Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Big, Bad Myth

Posted: 19 Oct 2012
For Wolf Awareness Week 2012, we’re sharing some of our favorite facts about wolves. Help us spread the word by sharing the image below on Facebook

It’s no surprise that the wolf gets a bad rap. For many of us, our first exposure to wolves was the “big, bad wolf” we heard about as children in bedtime stories. But did you know that Charles Perrault’s original printed version of Little Red Riding Hood had nothing to do with actual wolves? The story was told in the late 17th century court of King Louis XIV, at a time when the French aristocracy was concerned about beguiling men in the streets taking advantage of their daughters. It was meant as a cautionary tale regarding the corruption of young women, and the moral was to be wary of strangers, especially predatory men, not to have an irrational fear of local wildlife.

To our knowledge, real wolves have never blown down a pig’s house either, but such fairy tales designed to frighten people may have led to the demise of wolves in European cultures. Wolves were essentially eradicated from much of central and northern Europe during the 19th century, and prejudices against them followed to the New World. As a result, wolf populations up and down the East Coast were eliminated around the same time. In the early 20th century, government-sponsored eradication programs wiped out most of the remaining wolves from the West to make the land more suitable for raising livestock. 
Today, wolves are back in many parts of the country, but Defenders is still fighting an uphill battle to overcome centuries of anti-wolf persecution. Fortunately, efforts like Wolf Awareness Week are helping us tell a new story about wolves—one that emphasizes their value as a keystone species. In places like Yellowstone National Park, we’ve seen the return of wolves have a positive and cascading effect on parts of the ecosystem. Wolves keep elk herds on the move and away from sensitive wetland and riparian areas, allowing streamside willow and aspen trees to recover in some areas. With more trees available, fish and songbirds are returning and beaver colonies are expanding. Wolves also keep coyote populations in check, which means more pronghorn antelope fawn survive and red foxes have less competition for food. Thus, more wolves = greater biodiversity = healthier environment.

It’s time to replace those old notions of the “big, bad wolf” with a fuller understanding of the important role that wolves play in maintaining nature’s balance. All of us can do our part to help set the record straight.