Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The killing of wolves

There're few animals as mythical as wolves. They're the top predator in the boreal forest: intelligent, strong, fast and even organized. A pack of wolves are an efficient killing machine. That's what they do for a living. This means they compete with humans, who kill for fun -mostly- and who have to go further and further before seeing an elk, a moose or a dear.

But also wolves can kill for fun. It's been known that they sometimes go on a killing spree among sheep. There's been offered a biological explanation for this behavior: the killing of sheep doesn't wear out the wolves. A modern sheep is so cross-bred that it can't run fast. It's just meat and wool. This kind of live-stock is a piece of cake for the wolves, and there's probably nothing to the kill that trigger the wolves to stop. This makes the farmers bring out their guns.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen The wolves always seem to stirr up emotions and controversy. At least in those countries where they're still around. What we often see is a polarized discussion between rural and urban areas; between the working class and the middle class; between those who see the wolves and those who wish to see them.

It's a discussion that goes way back. The wolves even play the role as a scapegoat in a much deeper conflict -i.e. the centralization of power and the historical mischief of rural areas.

But in Norway the farmers have won (joined by the hunters). The last two-three decades we've had one pack of wolves in Norway. That was the compromise with the government. Around six wolves, that is. Apparently this number was too high; not one wolf will be allowed in Norway anymore, not on a permanent basis.

In Canada they still have some understanding of the wilderness. There is no lack of wolves either. The province of Alberta -almost twice as big as Norway- has around 3500-4000 wolves. When we stayed at Tapawingo, in the NW corner of Alberta, we often saw fresh wolf tracks in the snow. Occasionally we heard them howl. But we hardly ever saw them. The wolves were extremely shy. They avoided humans as the plague.

To actually see a wolf, in the wild, is a privilege that keeps lingering in your brain, in your very soul, for a long time. In that respect I would claim that wolves not only kill, they also gives our lives depth and meaning; they give life, so to speak.