Return of the species



1. Wolves. Endangered?
2. Wolves on the rebound
3. History of extermination
4. Midwestern wolves

5. Causes of extinction
6. Trumpeter swan sings
Wisdom of reintroductions
8. Helping the plants
9. Moving the plants

10. Genetics movement
11.House flies!

























With erect ears, grayish brown fur and white patches on its cheek, this wolf looks slightly off-camera, a composed carnivore.

Looks surprisingly like the family dog, which indeed evolved from the wolf.

Courtesy Lynn Rogers, International Wolf Center

  Bounty hunters at work
UPDATED 13 JULY 2000 Wolves haven't done too well since the Europeans occupied North America. Once, these brainy, social, pack-hunting relatives of canines dominated most of the area north of Mexico. But the carnivores got bad press by devouring livestock and scaring the public.

Wolves devour a carcass What a difference a century makes! When wolves ranged across much of North America, extermination was a civic duty.
Monty Sloan, Wolf Park, Indiana.

The result was a long spasm of hunting, trapping and poisoning, encouraged and often funded by the federal government, which paid bounties for wolf carcasses. Here's an eyewitness account of the extermination crews:

Around 1880 "came the reckless, renegade horde called 'wolfers,' who were, generally speaking, composed of the 'scum of the earth'. Their particular traffic was in wolf-pelts. Poisoned meat was set for a wolf and the animal thus killed left for bait. The cannibal pack descending upon the carrion, perished and the pelts were easily obtained. These pelts were light of weight, easy to transport and commanded good prices."

Source: "Conflicts between native species and settlers ..." on a cyber-extinct site.

But times and attitudes change. Years after killing a wolf in the Southwest, conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote remorsefully about watching the "green fire" die in the wild animal's eye.

A little help from the feds
The nadir for wolves came around 1973, when the population in the lower 48 states plunged to 400, all of them in Minnesota. (A separate population in Alaska was never in danger.) In 1973, the new Endangered Species Act reflected a resurgence of environmentalism by outlawing the injuring or killing of species on the brink of extinction. The gray wolf was one of the first species listed as endangered under the Act.

The Act helped enhance the status of the wolf: In digital lingo, Canis lupus was upgraded from Little Riding Hood 1.2 ("a bloodsucking, fanged terror that will convert Cattle 3.2 into wolfmeat 4.1 and cause system errors with Ranchhand 4.73") to Symbol of Wilderness 4.01 ("A Lovable, Furry Agent Promoting the Balance of Nature").

Even today, the Rocky Mountain reintroduction continues to face opposition from ranchers, and authorities have shot about 15 wolves for preying on sheep or cattle, according to Marsha Karle of the press office at Yellowstone National Park. "There's been some friction, but it could be a lot worse," she adds, noting that ranchers are reimbursed for proven losses by Defenders of Wildlife, a Washington, D.C., organization that supported the reintroduction. While wolves do eat some livestock, wolf expert Adrian Wydevan says there are no records of serious or deadly attacks on people in North America in the last century. However, a captive wolf did kill one person three years ago, and wolf-dog hybrids kept as pets may be dangerous. "When kept in improper conditions, these animals can pose grave danger to people -- especially to children," say folks at Wolf Park.

Minnesota never lost the gray wolf. 'zup with wolves in the Midwest?


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