Wolves are a necessary component to a healthy ecosystem, yet they continue to be persecuted. These beautiful creatures are a rich part of cultural history. Wolves are a symbol of the wild habitat of nature that once filled the earth but steadily declines in the name of progress. Earth's wild habitat must again flourish, and wolves play a vital role in maintaining environmental balance.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, wolves were heavily persecuted. In fact, they were hunted to the brink of extinction. Although efforts were made to save the wolf and increase its numbers once it had become endangered, the cycle began again. Once the wolf was removed from its protected state on the endangered list, the cycle of persecution was bound to begin again, as evidenced by subsequent aerial killings of these animals.
The wolf is truly a special animal. As the most widely distributed of all land mammals, the wolf, formally the gray wolf (Canis lupus), is also one of the most adaptable. It inhabits all the vegetation types of the Northern Hemisphere and preys on all the large mammals living there. It also feeds on all the other animals in its environment, scavenges, and can even eat fruits and berries. Wolves frequent forests and prairies, tundra, barren ground, mountains, deserts, and swamps. Some wolves even visit large cities, and, of course, the wolf's domesticated version, the dog, thrives in urban environments.
Such a ubiquitous creature must, as a species, be able to tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions, such as temperatures from -56° to +50°C (-70° to +120°F). To capture its food in the variety of habitats, topographies, and climates it frequents, the wolf must be able to run, climb, lope, and swim, and it performs all these functions well. It can travel more than 72 km (43 mi)/day, run at 56-64 km (34-38 mi)/hr, and swim as far as 13 km (8 mi), no doubt aided by the webs between its toes.
The wolf leads a feast-or-famine existence, gorging on as much as 10 kg (22 pounds) of food at a time, but able to fast for months if necessary. Nevertheless, if all goes well (which for most wolves it does not), wolves can live 13 years or more in the wild and up to 17 years in captivity.
As might be expected, a widely distributed animal like the wolf varies physically all around its circumpolar home. The desert-inhabiting variety of Israel can weigh as little as 13 kg (29 pounds), whereas its northern tundra cousin can reach over 78 kg (172 pounds). The wolf's color varies across the entire black-white spectrum, with most wolves tending to be a mottled gray.
Wolves live in packs of up to forty-two, but can survive even as lone individuals. Although wolf packs are usually territorial, where necessary, they can migrate hundreds of kilometers between where they raise their pups and where they take those pups in winter to follow their prey. The great variation in the wolf's environment, and in the creature's behavior and ecology as it contends with that environment, makes generalizing difficult. This problem can lead to false generalizations and misunderstanding about the animal.
What the Wolf Faces Today
The thousands of wolves that once roamed have plummeted in number. One problem that affects wolves and many other species is habitat alteration. This happens when humanity encroaches upon wilderness areas, and wildlife are forced from their natural habitat. Alteration of habitat also occurs when the population of one species, such as wolves, is greatly diminished. Other species flourish and alter the habitat through excessive grazing that results in the destruction of plant life necessary to maintain a variety of other species.
Why Save the Wolf?
When the wolf population declined, the coyote population increased -- which, in turn, affected the population and grazing habits of the pronghorns (a species of artiodactyl mammal endemic to interior western and central North America, closely resembling the antelope). Once wolves were re-introduced, the coyote population decreased, allowing the pronghorn population to flourish again. Wolves help maintain biodiversity and contribute to a healthy ecosystem. This became apparent when wolves were re-introduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and 1996.
Predators such as wolves help to maintain environmental balance. They help to keep populations strong by preying on weak animals so that the strong survive and reproduce, thereby creating a strong and healthy population. Without wolves, deer and elk become overpopulated. The increase in numbers causes a decrease in vegetation, which provides shelter and food for other species such as birds. Wolves are a necessary component in a healthy wilderness environment.
Wolves have played a significant role both culturally and spiritually in several cultures, such as Native American culture. Wolves have been symbolic, representing the true spirit of nature, freedom and survival. The influence of wolves upon the wilderness environment extends beyond the esthetic, cultural and biodiversification that wolves provide but even into tourism. The presence of wolves brings additional tourism income. A large majority of the population supports the survival of these beautiful animals. People are beginning to recognize the importance of wolves to the wild, which is what native cultures have known all along.
Killing wolves affects the entire ecosystem. Without wolves, some species increase while others decrease. Wolves help to connect and balance the species. In their natural habitat, wolves pose no threat and play a valuable role in maintaining natural balance. It is important that wolves continue to be restored to their natural habitat for the long-term survival of their own species as well as others. If wolves are to become extinct someday, it should be by the hand of Mother Nature and not by the hand of humanity.
What can you do to help the wolf?
Visit the Wolf Conservation Center to watch wolves in the wild on the Wolf Cam, learn about legislation that threatens wolves, and adopt a wolf.
The World Wildlife Fund also sponsors symbolic adoption of wolves, and you can help support the conservation of these beautiful animals with donations as well.
Wolf Haven International provides sanctuary, education and conservation. A nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that has worked for wolf conservation since 1982, Wolf Haven rescues and provides sanctuary for displaced, captive-born wolves, promote wolf restoration in historic ranges and educate the public about the value of all wildlife.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a non-profit, non-partisan international environmental advocacy group at the forefront of the environmental movement, working to save wolves and other species threatened by habitat destruction.
Defenders of Wildlife has an online campaign you can participate in to save the wolf's precious habitat.
Also read 6 Fascinating Things You Didn't Know About Wolves
EHow Environmental issues
The University of Chicago Press