The wolf and the humans
HUNTERS AND THE WARRIOR PEOPLE of former times admired the wolf for its hunting technique, its power of endurance, intelligence and survival capacity. The Romans, the Daker (in present Roumania), the Mongolians and many North American Indian populations took the wolf as a sacred totem animal. And even today, the wolf has spiritual significance for North American Indian cultures.
To them, the wolf constitutes a decisive link that enables them to re-establish contact with their own background. They have started again to give their children names like Yellow Wolf, Lonely Wolf, Little Wolf, etc.
THE DEEP IMPRESSION THAT THE WOLF has made into Swedish human culture is reflected in the multitude of geographical denominations, that carry the word ulv or varg (both meaning wolf) in its name, e.g. : Ulvsättra, Ulvsunda, Ulvesta, Ulvön, Vargön, Vargbrännan, Vargarn, Vargbacken, Vargbäcken, Vargfors, Vargbo, Varghögen, Vargliden, Vargträsk, Vargvik, Vargödraget, Varglund, Vargnäs, Ulvahult, Ulvan, Ulvanstorp, Ulvas, Ulvaskog, Ulvaskog, Ulvakölen, Ulvberget, Ulvebo, Ulvered, Ulvestad, Ulverud, Ulvestorp, Ulvhult, Ulvkisbo, Ulvoberg, Ulvs, Ulvsbo, Ulvsbomyren, Ulvsborg, Ulvsby, Ulvshyttan, Ulvsjö, Ulvsön, Ulvsmåla, Ulfsnäs, Ulvsta, Ulvsätern, Ulvtorp, Ulvvik, Ulvåker, Ulvåsasw, Ulvåsen, Ulvåtjärn och Ulvöhamn.
THE WOLF IS A VERY INTELLIGENT ANIMAL and an excellent and co-operative hunter, having aroused in all times feelings of admiration, jealousy, respect and fear, with the humans. Nordic populations have always had a strong cultural relation with the wolf while looking upon it with a hunter’s respect and a mixture of fear and reverence. Many populations have had the wolf as a totem- and symbol-animal, that figured in many fairytales. Examples hereof are Russia, Romania, Finland and a series of autochthone populations like the Laps, the Nenetser, Tjukter, Dolganer and several Eskimo and Indian populations.
Is the wolf dangerous?
“Through the ages we have projected on the wolf those characteristics that we hate most and fear most of ourselves” – Barry Lopez: “Of wolves and Men”
A WOLF CAN KILL, ALL BY ITSELF, a full grown elk. Quite naturally it also can kill a human being, and such killings have happened – though mainly under special circumstances. Most wolves are shy and avoid contact with human beings.
Many generations of children have been etched a picture of the wolf on their minds through sagas like “Little Red Riding Hood” and similar ghastly stories.
As early as 500 years BC people could read about the wily and sly wolf in the fables of Aesop. According to the scriptures of the Roman Catholic Church of the 12th century the wolf was a tool from the devil, released on earth as Gods punishment for the sins of man. In old law paragraphs the wolf sometimes was defined as equal to a murderer and should be punished.
DURING THE MIDDLE AGES the old Swedish word for wolf (“ulv”) meant a being that caused violence.”Ulv” was a noa-name, an ominous word and many people believed that the animal would appear at the mere naming of it. Therefore the word “varg” came in use instead. However, even that word could not be used more generally and instead came words like Gråben (Greyleg), Tasse (Paw) or den Gråe (the Grey One). The fear of wolves was reinforced by the Roman Catholic period of Inquisition, when the belief was spread, that lonely wolves were human beings that had been converted to werewolves. History proves, that humans tend to fasten for ideas and imaginations that they acquired during childhood. The message about the wolfs evilness is still communicated loud and clear.
Today’s Swedish children meet the wolf in the Bamse Magazine, where it was presented as black and evil. During the years, it has become a little friendlier. Bamses brothers however are as evil as ever. In Walt Disney’s series about “the little naughty wolf”, the little wolf stands for kindness, whereas his Daddy, the big naughty wolf, is presented as sly and evil.
THE APPEARANCE OF THE WOLF IN LOCAL COMMUNITIES often inspire warlike headlines in the local papers like “village in terror”, “wolf ravages”, “we dare not go outside”. Symbols for bloodthirstiness, treacherousness, and devilishness still burden the wolf today. Compare this to the dog “best friend of humans” still originating straightly from the wolf.
Those people that screen the truth behind myth and sagas, perceive, that the wolf is an intelligent animal, equipped with a genetically inherited shyness, which flies as soon as it recognizes the scent of humans. But, at the same time, the wolf is a curious animal with an inquiring mind that sometimes may venture to go close to human settlements. And if, just this animal has not had any frightening experiences from humans, it may well go rather close to these humans.
THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY a threatening behavior, but rather a manifestation of the wolfs natural curiosity. This counts specifically for a lonely wolf, without a flock or a family, while on a long trip, looking for food and company. Experience has taught, that the evidence of being hunted makes the wolf learn fast to keep away from the humans. In many places in Europe, the wolf lives in the outskirts of urbanization and visits from there, squares. roads and waste depositions in both villages and bigger towns.
The question about the wolfs dangerousness merits to be looked upon also in relation to other, common dangers. All big animals can become dangerous. Each year, people get wounded and even killed in close contacts with angry elks, cows, bulls, reindeer, roe deer, dogs and even foxes have attacked babies whilst roe deer have attacked the owners of country houses. Each year, in Sweden several people die as a consequence of getting stung by a wasp and some die after having been bitten by a viper. Nature has never been entirely without risks and dangers.
WE KNOW THAT SINCE 1950 in Europe outside Russia a total of 5 people may have been killed by (not rabies infected) wild wolves (in Spain in the years 1957, 1959 and 1974). A further maximum of 5 people are considered to have died of rabies after having been bitten by rabies infected wolves (Latvia 3 victims, Estonia and Slovakia each one victim). And this, notwithstanding the fact that in these countries there lived some hundred million of people and approx. 10 000 wild wolves! In the same part of Europe, during the same period, hundreds of people were killed by their own or others dogs and tens of thousands of people were murdered.
The only credible and documented case of a wolf that killed people in Sweden dates from 1821. It happened in the village of Gysinge and it involved a wolf that grew up in captivity. When the wolf was released in the forests it had never learned to hunt by itself. Rabies does not exist in Sweden. In the Soviet Union, during 1941 – 1945 (WW II) wolves are being held responsible for killing 12 humans (with reservation for unreliable Soviet statistics). During the same period, in that country, 22 million people fell as victims of the war and the Soviet Regime.
In Roumania, wolves are said to be responsible for killing a total of 7 humans during WW II. No further killings by wolves have been reported after the war. During WW II however, approx. 677 000 people were killed by other people….
THE WOLF IS TOTALLY UNSUITABLE as a domestic animal. The same goes for cross breeds between wolfs and dogs (so called wolf hybrids). Several people in the USA and Russia are reported to have been attacked and killed by wolf hybrids.
In Swedish Church register from the early 17- hundreds, One can find occasional notes about people “taken by a wolf”. The reliability of such annotations can be discussed. In the same or similar registers notes can be found about people “taken by trolls”. Moreover, these were the times that unwelcome children could be abandoned in the forests, leaving them there to die.
IN CONCLUSION THE wolfs possible dangerousness can be screened in relation to the daily mortal dangers in the woods and territories. The number of casualties caused by accidental shot wounds during hunting party’s average an annual number of 2 – 3 during the last decade.
In Sweden, per annum 100 – 170 humans are killed by murder and approx. 60 000 fall victim to assault and battery. Roe deer, in the province of Sörmland only, are the cause of 2 traffic accidents per day. Accidents involving elks demand the life of 10 people and leave approx. 500 per year injured.
It is simply more dangerous to drive your car in the forests then all other dangers there together. A further illustration of the wolfs relative dangerousness is found in the fact, that several of the photography’s, of wolves, wolverines and lynx’, depicted in the website www.de5stora.com have been taken by the photographers inside the corrals in the zoo’s, without further supervision. The animals do not seem to be considered to be dangerous to human beings.
Not so, with the bear, nowhere! Hardly even the keepers. When listening to peoples comments in countries with a lot of wolves, like Latvia, Russia, Rumania or Canada, very few are afraid of wolves. Many of them do hardly understand the question. A Latvian forester countered with the question: “Are you afraid of foxes too?”