Opinion: Why the Wolf?

Canis lupus italicus, cuccioli che guardano – Photo by Antonio Iannibelli

This is the question I hear most often from those who know me and are amazed that all of a sudden I am dealing with wolves. In fact, I teach English and my life has been oriented towards other goals after having searched in vain for a way to study and graduate in a subject, Ethology, which in Turin in 1980 still resonated like a whimsy of the” flower children”. But certain things “go around immense and then come back”, so many years have passed, and after Milla died – a crossbreed very similar to a wolf and my guiding spirit for 10 years – from 2013 I started doing anthropological and naturalistic research, to understand better the behavior of these magical creatures who, in the meantime, have come back to the Alps and now populate the woods of my house, in Val di Susa.

Alps, Valle di Susa, Italy – Photo by Brunella Pernigotti

Since then, the more I get into the study of wolves, the more I realize that the atavistic bond that binds us is made up of much deeper and inherent elements in both our natures, which are so similar and parallel. Wolves are our alter ego, they are the mirror in which men see themselves and find their roots, for better or for worse. Our society tends to disconnect us from nature and its laws, deluding ourselves that we can control everything on earth, under the sea, in the sky. Human history has only ever taken and consumed the Earth, the wolf now represents an obvious obstacle and is here to tell us: Enough!

The distorted image we have of these creatures is due to many factors, ancient and modern. We have forgotten it, but there are populations still strongly linked to the Earth, who respect and consider its creatures as our teachers. The wolf has taught us not only the techniques of hunting, but also the strategies of encirclement, charge and attack, which men have used in their military actions for centuries. Now the question that prompts me to investigate is: why do we maintain such a difficult and contradictory relationship with this species? Maybe because wolves are predators, considered rather dangerous, but not enough to revere them and elevate them to the rank of the most noble (always according to a human evaluation) felines such as the lion or the tiger?… We tear our clothes off if a hunter kills a lion in distant Africa, but we let the most important remaining predators, those at the top of the perfect natural trophic mechanism of our regions, be hunted, tortured, or poisoned in our home. Why? Do we think that wolves are bad dogs? Why do we have the right to judge them instead of simply accepting them? Would we perhaps like to erase with them that wild part that we know is in ourselves? …

These are open questions. But, I repeat, I am sure of one thing: that we are disconnected, detached from our own roots, so we no longer realize that the world we have created is falling into a chasm full of plastic and pollutants, where the natural habitats no longer exist, not only for the rest of creatures, but also for us. Recreating environments, where free and uncontaminated nature reigns, is a gift that we should give to us and to the future generations. Each creature has its own role in the ecosystem, whether we want it or not. Unfortunately, we have already lost thousands of species that have become extinct through our fault, because we do not want to change our attitude and we believe that we are right, yet we do not realize that we become poorer, (and sicker), every time we cut down a plant, or a forest disappears, or we kill a living creature for no reason. As Jane Goodall says: let’s try to consider wolves, and other animals, as sentient beings, who are capable of feeling joy, pain, fear, love. And I think: like us, they are affectionate and, within their pack, they take care of each other; they too are competitive and territorial, so they defend their borders and can attack and kill if other alien wolves threaten their lands; finally, they have to feed their offspring so, to get food, they use the weapons they are equipped with: fangs, physical strength, but also intelligence and flexibility. The differences with humans do not seem so many to me.

Undoubtedly the presence of the wolf is uncomfortable and in Europe, where the natural territory has now been almost completely modified and domesticated, this problem is particularly felt, but the solution cannot be to erase them from the face of the Earth. Simple common sense should suggest that by doing so, we would create a dangerous void in the ecosystem that could be immediately filled by another species or which could lead to a significant loss of balance in the “natural system”. So we must commit ourselves to change attitudes, trying to dialogue with all the parties involved, putting aside prejudices and entrenched positions. Thinking of being on the side of reason and expecting “others” to change their opinion will lead nowhere. It takes willpower, humility and open-mindedness to meet, look each other into the eyes and talk, bearing in mind that each person counts and can make a difference: who has the courage to change, will change the world. Only an empathic, intelligent and wise approach will help us to find together a solution that leads to the peaceful coexistence of all creatures.

Finally, I love to remember that every wolf is an individual, with its own story, even if often there is no one to tell it. Theirs are stories of heroes without medals, of difficulties and risks, of kilometers traveled, of courage, of death and of hope. Stories of love, of atavistic wisdom, of hiding places, of air and howled stars, magical stories we can read in the depths of their eyes. Let’s make sure that the green flame, the same that Aldo Leopold saw in that gaze, does not go out.

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