There are Old Wolves and Bold Wolves… But Should There be Old, Bold Wolves?

While environment and life experiences modify genetic behavior, evidence is mounting that individuals are born with innate tendencies toward boldness or shyness. Sibling humans raised in the same families, in the same basic environment exhibit different degrees of tolerance for risk. Other species, including wolves, are no different. By four weeks of age Koani’s reaction to strange people and situations was radically different than one of her sisters. That sister was already extremely shy and retreated to a box shelter at any environmental change, while Koani, though not rushing boldly forward, usually retreated only slightly and then came forward to investigate, given that whatever happened was not overtly threatening.

Evolutionary psychologists theorize that a diversity of reactions to strange stimuli are retained in populations rather than one behavior being selected for and the other totally weeded out because environments change constantly. Individuals with one behavior may survive and reproduce better for awhile. But by the time a few more generations roll by, environmental conditions usually change enough so that individuals born with a different reaction to a novel opportunity survive better and live to pass on their genes.

It’s interesting to theorize how differing innate wolf personality types may be selected for or against by humans. Throughout most of North America, for at least the last century, humans heavily persecuted wolves. Wolves were shot on sight. Any individuals who did not retreat and stay out of sight of humans were killed before they were able to pass on the genetics of “boldness” to offspring. Hence it is not unreasonable to speculate that innately shy wolves became more and more common in wolf populations. With the creation of National Parks and laws that protect wolves, persecution of any bolder animals still being born lessened. In areas where wolves are protected there may in fact be a selective advantage for bolder, less shy individuals. Bolder animals are less bothered by the myriad’s of humans swarming throughout wild areas and can proceed about the business of hunting and raising families without constantly expending energy seeking cover and staying out of sight.

While the reasons may be speculative, there is general agreement among wolf biologists that the number of bold wolves is increasing. However the sixty-four thousand-dollar question isn’t whether they’re increasing but what should be “done” about bold wolves. Are bold wolves “unnatural”? Are they likely to become “bad” wolves-wolves that threaten human safety? If so, should bold wolves be eliminated as soon as they are identified?

At this time, there is no convincing evidence that bold wolves are aggressive or dangerous. Therefore, there is no need to eliminate a wolf just because it does not run in terror at the sight of a human. These animals are not unnaturally bold (i.e. animals that did not exist before protection of wolves was imposed) but more likely a return to the normal personality variations that existed before wolf populations were subjected to extreme persecution by European immigrants to North America.

While bold wolves may be more likely to learn to exploit humans for food in the form of handouts or garbage, the rewards for such behavior can also attract shy individuals. Once that step is taken, whether it is by a “naturally” bold or shy individual, there is ample evidence that the animal is likely to become dangerous and should be destroyed. A fed wolf is a dead wolf and those who feed wolves should be viewed with the disdain they deserve. The people who leave garbage lying around or tempt a wolf with handouts would, if justice truly existed, be the ones dragged from their sleeping bags. But food conditioning takes time and, unfortunately, the ignorant or selfish people who initiate and encourage it aren’t the ones stitched back together by a doctor. Instead, the innocent pay- the animal ends up dead and people like Zachariah are injured.

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