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 Wolf as A Hunter & as the Hunted

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PostSubject: Wolf as A Hunter & as the Hunted   Fri Nov 02, 2012 11:33 pm

he wolf's ecological niche is that of the northern predator upon large mammals. They need large hoofed animals or ungulates as it is known, to survive in the long term. The wolf and the large herbivors it eats are an example of "co-evolution", each species changing and improving over eons in response to advances in the other that give it an edge. However, the prey of the wolf is as varied to habitat it occupies. It feeds heavily on Arctic hare on Ellesmere Island, caribou in barren-grounds, moose in boreal forest, deer in deciduous forest and, in earlier times, buffalo the plains. Even smaller animals - such as beaver, foxes, ground squirrels, rodents, birds, fish, lizards even insects and worms are consumed from time to time - especially during the summer months.

An axiom of natural selection is that predators improve the gene pool of the prey species by taking the week, the old, the sick, and the too-numerous young - not because it is the "right" thing to do, but because they are the easiest to catch. This is mostly true, though if wolves can bring down an animal in its prime, they will. Another time honoured belief is that wolves are born knowing what is prey, but observations do not always bear this out. Lois Crisler's young wolves, for example, acted fearful of caribou of the first sight. Without doubt, wolves also kill lifestock, since they are easier option. However, it must be noted that wolves do not kill lifestock at every opportunity; many seem not to recognise domestic animals as prey.

Wolves suffer from a perpetual cycle of feast and famine and can go for two weeks or more without feeding. When a kill is finally made, a wolf is able to eat as much as 20 pounds of meat swallowing huge chunks with virtually no chewing. After they have gorged themselves, wolves tend to rest for a few days with several visit to the carcass, especially if it is a large animal like a moose. On the average, wolves need about two and a half pounds of meat daily to exist, but to reproduce successfully they require about five pounds daily. That adds up to about 18 adult-sized deer annually for each wolf.

Wolves are not invincible predators. The deer and moose that they feed on have developed ways of protecting themselves from attackers - living in herds and thus using multiple sets of eyes, noses and ears to detect wolves and other predators as well as equipped with fleeting speed. In response, wolves have developed ways to increase their effectiveness. Both hunter and the hunted use certain weakness of their adversary.

Wolves are not fast runners though they are known to reach short burst of speed up to almost 40 mph. Over the long haul and under favorable ground conditions, both deer and moose can outrun them, and moose can outswim them. Wolves have responded by relying heavily on the value of surprise. They stalk their prey, approaching from the upwind side so that their quarry is not warned by their scent. When they have managed to creep close to the unsuspecting deer or moose, they rush to the attack. By now they should have selected a target, typically the easiest prey within the herd.

However not all prey run from the wolves. Some like the Muskoxen will stand and fight as a group as will an individual moose. They, like other hoofed animals will use their principal weapon which is their forefeet rather than their antlers. There are recorded incidences where a wolf died with a large hole in the side of its skull as a result of a well-placed, fatal kick by a healthy white-tailed deer.

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The dominant image of the wolf in western folklore - the ravening beats that takes lives, the cruel and cowardly slayer of innocent livestock is a product of medieval Europe. In this gloomy and fearful time of wars, plagues when nobles preyed on the weak and poor; when ancient pagan beliefs were being ruthlessly stomped out by a church obsessed with finding and eleminating heretics, real or imagined; it was far too easy to blame a mysterious and powerful creature such as the wolf for many misfortunes.

The wolf killings spread throughout much of western Europe in a fierce fight to conquer this legendary creature. People killed wolves at every opportunity with every conceivable method. Primitive tools, such as pikes and spear-like instruments, were used to batter wolf pups and their parents. They were trapped and shot by gamekeepers and local militias; hunted for sport with hound bred for the purpose. Vast tracts of wooded habitat were cut and burned down. Rulers set bounties while the Catholic Church promoted the comparison of wolves preying on sheep with Satan preying on innocent souls, sending hoards of fanatical Christians against the predators, intending to demonstrate their own prodigious strength as well as his allegiance to God. Landlords schemed to have their lands cleared of wolves by making it a condition of obtaining a lease.

Wolves were exterminated in England by 1486. In Scotland, the last wolf was killed in 1743, and the Irish celebrated the "defeat of the wild" with the death of the last wolf in 1776. France lost its last wolf in the 1920s, although a few returned to the French Alps in 1992. Eastern Europe have never completely lost their wolves. But the population is presently quite low, and many wolves are still hunted with the intensity of earlier centuries.

By the late nineteenth century wolves were virtually gone from the western European countries, and the focus of the long war against them had shifted across the Atlantic. The Europeans carried along their hatred of the wolf and their self-annointed duty to destroy it. The first wolf bounty was established on November 9, 1630, in Boston, Massachusetts, just a decade after the Pilgrims landed in the New World.

A well documented wolf war began in North America, with fanatical righteousness where the United States government paid generous bounty for dead wolves, making it a profitable and rewarding business. Fifty-five thousand wolves were killed each year between 1870 and 1877. Unprecedented vengeance accompanied with the war on wolves in the U.S., with most people thinking they were protecting livestock, as well as deer, caribou and moose.The U.S government even provided the poison and personnel such as former Buffalo hunters to aid in this war. The weapons used were guns, traps, snares, and especially strychnine.

Wolves, as the running, breathing symbol of hostile nature bear the brunt of the people's fear and hate. Some western ranchers still tell tales of capturing life wolves, trying ropes around each leg, and the simultaneously pulling each leg off while the ranchers celebrated and watched the wolf's slow, painful death. The savage war against the wolf was a success, and by 1926 wolves were wiped out in most areas, including Yellowstone National Park, and wolf population were extremely fragmented where they did survive. The last bounty for a wolf killed in Minnesota ($35) was in 1967.
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