds as very poor stand-ins for wolves!”
The other side of the coin though, is that ever since people ceased to be hunter-gatherers and started keeping domestic animals they have been trying to annihilate wolves. There were bounties placed on their heads from the Middle Ages onwards and by the end of the 19th century there were very few left in Europe. The same happened in America. Since the 1950s though, they have been staging a comeback, and it was reported recently that one had been seen in Belgium so they are now present in every country in mainland Europe! Numbers are still small, of course, but they are growing.
My meeting described above was in Austria which is a crossroads for the different wolf populations when travelling across the continent.
My daughter, Lucy, heard wolves at night in Maramures in Romania where they are quite common.
It’s hard to say when wolves became extinct in Britain for they died out at different times in different parts of the country. Wolves probably died out in England, through a deliberate effort to rid the country of them, by around 1500—except perhaps in the wildest parts of the Peak District. In Wales it was later and in Scotland it was probably not until the 18th century although one was reported in 1888. But, reports of wolves have continued long past these dates. Could they be true or are they wishful thinking—like the Beast of Bodmin and other ABCs? (Alien Big Cats) In my book I told stories of several wolves which may have been real, imaginary, escapees from collections or even werewolves!
The Wolf of Allendale (in Northumberland) is supposed to be a true story of events in 1904. But it’s a mystery. Was there a wolf? Was it a dog? Or was it a case of mass hysteria and panic? An Almost Human Beast starts off in much the same way and seems like a simple account of a wolf or dogs attacking a flock of sheep but as the story progresses we hear that “the creature rose on to its hind legs and peered in through the window. Its eyes were blue and it looked intelligent and human.”
This leads on to the much longer story of the Derbyshire Werewolf.
There aren’t only werewolves, of course, but also werefoxes, as in the famous song Reynardine.
It is now accepted that there is a supernatural element to that song but it is actually a recent addition. The song, when it was originally written in the early 1700s probably, was a simple tale of a young woman falling in with a highwayman. It was Bert Lloyd who changed the whole mood of it by adding the line “His teeth so bright did shine”. Amazing what so small a change can do!
There have been moves to reintroduce wolves into their previous range. The most famous reintroduction is probably at Yellowstone in the USA. By adding wolves they were able to transform the landscape and take the environment back to something like what it was before mankind wrecked it. The wolves kept the deer numbers down, the deer didn’t eat the young saplings, tree cover grew back, other animals and birds returned... and so on. Similar results have been found when beavers have been reintroduced in parts of the UK.
Could we bring wolves back to UK?
I don’t know. I don’t think we have enough large areas of wild land away from farms and human habitation. Wolves need a large range. They travel. They are also lazy and might be tempted to feast on sheep rather than go to the bother of chasing deer. And with the press which they have had over the past 1000 years I can’t imagine many English people welcoming them into their neighbourhood!
Oh Granny, What big teeth you have!
All the better to eat you with, my dear.
You can buy Pete's book 'Where Dragons Soar'
and the CD Blue Dor by Popeluc on which Pete sings Reynardine from the Shop page of Pete's web site:
There are a lot more videos on his You Tube channel: Pete on You Tube
And you might be interested in Facts & Fiction storytelling magazine which he edits: Facts & Fiction