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Six days ago, sharpshooters took out a wolf pack in the state of Washington. Six days ago, six gray wolves were shot so that a Washington farmer’s demand for “justice” could be answered.
Anger and resentment have been held against the animal that symbolizes freedom and wildness for at least a century. For many people whose lives depend on the money they make from cattle, the wolf as a symbol takes on a whole new connotation: it is a wild beast that is out to hunt and kill ruthlessly. American mainstream media often takes this hate-filled icon and makes it the main villain.
(CU Independent Illustration/Josh Shettler)
“The Grey,” which was released to DVD on Aug. 8, follows a group of stranded oil workers as they fight off a pack of six wolves in remote Alaska.
Much of the wolves’ behavior in “The Grey” is wholly untrue in the real world, Utah State University wildlife-ecology professor Daniel MacNulty said in a National Geographic article posted after the movie was released to theaters.
“Most people don’t realize this, but wolves are wimps,” MacNulty said.
The unorthodox message of wolves as vicious predators has been clear since the early 1990s, said Hilary Hastings, 21, a researcher at Mission: Wolf in Colorado and a senior at CU.
The wolf’s stereotype of big and bad has been abandoned in all but a few states, like Washington. The century-old hit list on wolves continues to grow with the addition of the six new members in Washington.
People’s livelihoods matter, don’t get me wrong. The cattle lost to wolves are a problem, and actions should be taken to see that such a loss does not cause suffering to businesses and families on a regular basis. But do the actions need to be so permanent?
Hastings says no. As a wolf researcher at the Colorado-based sanctuary, Hastings knows the “magical” side to wolves. She knows them as intimate pack animals who are important to the natural world. Her organization strives to “educate the public about why wolves are needed in the wild – to balance out the ecosystem,” Hastings said.
Hastings suggests domestic guard dogs are one solution for farmers like those in Washington.
“I personally am an advocate for ranchers having guard dogs to protect their livestock,” she said. “True, these animals cost them a bit more money, but the simple presence of another group of canines holding territory is typically enough to keep a wolf pack at bay.”
Hastings and her sanctuary want “to pass along the idea that wolves are not blood-thirsty creatures but highly intelligent animals trying to live their own lives to the best of their abilities.”
Hastings is not alone on her view of the wolf.
Michael Breed, a CU professor teaching animal behavior, said he believes that “predators are extremely important in ecosystems,” and that it is humankind’s responsibility to learn to “accommodate and monitor livestock better, or reimburse livestock” that has been lost. He also believes that relocation efforts can work, because at this point “wolves are scarce… you could find a suitable habitat where they wouldn’t go back.”
So, why should CU students who are far removed from the issues going on in Washington care about wolf killings or pay attention to out-of-state wolf issues? Breed answers this question simply.
“We are going to have wolves in Colorado sooner than later,” he said.
Breed explained that as the Yellowstone population increases, territories are going to expand into states like Colorado. Because of this approaching reality, Breed said that it is “good to pay attention to issues in other places and work with public education to gain greater acceptance.”
Wolves are predators worthy of respect. They should not be the villains that haunt children’s dreams. They should not be viewed from the crosshairs of a gun. They should be viewed as the majestic predator they are. Humans and animals will always trespass on each other’s lives. Justice cannot be found in violence. The only answer is coexistence.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Katrina Winograd at Katrina.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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