a shameful history

I went to Alaska to photograph bears. That was my primary purpose and I wasn’t disappointed. They were spectacular and all I could have hoped for. But I returned with a new found appreciation and love for an animal which is arguably the most misunderstood and persecuted species on the planet. Renee Askins founded the Wolf Fund in 1986 for the sole purpose of reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone National Park. The following is an excerpt from her book ” Shadow Mountain- a Memoir of Wolves, a Woman, and the Wild ”

“For millennia wolves had been abundant throughout the area now defined as Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. But in the span of less than fifty years man had systematically, consciously, intentionally killed every wolf in the West, including those within park boundaries. The haunting question is-Why ? The scope of the killing, the method, the madness, leaves some of us troubled and ashamed even today. Hundreds of thousands of wolves were killed-some in the name of protecting livestock, some for their pelts, some because we believed it was our inalienable right, and some just out of cold, hard vengeance and cruelty, a cruelty we so often attribute to the wolf.

The pattern of killing wolves in the West followed that of the elimination of predators throughout most of the rest of the continent with one notable difference. Viciousness and malice saturated the wolf extermination efforts in the West, which emphasized not so much the killing as the conquering of the creature. Perhaps as relevant as the killing itself, the methods of extermination reveal a great deal about our values and our attitudes toward wolves and the wild.

Our forefathers didn’t just want to control wolves, they wanted to conquer them. They didn’t just kill wolves, they tortured them. They lassoed animals and tore them apart by their limbs, they wired their jaws shut and left them to starve, they doused them with gasoline and ignited them.

Perhaps our method does betray our madness. What hunger did torture satisfy that a bullet would not ? What fear was soothed or vengeance realized by the suffering of these animals that a painless death could not have accomplished ? What is it in ourselves that we had to kill in the wolf ? The answer is of course, wildness. And even though we killed the wolf, every last one of them in the West, we never extinguished the wild-we only became more deeply alienated from it. In the panic of our alienation we attempted to control what we feared; when we couldn’t control it we tried to extinguish it. But the wild is not controllable, or even extinguishable, so inextricably is it bound to the force of life itself. It flickers on-without us, within us, and between us-it’s nature buried in the mystery of our origins.”

So as impressive as the bears were, they are clearly solitary animals. Wolves, on the other hand, are pack animals and curious by nature. They initiated interactions and connected with me in a way no other animal has. My short time with them left an aching, eternal impression. It’s been almost four years and not a day has passed that I haven’t thought of these beautiful, curious, and intelligent animals.

Here’s Brad Hill, a conservationist and professional wildlife photographer;

“There are few animals that become symbolic of-and synonymous with-the wilderness. The Grizzly bear is one of those symbols. Perhaps the cry of the Loon is one as well. But there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the most powerful symbol of wilderness in North America is the wolf. It could be the sighting of a wolf. It could be the howling of the wolf. And even the thought of seeing or hearing a wolf will bring chills to many. I have watched the howl of a wolf bring tears to the eyes of my clients during photo tours in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia. Those howls have brought tears to my eyes too-not sure if it was tears of happiness, or tears of melancholy, or some mix thereof. But it was an amazingly emotional experience”.

” We humans fear the beast within the wolf because we do not understand the beast within ourselves”.

Gerald Hausman, Turtle Island Alphabet

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