Dec 2, 2015

Wolf

Legend, Enemy, Icon
by Rebecca L. Grambo

Much like the Barry Lopez book Of Wolves and Men, this large coffee-table style volume provides a lot of solid information about wolves. It covers all the basics- pack structure, habitat needs, hunting strategies of wolves and so on. Mostly it is about how humans and wolves have interacted over the centuries, our perception of them shifting over time. Anciently wolves were revered and admired, many feature in creation stories. Men from hunting cultures tell of copying methods they observed wolves using. When people began keeping livestock, wolves were no longer seen in a positive light but viewed as competition. Even worse, during the Middle Ages when wolves often scavenged the dead left from plagues, famine or warfare, they came to be feared as agents of evil. It's taken a long time for our views of wolves to change, but now opinion is swinging around again and wolves are seen by many as noble icons of the wilderness. Interestingly, the author cautions against this relatively new lauding of wolves as well, pointing out that whenever we see the animal through colored lenses, our responses to problems with wolves are skewed. That careful scientific studies should influence our management of wolf populations, not emotional popular opinion. I had never quite read these perceptions explained so clearly before. The book rounds out its discussion of wolves with an overview of the state of wolf populations in different countries, and how re-introduction into many areas is being managed, in particular regarding conflicts with livestock keepers.

A lot of this information wasn't exactly new to me, but the clear way in which it was all explained made it a very nice read. Many of the tales recounted- legends, mythology and creation stories from different cultures, were ones I hadn't encountered before. The photographs by Daniel J. Cox are beautiful (and I appreciate that the author admits they are all of wolves kept in captivity- pointing out how pictures of captive wolves in superb health can gain admiration and support for their wild counterparts, which are seldom seen and probably less attractive, given how often they suffer from hunger, parasites and other ills). There are also lots of quotes and poems about wolves included in the margins, and images of artifacts depicting them, which adds to the richness of this volume.

I borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 4/5        176 pages, 2005

more opinions: Canadian Bookworm

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