and two elbows.
forearms, hips, teeth, wrists. five toes on each forefoot, and four toes on the hind.
twenty months ago I knew almost nothing about wolves. today I know a great deal, but I didn’t learn they have knees until yesterday.
and something about this matters to me.
wolves, canis lupus, are the long-ago forebears of man’s best friend, the dog. everyone knows this. we humans love our dogs. twenty or more are walked past my windows every day. one, a jack russell terrier, runs out in front of his master, who rides his bicycle behind. labs, boxers, bulldogs, mutts, shepherds, and little teeny yippy dogs trot past, tugging their masters. it’s difficult to envision the evolutionary process that led from wolf to shih tzu. inbreeding, mutations, selective breeding: the answer to how (and from where) today’s dogs actually came to be are still being studied, and argued about.
the connection between man and dog, though, is rarely fodder for argument.
and it’s part of what draws so many of us to wolves.
but there are also those who fear wolves. who consider them vicious and violent, an unnecessary, destructive species.
the marshall family, in the 1950’s, spent years living with a tribe of kalahari bushmen, in southern africa. the bushmen lived, at that time, basically as their ancestors had lived for the past thousand years. the apex predator in africa is the lion, and the bushmen had an understanding with it, as one explained to the marshall’s daughter elizabeth: “where lions aren’t hunted, they aren’t dangerous . . . we live in peace with them.” lions and bushmen had coexisted for so long, they “knew” each other, and appeared to respect each other. bushmen were cautious and protective–they stayed in community at night, and didn’t place themselves at risk–knowing that lions were capable of ripping them to shreds. but the two groups shared the land, each recognizing and accepting the other’s existence.
the bushmen hunted with poisoned arrows, and by the time the poison took effect, the animal was often far away from the hunters. at times, the bushmen would reach their prey only to find lions already at feed. the bushmen would neither shoot arrows at the lions nor abandon their kill; instead they would calmly tell the lions to leave, that the animal wasn’t theirs to eat. reluctant lions might be encouraged by handfuls of soil, tossed lightly in their direction. and this was enough to make the lions leave.
it is possible for man and beast to share the land. what’s required are firm boundaries, and respect.
wolves are not dogs, and they shouldn’t be treated as such. however, they are animals that belong on the landscape. it is our job to determine how to set and enforce appropriate boundaries, and to respect the wolves’ nature, behavior, and right to exist.
like all top predators–lions, tigers, great white sharks, grizzly bears–we share many traits with wolves.
among them are that we like to choose our territories, we will defend them. we reproduce and raise families. we like to choose our own meals.
and we both–wolves, and man–have two knees.
Photo Credit: The Wolf Almanac by Busch, Robert H.