Posts Tagged ‘Wolf’

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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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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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.



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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Canis lupus familiaris:

dog with wolf shadow

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PET ME!!!!!!!!!

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Fishing wolf in British Columbia


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A pretty good-sized animal.


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Strict social, sexual, and genetic monogamy are the general rule for coyotes living in urban environments. Photo by RC Williams.

Monogamy is pretty rare in mammals. Only 3-5% of mammals are monogamous.

Ethologists generally define monogamy as a social organization in which one male and one female live together. Usually, the male helps the female care for any offspring that are born, though he is not always the father. We usually refer to this as “social monogamy.”

Genetic and sexual monogamy is something else. They actually not that common, even in species that thought of as pairing for life. There are countless studies of female songbirds “cheating” on their mates. In colony breeding birds, like budgies, there is often quite a bit of philandering going on. New World quail are often touted for their monogamy, but the truth is that some captive breeders of bobwhites will put compose breeding colonies that consist of one cockbird for every hen.  Some males will mate with multiple hens, and because the custom is to place the eggs in incubators, it really doesn’t matter if the male cares for the young.

I should note that humans are not considered a monogamous species. This may sound somewhat shocking to Westerners, who have lived under a one man and one woman marriage system for centuries, but humans are not truly monogamous.  Not all human cultures have monogamy as the primary structure of the family, and as a construct, it may have never existed until humans developed widespread agriculture and clearly defined property rights–and the rights to inheritance of that property– became important. Even then, we can’t say that monogamy was the default breeding system of human. “True biblical marriage”– a phrase we hear bandied about quite a bit in the US– was often one man and several wives.

So monogamy really shouldn’t be treated as if it were the natural way for humans to reproduce and organize family units.

It’s just that it’s become the main way many societies have decided to operate.

With canids, social monogamy is unusually common.  Virtually every species of canid has some form of social monogamy. In most species, males and females form a pair bond, and the male helps the female raise the pups or kits.

In the social hunting canids, the pair bond is the basis for the pack. There is always a pair-bonded male and female at the center of the pack, and the pups born to those parents are born in the main den and get most of the care from the other members of the pack.

Pair-bonding in canid likely evolved for a very simple reason. Canids are born in a very underdeveloped state, and because the ancestral canids were small and relatively weak carnivores, it was very hard for a female to get enough meat to feed her offspring. Further, she would probably have to leave her den for extended periods of time, which would open her offspring up to predation.

It may have been that the only way that canids could reproduce is if the male stayed and helped the female raise the young.

Now, this is actually a very inefficient way to spread genes. Male animals produce a lot of sex cells. Sex is very cheap for males, and in most mammal species, the male mates with many females to get his genes spread most efficiently.

But from a gene-centered view of evolution, this works only if the females are likely to give birth to young that will survive into maturity.

It may have been that in the ancestral canid, it was virtually impossible for young to survive without the paternal care.

And this may have placed such as strong selection pressure on canids, that this became the most common way they reproduce and organize their social units.

Because males of any species can spread their genes more efficiently through promiscuity, these selection pressures had to have been very strong. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see so much monogamy in canids.

Now, as I pointed out earlier, social monogamy is different from sexual and genetic monogamy. Cheating is actually pretty common in canids– at least in the species that have been studied the most closely. It is fairly common in red foxes. In one study that examined the DNA of red fox kits to ascertain their parentage, 80 percent were fathered by a different dog fox than the one currently pair-bonded to their mother.

Male foxes and other socially monogamous species that do cheat are operating as sort of “half cuckoos.”  Many species of cuckoo are nest parasites. The female cuckoo comes to another bird’s nest and lays an egg in it. The chick hatches after a very short incubation period, and the chick then throws out the eggs that belong to its surrogate parents. The parents raise the cuckoo chick until maturity. They invest so much time and energy into raising it, but the chick they raise does not carry their genetic material. These cheating foxes give half their DNA to fox kits that will be raised by a father that isn’t their own. The kits will have the mother fox’s genetic material, but her pair-bonded mate will be raising offspring that are not his own.

It’s actually not an inefficient way for a male fox to get his genes spread around. It also increases the likelihood that his genes will be carried on into the next generation.

The foxes are not consciously choosing the way they spread their genes. It’s just that their behavior results in this being the way that their genes get carried into the next generation. Strict monogamy places severe controls upon how efficiently and quickly genetic material is spread. It would only exist if there were strong selection pressures to keep monogamy as the main breeding system.

In some red fox populations, the half cuckoo strategy gets the both of best worlds. Male foxes can spread their genetic material rapidly and efficiently, and the offspring get cared for by a pair-bonded male.

This is sort of middle ground, and it’s probably what most wild dogs actually do. They are only socially monogamous, and there is at least some cheating going on.

But there are exceptions.

Coyotes are very strictly monogamous. A recent study of urban coyotes found that without exception, females gave birth to pups that were fathered by the male with whom she had a pair bonded. Similar rates of monogamy have been suggested for golden and black-backed jackals, though they have not necessarily been confirmed through genetic testing.

Coyotes and golden jackals are very similar to the primitive ancestor of the wolf. Indeed, what may be the oldest extant subspecies of wolf has long been classified with as a subspecies of golden jackal. So it is very likely that the ancestral Canis species was a very strictly monogamous species.

Contrary to popular belief, wolves are not strictly monogamous. As David Mech wrote in The Wolves of Minnesota (2003):  “Wolves have long been considered monogamous. However, in reality, wolves are as monogamous–or non-monogamous–as human beings” (pg. 75). Mech then goes on to describe male wolves mating with multiple females. He points out that no one has seen a female wolf mate with multiple males, but the exact parentage could be determined through DNA testing.

Mech doesn’t point out that wolves actually have two reproductive strategies. The first of these is the most common, and the one that every one knows.  A wolf pack is actually an extended family. It consists of a pair-bonded male and female and their grown offspring. Occasionally, siblings of the pair are included in the pack, but most of the pack is a male and female and their grown offspring.

Now, these grown offspring almost never remain in their natal packs their entire lives. At some point, they’ll want to mate, and in wolves, mating is very strictly controlled within packs. The mated pair get free license to mate with each other, but because wolves have both inbreeding avoidance behavior and social suppression of estrus in the subordinate females, the chances of more than one female getting pregnant from other pack members is pretty low. Female wolves won’t mate with their brothers, and they will only mate with their father if their mother dies. If they try to mate with their father, they are likely to be attacked. If the males try to mate with their mother, she usually won’t let them, and if they try, their father will attack them.

However, virtually all female wolves get pregnant at some point in their lives. This includes subordinate females that are in their natal packs.

How does this happen?

Well, there are wolves that use another strategy for reproduction. These are the so-called “Casanova wolves” or “lone rangers.”  These are male wolves that leave their parents’ territory and then hang out on the margins of the territories of established packs. When the estrus time comes, it is not unusual for a subordinate female to become pregnant by a “ramblin’ man.”

This strategy is more risky for two reasons.  The first is that the chances of Casanova wolf being killed when he shows up on a pack’s territory are pretty high. Wolves believe in “No trespassing: Violators will be eaten.”  Quite a few dogs have figured this out the hard way!

The other is wolf society almost guarantees that his pups won’t be born.

Now, in a wolf pack, only that female that has the pair bond with the male gets preferential access to dens and food. Both of these resources are typically quite scarce, so the female with the pair bond gets these resources first. If they run out, the pups belonging to the subordinates don’t survive. In some cases, it is possible that the main breeding female kills off the offspring of the subordinates– and this has certainly been observed in captive packs. That this one female gets to have preferential access to the dens and to the food is the definition of dominance.

There is some evolutionary advantage here. If all these female wolves have pups and the subordinate females lose them, then they will have a milk supply and strong maternal behavior for the main breeding female’s litter.  These two features would have been present in most female wolves whether they became pregnant or not. The false pregnancy and the subsequent lactation and maternal behavior observed in many domestic dogs is also evident in wolves, but if the females have had puppies, these behaviors will be that much stronger.

However, there have been wolf populations where multiple females have produced pups and raised them to maturity. The main breeding female’s pups are sired by her pair-bonded mate, but those of the subordinates are all sired by Casanovas. Some wolf packs– particularly those in Yellowstone– seem to be more tolerant of multiple breeders. This may be because Yellowstone wolves have access to rather extensive prey resources.

It should be noted that domestic dogs generally use a variant on the Cassanova strategy. Pair-bonding is virtually unknown in domestic dogs, though it should not be considered nonexistent.

In a book that gets trashed mainly because of its somewhat extreme anthropomorphism, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas describes a pair bond that existed between her two Siberian huskies. She unfortunately called their pair bond a marriage, and well-known scholars trashed it. However, the behaviors that existed between those two huskies were not that different than those between two wolves. The male actually vomited up food for his mate, and the female would not allow other males to mate her. The male may have had some women in the side, but Thomas never mentioned this dog mating with any other dogs on his travels. (She also rather infamously let him wander the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and for several years, she followed him on bicycle to see what he was doing on his ramblings.)

But she also describes the other way in which dogs reproduce– the main way. When the male husky is given away because of his excessive roaming, the female reverts to the normal dog mode of reproduction, even trying to mate with one her adult male sons.  Thomas describes what female dogs normally do as “a businesslike sexual encounter, wherein a female who cares little or nothing for the male seeks only to get herself bred.” Thomas goes on to describe street dogs copulating on the streets of San Jose, Costa Rica.  She describes their mating behavior is simply a fleeting affair, though she couldn’t see the entire episode because she was afraid of what sort of attention she might have been drawing to herself by watching such a spectacle.

Dogs generally reproduce this way. Because they have become polygynous, selective breeding is much easier. If a male has  desired trait, he can be bred to multiple females, and if a female produces a trait when mated with one male, one can easily breed her to another.

Wolves are not nearly so willing to have their mates chosen for them. Many wolves want to form pair bonds with their mates, just as some dogs do. And if you’re forming a pair bond, you’re going to be more selective about your mate.

The question of why dogs use this Casanova strategy has not been fully answered.

As I noted earlier, one of the reasons that is suggested as to why Yellowstone wolf packs tolerate multiple breeding females is that Yellowstone wolves have much greater access to prey. Resources are less scarce, and the subordinate females can raise their puppies to maturity. The Casanova strategy works when this is the case.

It is possible that the wolves that became dogs found themselves in a very resource rich environment when they began scavenging off the massive surplus kill sites that ancient humans created when they drove ungulates like horses, red deer, and reindeer off cliffs or into box canyons, where they could be entrapped and easily dispatched with boulders or well aimed spears. Some wolves may have adapted their entire culture to living near humans and the riches of surplus killing. The wolves may have even helped participate in the hunt, which would mean that humans would have left them some booty on purpose.

In that sort of environment, the resources would not be that scarce, and the Casanova strategy would work very well. And because Casanova wolves can sire more puppies over their lifetimes, it wouldn’t take very long before wolves with a lowered tendency to pair bond would swamp the population.

And then, as time went on, humans were much more willing to help the wolves raise their puppies, and the selection pressures that ensured very strong paternal parenting would have been relaxed significantly. Although most male dogs love puppies, only a small percentage will vomit up food for them.

Now, we don’t have direct evidence that increased food supply results in more polygyny in wolves. However, on Round Island in the Bering Sea, red foxes typically are polygynous. They live on an island with vast numbers of breeding seabirds, so the vixens can raise their kits on their own. However, when the Bering Sea experiences El Niño, the seabirds can’t raise offspring. Seabirds often rely upon small fish, which are more easily caught in cooler water. When El Niño hits, the fish can swim faster, and the birds can’t catch them. And some species of fish don’t like the warmer water at all and don’t hang out near the island, which means it is very difficult for the parent birds to raise any chicks. The foxes primarily eat the chicks and the eggs, and if there aren’t a lot of chicks produced every year, then the resources get tighter, and the foxes have to hunt voles and eat walrus carcasses that wash up on the beach. Under those conditions, the vixens that have pair bonded are more likely to raise kits to maturity than those that have had them on their own.

And this has generally been the model for understanding when canids will adopt monogamy or polygyny.

But there is an exception to the rule.

Remember that urban coyote study I mentioned earlier?

Urban coyotes have access to great resources. They can scavenge out of dumps. They raid trash cans. They can hunt cats. They can steal pet food.

But they don’t develop polygyny. They remain monogamous.

I don’t know of any studies in which the paternity of coyote pups living in other enviroments was examined, but it is a fair bet to say that if coyotes in urban environments are highly monogamous, then those living in rural areas probably are, too.

It may be that selection pressures that produced pair-bonding in coyotes is so strong that it is very hard for them to change it.

There may also be something hormonal in what is keeping them so tightly bonded.

In recent years, there has been a lot of research on prairie voles. Prairie voles are unusual in that they are monogamous. All other voles in North America are polygynous.

So this set up an interesting research question:

Why were prairie voles so willing to form pair bonds while the others were not?

It turns out that prairie voles have more receptors in their brains for particular hormone called oxytocin than other voles. In particular, prairie voles have a large numbers of these receptor in a part of their brain called the nucleus accumbens, which plays a vital role in the pleasure and reward system. When these voles get together, oxytocin, which is associated with sexual attraction, is released, and this oxytocin actually stimulates the reward and pleasure function of this part of the brain, which means that the being together becomes an even more pleasurable experience than it would be for a polygynous vole.

I wonder if something like this is going on with coyotes. I wonder if there is a difference in the number of oxytocin receptors in the brains of coyotes, wolves, red foxes, and dogs.  It could explain why monogamy is so rare in domestic dogs and why it is almost the rule in coyotes.

It is likely that monogamy in coyotes is one factor keeping this species distinct. Although there is plenty of evidence that many populations of coyote are mixed with dogs, they all still remain primarily coyote in ancestry. The distinctness of the coyote species may be that they have such a strong tendency toward monogamy. Wolf and dog genes may enter the population at times, but they may happen only before a coyote bitch forms a pair bond with a member of her own species. Or maybe male wolves and large male dogs are powerful enough to be able  to drive her mate off and to force her into copulation. (All wolf and coyote hybrids that have been detected have been male wolf and female coyote crossed. The same is generally assumed for coyotes and domestic dogs, but there is evidence of dog mtDNA sequences in some coyote populations, which means there must have been some way that female dogs could have worked their way into the coyote gene pool.  I think the intentional release of coydogs as game animals is a possibility. It seems unlikely that a domestic bitch would be able raise her hybrid pups in the wild.)

It may have been that the wolf’s flexible social and mating systems made them much more easy to domesticate than other related species. It also may have been that the wolf is naturally a very social species, but it is not as intensely social as African wild dogs or dholes are.

At the base of canid mating and social systems is the mated pair. All living canids have some version of a monogamous social system, but only a handful have been found to be genetically and sexually monogamous. Most of them will cheat, and most of them will adjust their mating and social system to fit the relative abundance of food resources.

But monogamy is rare in mammals.

For it to have ever been used by creatures as successful as those in the dog family, there had to have been intense selection pressures for that behavior.

And it had to have worked very well.

We really don’t know when canids started being monogamous, but it was probably very early on. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be such a common feature for this family.

Monogamy in canids is one reason why we like them.

They are like us– with husbands and wives and little kids.

That’s how we anthropomorphize.

Farley Mowat once extolled the wolf for its supposed monogamy, and he then half jokingly excoriated the dog for picking up too many of many of man’s promiscuous happens.

That’s not really an accurate picture, but it is certain true that when some species of wild dog form a pair bond, it is very tight.

It is something like modern Western marriage.

But it has a much stronger evolutionary reason for its existence than our institution.

The truth is dog species probably would not have been able to survive without forming pair bonds.

It always took two parents to raise the kits or pups to maturity.

Domestic dogs don’t need pair bonds anymore. They have humans to take care of their offspring.

In a weird way, we’ve become like the host bird to the parasitic cuckoo. The dogs whelp their puppies and nurse them for eight weeks.

Then we take over the raising of them.

They don’t have any of our genes, but they are our kin.

And I don’t think we’d have it any other way.

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These dogs would not do well against large North American wolves, and they certainly wouldn’t do well if they had to fight off a pack of them.

We like to talk about how wolves will kill dogs that encroach upon their territories.

What we don’t recognize is that there are dogs that would do the same if they were also kept in large packs.

It’s a somewhat disconcerting concept.

But think about it.  People have run dogs in packs against wolves centuries.  Throughout history, I bet more dogs have killed wolves than wolves have killed dogs.

These numbers would be hard to prove, but if you think about it, it might make some sense.

Humans have trained hounds and guard dogs to specialize in hunting wolves, but very few wolves actually specialize in hunting dogs.

These wolves certainly do exist, but predation isn’t the main reason why wolves kill dogs.  The main reason wolves kill dogs is to protect their dens and offspring. They will also kill dogs that come in to mate with wolf bitches.

But dogs are killing wolves because it’s predatory behavior, and predatory behavior is always fun.

In the same way many dogs enjoy chasing squirrels, these tazi are enjoying the wolf chase and kill.

It’s somewhat disconcerting to think of dogs killing wolves in this fashion and for these reasons.

But humans want to kill wolves with dogs. It is humans who have trained the dogs to course the wolf.

It is humans who maintain the packs for this purpose.

I cast no moral judgment on people who hunt wolves in this traditional way.

I didn’t live  as a pastoralist in a former Soviet Republic in which firearms were strictly controlled.

The people of Kazakhstan needed dogs that could help them control the wolves under these conditions.

Wolves are complex creatures that always bring up complex questions.

So are dogs.

So are people.

When all three are mixed together, the issues become that much more difficult.

And these are issues we’re going to have to deal with as wolves begin to make a comeback across their former range.


Thanks to Sam Rizzardi for posting this video in the readers’ group on Facebook.

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