People love the friendliness and loyalty of their dogs. Every single dog in the world is descended from wolves that were tamed in the Middle East about 12,000 years ago. In those ancient times, wolves probably became dependent on the scraps left by wandering bands of human hunters. People soon realised that wolves could lead them to prey and warn them whenever danger was near. By raising some wolf pups by hand, humans taught the wolves to accept them as leaders. All the traits people admire in dogs are found in wolves.
When a wolf pack hunts, its members work together as a team. Together they can bring down large animals that a single wolf could not bring down alone. Even with the power of numbers, however, wolves have to be very careful about attacking a 1,000 pound moose. They could be easily killed by a kicking hoof. To protect themselves, they prefer to attack prey that has been weakened by sickness, or is bogged down in heavy snow.
Where wolves are concerned, the larger the prey, the better. A wolf’s first choice in a meal would be a moose, elk, deer, or mountain goat. When larger prey is scarce, they will attack beavers, rabbits, and squirrels. When prey is really hard to find, wolves may be reduced to eating mice.
Wolf parents are among the most attentive animal parents in the world. Baby wolves get a lot of loving care from the moment they are born: they are well fed, cleaned, and constantly protected. A litter can number five to 14 pups, but the average is six. After drinking only mother’s milk the first few weeks, pups begin to eat more and more of the meat brought to them by both parents. When they are about six months old, they start learning how to hunt.
Wolves are very adaptable animals. They are found in grasslands, forests, swamps, and the frozen areas of the far north. A few even live in the desert. Their range includes North America, Europe, and Asia.
During the last 300 years, hunters and farmers and others have killed millions of wolves. Until recently, except in Alaska, there were very few wolves left in the US. Today wolves are being reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park, which is part of their former range. Since their arrival, rangers have observed that the wolves are not only thriving, but that their prey species are healthier and more alert, too. As attitudes change about wolves, their future becomes brighter.