26 Jan 2008, 6:26pm
Predators Wildlife Habitat
by admin

Wolves in Russia

Graves, Will N. Wolves in Russia: Anxiety Through the Ages. 2007. Detselig Enterprises LTD.

Selected excerpts and ordering info [here]

Review by Bear Bait

I finished it. Dryer than a popcorn fart. A sort of disjointed set of citations. Somehow the organization could have been better. Or so I think.

Wolves in Russia was PhD edited for facts and translations, but perhaps not for literary style. I have no doubt as to the veracity of the material, just some discomfort in how it was presented. I have neither the experience or talent to detail how it should have been done, however. My cop-out.

Wolves In Russia can be used as a reference, but you had better be an expert reader of Russian like the author. The book is edited by Dr. Valerius Geist, PhD, P.Biol., Prof. Emeritus U of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Wolves in Russia has excellent scientific trappings, if not the order and style that would make it more digestible for me.

But after reading Will Graves’ gleanings from the historical record of the last 150 years, it becomes clear that Russians, and that means all those people under the rule of Mother Russia in the last 150 years, have every right to fear wolves.

There is an old Russian saying, “I kill the wolf not because he is grey. I kill the wolf because he kills my sheep.” Russians don’t hate wolves for being wolves. They hate them for what they do to their lives.

If you were rural and subsistence living in Russia during the last 150 years, you would have known political upheaval, government intervention and non-intervention, money for government services, and times without money for government services. You would have experienced long periods of gun control and being defenseless against violent people and predators. Hundreds of millions of Russians died in that 150 year period, and probably the majority at the hands of their own government by acts of omission as well as commission.

The apparent difference between the pioneer experience in the U.S. as opposed to Europe is the amount of liberty in the U.S. The freedom to own and bear arms was essential to a pioneering people who were able to succeed without undue influence of wolves in their lives. In the U.S. wolves were shot, on sight, by European immigrants because their life and cultural experiences were that wild predators consumed the means of human survival. “I shoot the wolf because he eats my sheep.” It is likely that pre-European North American residents felt the same way.

In Russian it went far beyond sheep. It was horses, cows, swine, ducks, geese, dogs, children, and all the cloven-footed game. In times of peace and record keeping, hundreds of thousands of livestock a year were killed by wolves. Wolves killed and ate people, too, mostly children gathering foods or firewood in the forests. When political chaos ruled the land, the records are fewer, but it is clear that wolves increased in numbers and ferocity.

The times of little or no wolf impacts on society were in peacetime when the government was working (as well as it ever did). When government officials decided to control wolf numbers, they did so, and the result was far less livestock loss, fewer rabies cases, and great rebounds in the health and numbers of game animals. When the government wasn’t working well (much of the era), wolves and wolf predations multiplied.

The book leads one to believe that Russia had little problem with wolves when there was an earnest government effort to control wolf population. When wolf culling was dependable, the wild game herds increased in numbers and health, livestock went unmolested for the most part, and people and urban fringe animals were not preyed upon.

In Wolves in Russia Will Graves goes to great lengths to describe known the associations of wolves with diseases and parasites. The more wolves, the greater the incidence of 50 known wolf parasites being spread to other animals and people. Rabies, for instance, was a common hazard to rural Russians. Many, many citations of rabid wolves biting multiple persons in one episode after another. The parasites of wolf scat have airborne possibility, and people are warned not to handle, disturb or be near it in any way. Evidently there are some wolf-borne parasitic worms that encyst in humans and cause great damage. And the more wolves, the more parasites cloven-hoofed animals carry. Graves points out that the far-ranging travels of wolves make them an ideal Darwinian host and spreader of parasites.

Graves flatly states that wolves are not forest sanitarians, but in fact are predators of the best nature has to offer and are spreaders of disease instead of the controllers of disease (the mythical shibboleth disseminated by wolf protectors and fanciers in this country). Wolves as vectors of disease has been little investigated in this country. Will Graves has extensive experience monitoring of the spread of hoof and mouth disease (aftosa in Spanish) in Mexico, where he worked with a joint Mexican-American effort to control aftosa. It is assumed that aftosa is spread by dogs, poultry, and wild birds. Graves hypothesizes that coyotes and wolves are also carriers.

I have read nothing in the popular press concerning the extensive findings of Russian scientists regarding wolves as significant parasite and disease vectors. I found interesting the conclusion of Russian science that fewer wolves meant fewer diseases in game herds, which is 180 degrees from the NGO spiel in the U.S. (they claim wolves create healthy herds of game).

So in Russia we are talking about a population of half million wolves during some periods of the last 150 years. That number of predators had an impact on the prey base, which was anything they could kill, domestic or wild. Those numbers can skew impacts in a way that a few hundred wolves might not.

One would think that starvation in late winter would be the time of greatest impact on people and livestock by wolves, but wolves do their most damage to livestock in late summer and early fall. Evidently they need to teach hunting skills to their young, and domestic animals present the best targets for schooling.

I read just yesterday in the Capital Press about wolves in Idaho being most active killing livestock in late summer and early fall. Absolutely the exact behavior observed in Russia over a period of 150 years according to this book.

At no time of the year did the author find that wolves took the infirm, crippled, or diseased prey, acting as Nature’s garbage collector. Quite to the contrary, the wolves of Russia prefer healthy, prime animals over sickly and less nutritious prey. And Russian wolves kill far more than they eat, by general consensus. Historically, wolves killed all the reindeer they could, ate what they wanted, and moved on. The same happened with livestock kills. Finding a kill totally consumed is the exception rather than the rule.

There is a constituency of science and popular opinion in Russia (and here) that wolves are not to be exterminated but controlled. There was a period of time in Russia where the writings of Farley Mowat and his description of wolves existing on lemmings were popular, and the populace was admonished not to greatly impact wolves. During those periods wolf numbers rose, the problems began anew, and wolf culling had to be reinstituted.

Russia has partly recovered from Mowat’s views. The USA has not. We in the United States have been spoon fed touchy-feely wolf science from single purpose advocates for wolves who have not given credence to the European experience (over many more centuries than writers have existed on this continent).

The grey wolf is a grey wolf here, in Asia, and in Europe. There are subspecies galore, including the Mackenzie Valley wolves which the USFWS captured in Canada and released into Yellowstone. Evidently the MacKenzie Valley subspecies is larger than the Great Lakes or Great Plains wolves of Central Canada and the U.S. Great Lakes states, and that makes them more formidable predators of larger game. There are larger and smaller subspecies in Russia as well. Graves was not able identify subspecies in his history book, because the Russian records of different government agencies, church records, collective farm records, newspapers, and scientific writings do not identify the animals as being other than plain wolves.

Except for wolf/dog hybrids, and Graves uncovered some records of those. People who had a dog impregnated by a wolf and raised hybrid pups to adulthood often claimed that hybrids were more dangerous than purebred wolves because they had less fear of humans. The hybrids certainly became livestock predators of record and did considerable damage.

The Russian record of human victims of wolves is embedded in fable, folklore, and now in written records from churches, newspapers, and government entities. In Russia wolves have been killing and sometimes eating humans as far back as humans can remember.

Grey wolves kill humans. There is a written as well as oral record, repeated many times in many places, of wolves killing humans, and that record is replete late into the last two decades of the 20th century.

Ever the contrarian, I seem to find the opposite view on just about anything. I doubt, therefore I am. I now have serious doubts about most of what has been presented as science when it comes to wolves. The U.S. wolf view and public policy is a fairy tale, as former President Bill Clinton is wont to say, and it is based on emotions, emotions that are going to be felt in a very negative way in our future.

A wolf is going kill someone or something close to you, most likely not your milk cow or your plough horse, but perhaps your best dog, your pregnant mare, or your child or grandchild, and you will feel the full pain from wolves that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of peasants have felt in Europe and Asia over the centuries.

Wolves were extirpated not because they were grey, but because they eat our livestock, our livelihoods, and sometimes us. Another Russian proverb from the book is “He who keeps company with wolves will learn to howl with wolves.” Boy oh howdy, does that paint a picture of reality in the West today.

- bear bait, amateur book reviewer.

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