“Intelligent creatures learning to coexist”

Family values: Why wolves belong together

A great article on wolves, the pack and family structures of these highly intelligent, social animals, and the unintended results of culling based on numbers.

…older wolves pass knowledge down to younger pack members, and that human hunting disrupts this natural order. Lone survivors or pairs without supporting family members behave more unpredictably and kill more large prey animals than wolves living in stable packs, so hunting is often a counterproductive way of trying to manage wolf populations.

Protected from hunting, the Algonquin wolves have clearly altered their behaviour. Haber argued that allowing wolves to express their natural social behaviour benefits the wider ecosystem as well as the wolves themselves. Studies from Yellowstone and Banff national park in Alberta, Canada, have shown that intact wolf packs boost the diversity of plants and songbirds, and increase populations of beaver and amphibians, all by limiting the numbers and grazing patterns of elk and other large herbivores.

So let me see. Repeated trauma and constant duress create instability, and change behavior into a desperate survival-mode that isn’t geared for sustainability. Allowing a highly intelligent, social animal that relies on multi-generational learning to live un-tortured in the way it is intended to live is good for everyone in the environment.  Gee, ya think?

Based on decades of close observation on Ellesmere, Mech has transformed the popular vision of the wolf pack, long viewed as a gang of competitive thugs. He argues that the pack is actually an extended family.

Wolf families are as diverse and changeable as human ones, says ethologist Jane Packard at Texas A&M University in College Station, who has worked with Mech. Packs are shaped by environment and chance: the established order can be shattered by a shortage of food or the death of a parent. In times of change, it is common for the classic pack structure to be disrupted. Monogamous packs are the norm only in areas where prey is abundant and humans do not hunt wolves. In other situations, all kinds of new family conformations have been observed, from polygamy to single mothers.

Packard also reinterprets wolf social behaviour. Rather than seeing it as a dance of dominance choreographed by successful bullies, she views it as a dramatic saga of intelligent creatures learning to coexist.

Would that we were intelligent enough to learn this lesson.


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