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Archive for the ‘wolves’ Category

This documentary is about coyotes that have red wolf features and possible ancestry in East Texas. He could have gone with that angle and made me giddy.

Instead, well, you’ll see:

Source.

So red wolves speak of the creator?

But wait a minute…

There is a huge debate about what a red wolf is. The best genetic study I’ve seen on them suggests they are recent hybrids between a relict population of Southeastern wolves Canis lupus wolves) and coyotes. What made the red wolf was not God Almighty but the extinction of the subtropical American wolf, which was almost always black in color.

Everything about Canis speaks of evolution. Not only do we have the hybrid red wolf, but we have hybrids between golden jackals and African wolves (Canis lupus lupaster) in sub-Saharan Africa. Eastern coyotes also have a lot of wolf and dog ancestry.

Hybrid zones and muddled areas between species are exactly what we expect if there were common descent among similar species.

They are distinct species but they simply haven’t diverged enough from each other to lose chemical interfertility.

The whole red wolf debate is actually about evolution from this perspective.

I lean toward it not being a distinct species at all but a really recent hybrid. I don’t think proponents of its unique species status have produced enough evidence to suggest that is not a hybrid. Hybridization is extremely common in Canis species, and this seems much more parsimonious than the claim that it’s an ancient North American wolf– a living fossil or whatever else.

Plus, the DNA says it’s not. And by that I mean large samples of DNA, not microsatellites or just mtDNA evidence, which is actually all they have.

But the hybridization of Canis in the East is producing a new form of coyote. This is a canid that comes in many more colors, thanks to the sprinkling dog in its ancestry and much more able to hunt large quarry thanks to the bit of wolf blood coursing through its veins.

These are the questions that make wolves and their kin interesting.

But unfortunately, we didn’t get that here.

Plus, everyone knows that the Bible hates wolves. It was written by ancient herdsmen, whose livestock suffered under wolf depredations. It’s not an ecology book in the least.

European settlers killed wolves on this continent under the auspices of ridding it of a Satanic force. Wolves did prey upon man in feudal Europe, and our ancestors came here with a strong fear of the lupine.

Chester Moore and I grew up in very similar environments, but I’m glad my parents and grandparents were interested in Darwin. My dad got me watching Sir David Attenborough documentaries.

I am glad that I am comfortable with nature as it is.

Every time I look at a dog’s eyes, I see evolution.

Every time I look at a flying bird, I see a dinosaur.

I see every reason to accept the modern Neo-Darwininian synthesis. It’s all around me.

I don’t see any reason why I should accept the Bible– or any holy book– as true.

But that’s just me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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short spine wolf

Reader Wendy Browne posted this photo of this wolf in my Facebook Group.

I did a reverse image search through Google, and it is a real image.

This wolf was killed in Russia, and it’s actually a good thing that the wolf hunters did kill it.

It was suffering from a severe spinal deformity–  an unusually short spine. This same condition does occasionally pop up in dogs.

This wolf was most likely able to survive because it could eat what its pack-mates killed, but at some point, there could easily be prey shortage.

And this poor wolf would be the first to go.

And my guess it would be as humane a death as a bullet.

 

 

 

 

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This is dubbed in English, so you can understand the method. They don’t believe in closed registries out on taiga. The dogs they use in the crosses don’t even have to be domestic!

Source.

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I don’t normally watch these sorts of “man living with wolves” documentaries, but this is excellent!

Source.

The very interesting part is where the German shepherd tries to tend to the cattle while the wolf tries to test them as possible prey.

A German shepherd is a very different animal from a wolf.

It’s a pastoral dog.

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Lessons learned from a pet wolf

A Saarlooswolfhond, not the wolf in the article.

A Saarlooswolfhond, not the wolf in the article.

Here’s a great article by James D. Felsen in today’s Charleston Gazette:

Recently, we buried our beloved wolf on a bluff at our cabin overlooking the Potomac. We trust he is running free on the tundra, a noble creature that never should have been confined.

I abhor the hatred, vitriol and “ad hominem” pejorative derision that accompany the polarization, chaos and intolerance plaguing contemporary U.S. society. Living over a decade with Nietzsche, our wolf, offers insight.

He never wanted us, nor, did we want him. Abandoned as a young pup at an animal shelter by a dolt who thought a wolf would make a good watchdog, he was to be euthanized. He could not be offered for adoption since rabies vaccine efficacy had not been adequately studied in wolves.

Bred by humans in captivity, environmentally, he never ran free or enjoyed the social order of a pack. Yet, he was intensely and innately distrustful and fearful of humans, seeking the most distant corner in which to cower. He was physically beautiful and the vet estimated genetically he was 95 percent wolf. We did not believe he deserved to die and took him home where we planned to construct a large fenced run.

Socially, home consisted of my wife and me, my wife’s daughter who often visited and an aging cocker spaniel. As his run was being constructed, it was obvious he did not want to be “trapped” in a house or garage, hiding behind an old couch in the basement. My wife was the only family member who could get near him and coax him to eat.

With time we believed we could build trust and have the big dog we always wanted to sit beside us in my truck and lay on the floor or deck at our feet as we watched the sunset or TV. It never happened. It became clear that if the wolf was going to survive, it would have to occur with mutual respect and accommodation for his social order, not ours. We were never going to train him. Survival demanded he adopt us within the paradigm of the social order of a wolf pack.

He never strayed from that social order until his death a dozen years later. He would tolerate and even enjoy a few of the practices and foibles of humans and domesticated pets, but never compromised on core wolf social values. Never a part of a wolf pack socially, we wondered how these behaviors became “hard wired,” since Lamarckian genetics had been scientifically disproved years ago.

I was designated the “alpha-male” of the pack. He would move away and drop his head when I approached and not eat when I fed him until I was out of eyesight. He would also spend several minutes checking around his food dish to assure there were no traps and he was not going to get swatted by the alpha male. He would accept food out of hand from his mother (my wife) and sister (her daughter). My wife enjoyed frequent hugs and kisses.

If he was allowed into the house, he would not move from the same spot where he could view all commerce if I were present. If only his mother was present, he would follow her around and observe what she was doing. If his sister babysat him, he felt he had the run of the house, including jumping on beds.

His run was his domain and no animal, wild or domestic, survived if they somehow managed to slip or burrow into it. The exceptions were the “pack member” cocker spaniel and a young pup we took care of for a short time. In the domain of the vet’s office he was completely docile and hospitable, personally greeting each cat and dog waiting to be seen.

One of our favorite stories of “missed” wolf-human communication involves a hunt episode. He had escaped from his run and headed for a pasture nearby where a horse, mule and pony were present. As we ran to retrieve him he decided the pack was on a hunt and began nipping at the back legs of the mule and horse in order to turn them aside and turn the pony (dinner) toward us. The scenario was repeated many times as we tried to get near him to grab his collar. Finally, as if to say you two are the worst hunters I have ever seen, he just sat down exasperated and let my wife put on his leash and head home.

In his run or the truck, we observed him exchange “whine” words with other large canines and a black bear. His talk enraged them but he paid no heed to a group of deer that bedded down near his run. We never figured out why. He was headstrong, and when my wife walked him it was usually a struggle as to pace and direction.

At first he would hide in his run and never make a noise when strangers would be present. His oral communication consisted of howling when he chose. However, he did develop a “wannabe” bark after awhile and would sometime use it when strangers came. We thought he might have believed the cocker spaniel had certain privileges he did not have and it might help his status to bark. He also started raising his leg to urinate and scraping the ground afterward, although he never could master the right leg or motion.

His favorite food was venison scraps hunters would bring or he would find on his walks. However, he discovered discarded fries and Frosties on his walks and became a fast food junkie. He would tire of his dog food and raw pork bones, picking out well-seasoned leftovers and scraps, being especially partial to Italian and Chinese food.

Our stories of human-wolf social boundaries and accommodations are many, memorable and often amusing. They are also a lesson of diversity and tolerance.

A wolf’s life expectancy in the wild is about five to eight years; Nietzsche lived twice as long. If wolves would evolve as did other domesticated canines they would have much longer and easier lives. Some might suggest that. I would resist such an evolutionary policy in respect of the value, beauty and positive aspects of social diversity. I’ll never coerce a wolf to sit beside me in the front seat of a truck. Wolves should run free.

Many individuals are ridiculed today for “selfishly” holding onto a social order that other factions within our diverse and pluralistic country finds archaic, dysfunctional, reactionary and anti-progressive. They assert these individuals — and all society — would be better off if they adopted the same behavior, practices and social order to which society has, allegedly, progressively evolved. They are entitled to their beliefs but can traditionalists be “trained” to behave within the precepts of a new social order that others have determined would benefit them? Or does such attempted coercion result in conflict and chaos?

Should, or can, these traditionalists, be trained by government to abandon the values of their social order without causing severe disruption and destruction? No doubt, analogies to the wolf’s situation will be greeted with ridicule and derision, noting that, unlike wolves, humans can “reason”. Perhaps, but what does that really mean?

Nietzsche adopted certain contemporary human and domesticated pet behaviors, e.g., love of Frosties and fries, but never abandoned his core social order values. They were “hard wired.” Are we to believe that all human social values are the result of contemporary social and religious environmental beliefs that can be disproved and discarded by science and “reason?” Are we to believe that over time social values can be “hard wired” into other species but not humans?

Are we to accept that it is natural for a wolf to refuse to abandon his social order values if he is to survive but humans can easily abandoned them when confronted with reason and science? Perhaps such coercion, real or perceived, significantly contributes to social chaos, conflict and acrimony.

Finally, Nietzsche prospered by accommodating certain human behaviors but retaining his core social values. Given the recent rise of violence and destructive behavior in U.S. human society, I am not convinced discarding many traditional social values has brought increased social prosperity.

In today’s contentious society one’s ideology will likely determine if one either accepts and embraces — or derides and discards — any potential lessons. That would be unfortunate but probably appropriate. On learning of Nietzsche death, my youngest brother sent a quote from his philosopher namesake, “And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh.”

Wolves are not ideal pets.

The episode with the wolf running the horses reminds me of a story my grandpa told me of his favorite hunting dog, a cross between a “toy collie” and an elkhound named Blue.  A friend of his sent the dog out to bring in a mare and colt, and by the time it was over, Blue had the colt nearly hamstrung.

But it is in relationships with wolves like Nietzsche that we see how the human-dog bond could have started.

Some wolves are such intensely social animals that they are surprisingly quite tolerant of humans and other animals.

I don’t know whether he was actually 95 percent wolf or not, but one thing is clear– wolves cannot be kept under the same coercive conditions that so many dogs acquiesce to.

The animal must be allowed to be.

And most dogs would be better off if they were allowed such liberties, too.

But too many humans just aren’t into that.

 

 

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Another Jämthund (Swedish elkhound) killed by wolves– this time in Sweden.

Jämthund killed by wolves

 

I don’t post this for anti-wolf propaganda. I am, after all, not anti-wolf.

But this is one reason why there is risk about allowing hunting dogs run where wolves are present.

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Kentucky wolf

(Not the guy who killed it)

A wolf was killed in Hart County, Kentucky, this past March. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources released this statement:

Federal officials recently confirmed that an animal taken by a hunter near Munfordville in Hart County on March 16 is a gray wolf.

A DNA analysis performed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center in Colorado determined the 73-pound animal was a federally endangered gray wolf with a genetic makeup resembling wolves native to the Great Lakes Region. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Oregon confirmed the finding.

How the wolf found its way to a Munfordville hay ridge at daybreak in March remains a mystery. Wolves have been gone from the state since the mid-1800s.

Great Lakes Region wolf biologists said the animal’s dental characteristics – a large amount of plaque on its teeth – suggest it may have spent some time in captivity. A largely carnivorous diet requiring the crushing of bone as they eat produces much less plaque on the teeth of wild wolves.

Hart County resident James Troyer took the animal with a shot from 100 yards away while predator hunting on his family’s farm. Troyer, 31, said he had taken a coyote off the property just two weeks earlier.

But when he approached the downed animal he noticed it was much larger. “I was like – wow – that thing was big!” he recalled. “It looked like a wolf, but who is going to believe I shot a wolf?”

Because a free-ranging wolf has not been seen in the state for more than a century, biologists were skeptical at first. However, wildlife officials were aware that a few radio-collared northern wolves have wandered as far south as Missouri in the past decade.

Wolves resemble coyotes, except they are much larger. From a distance, the size difference is difficult to determine.

Troyer convinced Kevin Raymond, a wildlife biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, to look at the animal. Once Raymond saw the animal was twice the size of a coyote, he contacted furbearer biologist Laura Patton, who submitted samples to federal officials for DNA testing.

Because state and federal laws prohibit the possession, importation into Kentucky or hunting of gray wolves, federal officials took possession of the pelt. Since this is the first free-ranging gray wolf documented in Kentucky’s modern history, federal or state charges are not expected because there were no prior biological expectations for any hunter to encounter a wolf.

This animal may have been introduced by someone who had a pet wolf and got tired of it.

Or it could have walked from Great Lakes population into Kentucky.  There was a wolf from this population that was killed in Missouri last year that clearly wandered down on its own volition. And another one was killed in the same state in 2010.

It is interesting that all three of these wolves would be Great Lakes wolves. That population is actually the healthiest population in the Lower 48, and they clearly are moving south.

My question is why are none of these animals reported in places like Illinois, Iowa, or Indiana, which lie between the core wolf habitat states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Kentucky and Missouri?

If they are dispersing this far south someone has to be seeing them in those states, too, but I never hear of anyone shooting a big coyote that turns out to be a wolf in any of those states.

So it’s an interesting question if this wolf came to Kentucky on its own.

But someday, there will be wolves in Kentucky. There will be no argument about where they came from.

The wolf is one species that is very likely to thrive in the twenty-first century, provided we don’t lose our minds and start trying to exterminate them again.

And that’s the big if.

But if we just leave them alone, they will return.

They are doing so in Germany and much of Western Europe right now.

It will just take some time.

And restraint.

 

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red wolf on the run

Before commenting on any post I write about red wolves, keep in mind the following:

  1. I support the Endangered Species Act.
  2. I support wolf recovery.
  3. I am not a Libertarian or a Republican. I voted for Obama twice.
  4. I am not a climate skeptic.

When I write about my skepticism about this “red wolf” species, I think people get the wrong impression. If there were really good evidence that red wolves were a unique species from ancient North America, I’d be all for their conservation.

But that evidence isn’t there.

And the best evidence we have– genome-wide analysis– shows the animal to be a recent hybrid between the wolf and the coyote.

Is that worth our time and energy?

Consider this:  there are actually confirmed highly endangered canids in this world.

Both the Darwin’s fox and the Ethiopian wolf have populations that are under 300.

Both of them live in countries were the amount of money being spent on red wolf recovery over could really make a difference.

There is also a definite unique subspecies of wolf in North America, the Mexican wolf, that could use some of the attention we’re paying to red wolves.

I am really bothered by the level of wishful thinking that goes into red wolves.  There is a ton of romance about this animal being an ancient North American canid.

And that romance is eerily too much like the dog breed origin nonsense that bothers me so much.

Red wolves were founded from an obviously admixed population that was running free in Southwestern Louisiana and East Texas.  Only 14 individuals from that population were chosen to found the modern red wolf population. There were no DNA samples that were taken from those animals. It was just assumed that they looked more like wolves than coyotes that they had to have been red wolves. Never mind that the old trappers in the area wrote of litters that had 70-pound and 25-pound individuals in them, which is the first sign of hybridization.

This animal is supposed to represent the blood of the Southeastern wolf population, and it may have a bit of that blood. But the wolf of the true Southeast was often black, not red. Black coloration in wolves originated from dog hybridization, which is far less common with coyotes than it is with wolves, and if the modern red wolf is so closely related to coyote, then its lack of black coloration suggests that it is not same animal at all.

We lost the Southern black wolf. We’ve also lost the big gray wolf of West Virginia and the greater Alleghenies region, which definitely was not a red wolf.

To waste money and time saving an obvious coyote hybrid is really an insult to those long gone animals.

The West Virginia wolf lived on wapiti and bison and was known for occasionally treeing settlers and killing their hunting dogs. I don’t think it was a little demi-coyote.

But it’s an ESA success story, but the science is really touchy.

And if it becomes more and more obvious that red wolves are nothing more than hybrids, then all the Tea Party anti-conservation types are going to have a field day. North Carolina, which is where the big “red wolf” range is, has been taken over by the Neanderthal* wing of the Tea Party movement. My guess is that if it we get another genome-wide study out that confirms that red wolves are recent hybrids, then there will be lawsuits–again.

And that’s going to cost money, money which could be used to save really unique flora and fauna.

This is why the ESA has to be based upon the best science.

You have to get it right, and while we’re trying to save species which have dubious status, we’re spending less time and money trying to save something really unique. When the red wolf was originally listed, the best science said it was a species, but science has a way of revealing truths that are not always what we expected.

This is why I wrote about the new science on the red wolf.  This upset a few people. At least one called me a science denier, but it was he was denying science. The science was not in keeping with his romantic fantasy, so he accused others of censorship. Not unlike a creationist or one of those self-styled dog breed “experts.”

It’s true that wolves are charismatic fauna, and it’s easy to get the public to support programs that are involved in wolf recovery.

But when you have something this contentious in the literature, you’d better be careful in asking for ESA protections.

Although we can say that the ESA is a major success, we still see more and more species become endangered. Recently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, listed the diamond darter as endangered. This fish used to be common in the Ohio drainage system. Now, it is found only in a stream that runs into the Elk River in West Virginia.

It’s a tiny little fish, and you’re not going to see the public outcry for it that you would see for red wolves.

Our priorities are always messed up.

Our mammalian prejudices and our dog-loving prejudices, which is really what makes wolves such important symbols of conservation, have distorted our ability to react to new challenges facing wildlife.

I am all for a strengthened ESA. I am for replacing it with an enhanced biodiversity law that protects ecosystems and niches as well as particular taxonomic populations.

But we cannot get there if we’re not careful.

I worry that with a resurgent right in all these states that have vulnerable species that anything that can be seen as foolishness on behalf of conservationists will be used against wildlife.

I think the red wolf recovery is one of those issues that definitely should be questioned.

I’m saying this as a friend.

Because I know what the enemy will say.

And do.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

*That was an insult to Neanderthals. Neanderthals actually cared for their sick and injured.

 

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Keulemans wolf

Americans don’t like to admit it much, but the French intervened to help us win our independence. If they had not intervened, the entirety of British North America might have wound up like Ireland– constantly in rebellion and constantly being repressed.

When the French formally recognized America, they sent out trained soldiers to advise the rebels and to support their mission.

Among these officers were François Jean de Beauvoir, Marquis de Chastellux and Charles Armand Tuffin, Marquis de la Rouërie. The Marquis de Chastellux was  major general who served as the main liaison between General Washington and Comte de Rochambeau, the commander who was in command of French forces in North America.  The Marquis de la Rouërie, referred to in American texts as “Colonel Armand,” was a French officer who came to North America in 1776 to assist in the rebellion. He would later return to France and as an ardent defender of the nobility,  he became one of the leaders of an armed rebellion against the 1st French Republic in Brittany and Maine.

Colonel Armand spent enough time in North America to become fully acquainted with our wildlife and customs, and while in service of the rebellion, he managed to take in a black wolf.

The Marquis de Chastellux, who was a leading public intellectual in France and a good friend of Thomas Jefferson, would later write about Colonel Armand’s pet wolf.  At the time, Chastellux was a renowned author, and he had been appointed to the Académie française in 1775. The Académie française is sort of the “guardian council” of the French language. It has final say about the correct usage of the French language.  When Chastellux returned to France, he wrote a memoir of his experiences in North America, and it is in his recollections that he mentions Colonel Armand bringing a pet wolf to Monticello:

The only stranger who visited us during our stay at Monticello, was Colonel Armand whom I have mentioned in my first Journal; he had been in France the preceding year with Colonel Laurens, but returned soon enough to be present at the siege of York, where he marched as a volunteer at the attack of the redoubts. His object in going to France, was to purchase clothing and accoutrements compleat for a regiment he had already commanded, but which had been so roughly handled in the campaigns to the southward, that it was necessary to form it anew: he made the advance of the necessaries to Congress, who engaged to provide men and horses. Charlotteville [Charlottesville] a rising little town situated in a valley two leagues from Monticello, being the quarter assigned for assembling this legion, Colonel Armand invited me to dine with him the next day, where Mr. Jefferson and I went, and found the legion under arms. It is to be composed of 200 horse and 150 foot. The horse was almost compleat and very well amounted; the infantry was still feeble, but the whole were well clothed, well armed, and made a very good appearance. We dined with Colonel Armand, all the officers of his regiment, and a wolf he amuses himself in bringing up, which is now ten months old, and is as familiar, mild, and gay as a young dog; he never quits his master, and has constantly the privilege of sharing his bed. It is to be wished that he may always answer so good an education, and not resume his natural character as he advances to maturity. He is not quite of the same kind with ours, his skin is almost black, and very glossy; he has nothing fierce about the head, so that were it.not for his upright ears, and pendent tail, one might readily take him for a dog. Perhaps he owes the singular advantage of not exhaling a bad smell, to the care which is taken taken of his toilet; for I remarked that the dogs were not in the least afraid of him, and that when they crossed his trace, they paid no attention to it (pg 46-48).

Travels in North-America, in the years 1780, 1781, and 1782, the Marquis de Chastellux (1786).

There is no mention of what happened to this black North American wolf that was as tame as any dog.

At ten months old, this wolf would still be less inclined to be testing its boundaries, so its behavior is not out of the ordinary.

There is no record that Colonel Armand brought his wolf back to France.

Maybe it ran off into the forest.

Maybe it became someone else’s pet.

Maybe it was bred to some farmer’s dogs.

We don’t know.

But humans have long been intrigued by wild dogs. One of the reasons why we have domestic dogs in the first place is because people were fascinated with wolves. It is this fascination that caused us to bring them into our societies in the first place.

And all over the world people have kept wolves. It is usually a poor decision.

But there always were wolves that don’t mind being dogs.

After all, a dog is a wolf that doesn’t mind being a dog, and those traits had to come from somewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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wolf

One of the most interesting things about the American right these days is how openly they embrace all sorts of intrigues and conspiracies. Perhaps the most absurd is the one about the government intentionally causing tornadoes to bring about both socialism and the New World Order!

But this stuff is actually old hat.

Anyone who has ever followed predator reintroduction politics in Western countries knows that conspiracy theories are rampant among those who oppose predator reintroduction.

These sentiments are well-known in the American West, where wolves are accused of killing everything, including grizzly bears.

But it’s not just confined to the United States, zoologist Lars Thomas writes about the situation in Denmark, which currently under an invasion of wolves wandering up from Germany. By “invasion,” I mean the odd dispersing young wolf has crossed through Schleswig-Holstein into the Jutland Peninsula.  Thomas writes:

Wolves have been a big issue in Denmark for several months now – for the first time in 200 years we now have wolves living in our little country – two of them to be exact. But unfortunately all the loonies have started to come out of the woodwork as well. Some people seem to have their knowledge of wolves from the tales of the Brothers Grimm, and we have been subjected to all kinds of paranoid and hysterical ramblings from people who are now too frightened to take a walk in their local wood, from politicians who are certain the wolves have been released by biologists as part of some kind of underhanded scheme to suppress people living in rural areas.

That’s exactly what we have over here.

And it’s not just confined to the West.

In my home state, we have little weekly newspapers that include local columns. Most of these are just ramblings about one’s neighbors have been up to, and if you’re not in the community, you really don’t get all the intricacies  and vagaries that are contained in the lines. Most talk about how many people were at the community church.

Very few get political.

In my home county, there is one of these weekly columns that does get political.  It’s basically all the local stories mixed the distillations from the bizarre World Net Daily website. It also includes examples of great zoological erudition.

For example:

The snow went away and the turkey buzzards returned and the spring peepers are now peeping. Speaking of buzzards, one fellow noted that one of the invasive, non-native black buzzards had a wingspan of 56″. The black buzzards pick out the eyes of newborn calves, lambs, etc. and also target people.

Calling New World vultures “buzzards” is one of those Americanisms that drives me batty. It’s on the level of Canadians calling a Richardson’s ground squirrel a “pocket gopher,” when it’s clearly not a gopher at all. It’s a squirrel, not really all that different from a prairie dog, which is also a ground squirrel.

But there are so many, many errors here. Black vultures are native to the Virginias. However, they are very uncommon west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is where 99.9 percent of West Virginia is located. (John Denver never looked at a map.)

In recent years, there have been a few vagrant flocks of black vultures that have popped up here and there. The only ones I’ve ever seen here were in a tree at the edge of a pasture just outside the little town of Glenville, West Virginia in the spring of 2005.  There were about a dozen of them, and of these, two were walking around in the open where I could get a good glimpse of them as I drove by.

Many people assume that because black vultures do engage in predatory behavior and do sometimes target livestock, such as newborn lambs and calves, that they are larger than the much more common turkey vulture. However, in reality, turkey vultures tend to be slightly larger than black vultures.  A turkey vulture can have a wingspan of up to 72 inches, so a vulture with a wingspan of 56 inches would be a smaller vulture than normal.

And it probably would be a black vulture.

And yes, they do prey on lambs and calves, and depredations by black vultures on lambs in Texas Hill country have been well-documented as a major problem for sheep producers.

However, they don’t target people.

You’d have to be quite paranoid to think that at any moment a giant bird is going to drop out of the sky and carry you away.

As African-derived primates, this is a fear for which we had some justification in our evolutionary past.  The famous Taung child was believed to have been killed by a prehistoric African crowned eagle, whose relatives still hunt monkeys in Africa today.

But for modern Americans to fear a vulture that only attacks newborn calves and lambs is probably one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard. Do you realize how much bigger a person is than a black vulture?

Of course, he doesn’t leave his paranoia with the “black buzzards,” the avian black helicopters.

No, he thinks Eastern coyotes, which wandered in here from New England and Eastern Canada after cross-breeding with relict populations of wolves, were actually introduced by the insurance companies in an attempt to reduce deer-related collisions with automobiles.

The other day a cattleman went out to check on his herd and noticed that one of his favorite cows, who happened to be expecting, was missing. He went on a hunt and found her with a fine new calf in the woods but she and the calf were worn out as three coyotes were circling looking for a tasty meal. A Mr. Remington equalized one of the exotic varmints and the other two fled the scene as they knew they would have an allergic reaction to hot lead. Someone else noted that they trapped one that had an ear tag that said “Property of State Farm Insurance”.

Coyotes are not “exotic varmints” at all. During the Pleistocene, large coyotes were common in West Virginia, and there is at least some historical evidence to suggest that some form of coyote may have existed in the Eastern US before being extirpated with the wolves.

And if anything, the coyotes haven’t done a very good job at reducing deer populations.

And this fact, of course, wasn’t missed by The Creston News.

One local resident saw one of the wolves that had been turned lose locally. He tried to shoot it but the shot was too long and the varmint escaped. One fellow noted that someone in the DNR was given millions by insurance companies to turn the wolves loose to kill the deer that were causing car wrecks. Earlier they had tried the coyotes but they didn’t do the job well enough.

So now we have wolves!

(We actually don’t).

This sort of folk zoology is what I call the Dale Gribble school. It’s not based upon science. Instead, it’s based upon a certain amount of paranoia that experts, who are suspected of being Marxists or liberals or Illuminati types, are using predator reintroduction to end the rural way of life.

Rural life in America and Western Europe has essentially been destroyed.

So few people in this countries live in rural areas that it is difficult to understand why people are so against predators.

Part of the reasons are rational:   Coyotes, wolves, and black vultures do kill stock, and in some areas, wolves and coyotes have been implicated in reducing the populations of some prey species.

But these reasons take on a theater of the absurd when they get mixed in with rural cultural politics.

Many people in traditional rural areas see their entire world falling apart before their very eyes.

It’s outsider liberals in the cities who want to take their guns, let the gays marry, and reject Christianity and “family values.”

The predators become scapegoats for that anger.

And the animals as biological entities simply are not seen for what they are.

They are seen for what they represent.

Hippies.

Yuppies.

And Ecothugs who just want to end all that is decent in the world.

It is nothing more than the culture wars’ ecological front.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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