Living with wolves
I’ve seen their tracks and heard their howls but haven’t met any wolves on my back 40 this winter. Not that I really expect to because it is rare to get even a glimpse of one.
I did get a glimpse last year. I was walking a trail when I saw it briefly on a low ridge ahead of me. It disappeared immediately and when I walked up to where it had been, tracks in the snow told me a story.
The tracks ended in skid marks. The wolf had been chasing a rabbit, was totally focused on grabbing dinner and didn’t scent or see me as quickly as it might have in other circumstances. When it did, it came to a skidding halt and bolted in the opposite direction.
Perhaps that is how Spitfire, a famous Yellowstone National Park wolf, met her demise last November. She was shot by a trophy hunter just outside the Yellowstone no hunting zone. She was either distracted or unaware that she had left her safe zone and it cost her life.
Spitfire was a seven-year-old alpha female gray wolf revered by biologists and wildlife enthusiasts. She was the daughter of 06, another famous Yellowstone wolf shot by a trophy hunter back in 2012.
The killing of Spitfire was legal because she was outside a protected area. Legal but not logical, because trophy hunting is neither logical nor defensible.
Trophy hunting is not the honourable hunting that many of us enjoy. It is killing for ego. Killing for bragging rights. Killing to stuff and display an animal’s body, or to hang its skin or other parts on a wall.
Trophy hunting is a huge business. American trophy hunters pay big bucks to kill animals overseas. They import more than 126,000 wildlife trophies a year on average.
The United States Humane Society says that 1.26 million wildlife trophies were imported to the U.S. between 2005 and 2014.
Canadians also are fond of wildlife trophies killed abroad. Between 2007 and 2016 Canadians imported 2,647 mammal parts as hunting trophies, including pieces of 83 elephants, 256 lions, 134 zebras, 76 hippos and 19 rhinoceroses. Pieces such as feet, ears, tusks, skulls and horns.
Those figures come from the database operated by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, which tracks animals on endangered lists and requires permits for these animals or parts of them to cross international borders.
That database also shows that another 280 mammals were imported intact after having been stuffed, including antelope, oryx, monkeys and lions.
Those numbers do not include animals brought back as trophies that are not considered endangered, and not requiring any kind of special permit.
Meanwhile, the killing of Spitfire last fall has renewed calls for a no-hunt buffer zone around some national parks. The idea is to protect wildlife such as wolves and grizzly bears that live in the parks but sometimes wander beyond their boundaries.
Wolves have been exterminated in many parts of the world, notably Europe and the United States, where wolf populations had been eliminated everywhere except Alaska and northern Minnesota. Canada and Russia are countries where populations continue to be relatively stable.
Efforts to restore gray wolf populations in the U.S. have been quite successful. They are protected in many states by the Endangered Species Act yet occupy only five per cent of their historic range. But now the Trump administration has signalled that it will end federal protections for all wolves in the U.S.
I understand and support the concerns of ranchers and farmers who must protect their livestock from wolves. I also understand the critical importance of wolves as necessary to the balance of nature.
I also believe we humans can learn to be better beings by studying the traits of wolf society. Wolves are social animals who despite their wildness demonstrate trust, team play, respect for family, kindness and compassion.
These are the same good traits that many people see in their family dogs. Human society would be much better if it demonstrated more of those traits.
Wolves are an important part of our natural world and should not be gunned down by trophy hunters.
Neither should any other animal.