Category Archives: Opinion: Why the Wolf?

A Walk in the Woods

“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach”

– W.E.B. Dubois

A walk in the woods is therapeutic, doing so with a child adds inspiration. I have been fortunate that my wife and I have enjoyed a lot of time in the woods with our daughter – long before she could walk. Her earliest naps were in the fresh air and included long slumbers in a hiking backpack chair. Whether it is looking for butterflies, snakes, raptors or insects, a simple stroll off the concrete immediately turns into an adventure with real and make-believe characters. 

Being outside with a child has taught me to be more mindful – to focus on the journey not the destination. A one mile out-and-back hike might take more than the short time I had budgeted but leaves us with many hours of opportunity to discuss what we saw and how it behaved. As our daughter has grown, we have become more intentional about exposing her to new environments beyond the local hiking trails. During a recent trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee side), our three year old taught us to look beyond what we saw and ask “why aren’t we seeing more?” 

Photo taken by the author near Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

Our trip began on a crisp weekday morning a week before Thanksgiving celebrations here in the U.S. We exited our rented cabin and traveled to the closest Visitor Center.  We hoped to meet a park ranger – who our daughter reveres. Due to COVID, we had to wait a short while to enter the Visitor Center but we were able to gather some hiking maps and checked trail conditions. We were ready to begin our day exploring the park. We did not have anything big planned beyond some short hikes, nature viewing and a picnic lunch.

On our way back to our car we were greeted by a park volunteer and our daughter immediately engaged in conversation.  She explained that we were on the lookout for the park’s wildlife – bears, elk, snakes, birds and wolves. Wolves? Yes, our daughter equates the presence of elk with wolves due to having spent a year living in the Northern Rockies. The volunteer politely explained that wolves no longer lived in the park but that there were plenty of other animals to see, if we were lucky.

I noted an immediate change in our child. She went from exuberant to pensive – even sad. Why were there no wolves in the park? Where did they go? Were they coming back? She did not hesitate to ask these questions to the volunteer who responded that “all of the wolves had been hunted” and there were no longer any wolves inside the park. The question “why?” from a toddler is both an expression of incredulity and an invitation to join in a never ending conversation.  In this case, our daughter could not understand why humans had extirpated wolves from a place that seemed perfect for them to live. 

Hoping to put that sadness behind us we went on a hike. We did not see a bear or a raptor but we did continue our conversation about the wolves. Our daughter asked me again why people had hunted all of the wolves? Why would we make them go away? I tried to explain that man has not always coexisted with nature in a peaceful manner. We often do not understand the balance that nature requires. As we walked and talked the conversation grew, our daughter’s frustration heightened and the question “why?” kept arising. As we turned around to walk back to the trailhead we saw a pickup truck driving on the trail – it was a park ranger. 

…our three year old taught us to look beyond what we saw and ask “why aren’t we seeing more?” 

The ranger stopped and asked how we were doing. My daughter responded, “why are you driving a truck on this trail?” The ranger smiled and answered, “ because I work here.” Seeing an opportunity to learn more about the disappearance of wolves our daughter did not hesitate to ask “ok, then why did you let all of the wolves get hunted?”  The ranger was wide-eyed. Frankly, I would have been too. What was intended to be a genuinely kind interaction with the public turned into an interrogation by a three year old. The ranger politely answered that wolves left many decades ago then gave us another smile and went on her way. My daughter was not satisfied but she understood. She looked at me and said “Papa, I am going to save the wolves, I am going to bring them back.” I asked how she planned to do that. She replied, “I’ll go back to Wyoming and pick up a few and bring them here.” Some may say this is a three year old’s uninformed reintroduction plan though I am sure many said the same when it was suggested that we reintroduce Canadian wolves to the U.S. Northern Rockies.

Our trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park was amazing and to this day our daughter mentions the wolves and the need to save them. She taught me that I cannot simply accept the reality that wolves once lived in a place, but that I need to be an active force to make sure that the wolf is protected, able to thrive, and coexist with us. In essence, my young daughter reminded me that I need to be an ally for the wolf, for in doing so I will be an ally for our environment.  She believes, and I agree, that our world is better with wolves on the landscape.

Children are wise beyond their years and not anchored with the pessimism or cynicism of adults. Through my work with and for the Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin, I hope to grow into an empathetic voice for wolves. I also hope to engage in meaningful conversations with those that disagree with me or share a different worldview. Most of all, I hope that my daughter sees her father working to protect what we both love. If I want my daughter to be a caretaker of this world, I need to be one now for she will learn more from what I am than what I teach her. 

Sources Consulted: 

National Park Service. “Animals.” Accessed January 08, 2022.

National Park Service. “Mammals.” Accessed January 08, 2022.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Gray Wolf.” Accessed January 08, 2022.

Wheeler, Timothy B. “Effort to Return Red Wolves to Great Smoky Mountains Ends in Failure.” Los Angeles Times, December 13, 1998.




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.