Book review: Paula Wild offers up the truth about wolves

Return of the Wolf: Conflict and Coexistence

Paula Wild | Douglas and McIntyre

$32.95, 256 pages

“Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?” asks the defiant song. The answer would seem to be “much of the human race.”

Cover of Return of the Wolf: Conflict and Coexistence by Paula Wild.For 0811 book review wild [PNG Merlin Archive]

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Wolves have played a fraught role in human consciousness for millennia. They were revered as the founders of Indigenous clans here on the Pacific coast and among the Pawnee in the American Midwest, and as the companions to the god Odin in Scandanavia. The fierce canids appear as terrifying forest killers in myth and fairy tales, and as messengers from the gods in the beliefs of some New Age mystics.

But what is the truth behind the myths? The answer, says Courtenay-based nature writer Paula Wild, is complicated.

Neither devils nor angelic messengers, the wolves that appear in Wild’s impressive new book are complex, intelligent and fascinating animals with elaborate pack structures and communication patterns. They are also top predators and, very occasionally, we are their prey.

My favorite story here is the one about Lobo, the famous New Mexican wolf long hunted by wildlife artist Ernest Thompson Seton. After many failed attempts to trap the wolf, Seton carefully hid poison in buried meat and cheese bundles. Lobo simply dug up the bundles, stacked them beside a trail, and defecated on them.

Wild takes a close look at one of the most widely held wolf myths — that they never attack humans unless the wolf is ill and/or starving. This comforting truism, it turns out, is only partially true.

Wild documents a few cases of lethal attack by wolves who showed no signs of illness or starvation when autopsied. Be that as it may, humans have had far more success killing wolves than wolves have killing people, which makes the focus at the end of the book on attempts to establish peaceful coexistence between the two species all the more germane.

While the book suffers from a few passages that should ideally have been cut or re-written, the prose is by and large competent and the stories are fascinating. This book will be a pleasure for anyone who loves the outdoors or wildlife, and a useful corrective to the myths that surround the wolf.

Tom Sandborn lives and

Source:: Vancouver Sun – Entertainment

      

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