Whiskers are also known as vibrissa, from the latin vibrare "to vibrate". Vibrissa are the specialized hairs on mammals and the bristlelike feathers near the mouths of many birds. Their resonant design is symbolic of the energies, good and bad, that are reverberating throughout the natural world. Every living thing is connected and, by birthright, deserves to exist.
October 12th-18th is Wolf Awareness Week. During wolf week in 2013, I wrote about conservation efforts to preserve red wolves (Canis rufus). It has been a bad year for red wolves at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge as at least 11 of them have been killed by gunshot in spite of protection under the Endangered Species Act. This translates to 10% of the wild population of red wolves. Unacceptable.
Today I forced myself to read the details of gray wolf (Canis lupus) persecution in Yellowstone, particularly the statistics regarding loss of wolves in Idaho since 2009, when the state took over population management. Here are the numbers:
Wolves killed by firearm-54
Wolves killed by aerial gunning-142
Wolves killed by neck snare-25
Wolves killed by foothold-150
Wolves killed by hunting/trapping-1,066
Wolves killed by unknown control-33
Total wolves destroyed in Idaho since 2009 = 1,470.
The existence of wolves is a very positive story of the environment. Here are some major examples of how that is so.
Wolf kills feed multiple animals since wolves scatter carrion, to which scavengers help themselves. For examples, some of the mammals that eat carrion include bears, shrews, weasels, lynx, wolverines and cougars. Birds that will eat carrion include vultures, bald and golden eagles and several species of owls. And of course, thousands of species of insects benefit from carrion.
When wolves are around, deer and elk congregate in smaller groups. Smaller deer and elk herds help to reduce the spread of illnesses such as Chronic Wasting Disease. In addition, wolves prey upon sick animals, which decreases the amount of time sick deer or elk can spread an illness.
When Yellowstone wolves became extinct, the moose population became five times larger. This large moose population browsed and demolished woody vegetation that served as bird nesting habitat. Without suitable nesting sights, several bird species disappeared from Yellowstone.
The absence of Yellowstone wolves also allowed coyotes to prey upon pronghorn, which all but disappeared from the park. Since the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone, pronghorn numbers have increased. In fact, pronghorn are known to give birth near wolf dens because coyotes avoid those areas.
Elk carcasses from wolf kills have been shown to increase nitrogen and other nutrients vital to healthy soil.
The presence of wolves in Yellowstone has decreased the number of elk grazing near rivers and streams. The return of wolves has resulted in increased growth of riparian vegetation which protects waterways from toxic run off.
In a 2005 survey, when Yellowstone visitors were asked which wildlife species they would like to see, 44 percent of them wanted to see wolves. The only species that they wanted to see more was the grizzly bear. Depending on the season, 50 percent or more of Yellowstone visitors were specifically interested in the possibility of seeing wolves in the park. In winter, when wolves are most visible in the park, 59 percent of visitors came to Yellowstone specifically to see or hear wolves.
Wolves are a keystone species on this small planet we call home. The biggest mistake humans continue to make is to view themselves as entirely separate from the natural world, which is also mistakenly presumed to be an infinite source of everything that sustains life.
What we do to wolves we do to all of life. When it comes to the natural world, one can draw a line in the sand and proclaim “Animals on that side. People on this side” only to find that by morning the line has been blown away, washed away, burned away or buried.
It is time that we make peace with wolves and in doing so, make peace with all of life.