Jul 20

Common Wolf Misconceptions

I was able to think about the questions about wolves we most frequently are asked and it made me realize, there are a lot of misconceptions. Some of you probably know a great deal about wolves and some of you might just think you know. During this revelation, it also occurred to me that one of the most important things I do is to move others to feel as passionate about animals and conservation as I do. And if there are many misunderstandings about our animals, then I’m not doing my job.

So here is my effort to educate and inform you. I’ll give you an example of a common guest statement or question, then, I’ll follow it with the correct information.

“Aww… the wolves are howling because they’re hungry.”

Actually, wolves howl as a social sign of contentment. Howling is situational, but is very much a form of social bonding. They will howl to relocate a lost pack mate, call the pack together, ward off a rival pack or sometimes even just for fun and out of excitement. But chances are if they are howling, they are looking for more voices to join in. So next time you hear it, go ahead and howl right back.

Gray Wolves at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, VA

“If I fell down there they’d try to eat me, right?”

It is highly unlikely. Wolves don’t view people as food. Out in the wild a wolf will flee from a human presence up to a mile away. Since our wolves have been socialized, they don’t fear people, however, they are very cautious of sudden or new things. They would probably be startled and run away. If you were in there for a prolonged period of time, they would probably be curious about your hat, sunglasses, bag, etc. It is unlikely they would harm you, unless they felt threatened or challenged.

Wolves at Wolf Haven at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Virginia

“Are they basically big dogs since they are trained?”

That is absolutely false. You wouldn’t consider a trained tiger to be a house cat, would you? Just because a wild animal has been socialized and trained does not make it a domestic animal. A tiger is still a tiger. And just because a wolf looks a lot like a dog doesn’t make it any less of a wolf. Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to co-exist with humans and view us as pack leaders – they are basically eternal puppies. When a wolf puppy matures, it no longer wants to submit to authority. It will challenge its pack mates for rank and use aggression if necessary. A mature wolf will look for weaknesses and even take out its own parents if it sees the opportunity. This is hardwired into their biology. Do you want to be the parent that it takes out? I thought not.

Wolves at Wolf Haven at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Virginia

How do we avoid this dilemma? Simple, we are not pack mates. We never dominate the wolves; we never expect them to want to please us. We never punish or discipline them. By not acting as pack mates, they don’t feel the need to “steal” rank from us. We have no rank. If you lived with a wolf, it would have no choice but to view you as a pack mate.