There are so many stories about wolves, from folklore and fables, to good and bad ‘real life’ stories to be told. Let’s find out what the cool things about the wolf are.
1. Family ties
Wolves are the largest members of the canid family, the same family our domestic dogs belong to. Other members include coyotes, jackals, foxes and dingoes. There are two species of wolves – the grey wolf and the red wolf – though many accept the eastern wolf as a third species. There are numerous subspecies, including the white Arctic wolf.
2. Conquerors of the north
Wolves were once the most widely distributed mammal in the world, occurring throughout the northern hemisphere. Unfortunately, they have been severely persecuted by humans, with their range reduced by about a third and many population groups hunted to extinction. Since the ‘70s, measures have been put in place to protect these animals, and the grey wolf is now listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, the red wolf is listed as Critically Endangered, and a few subspecies face the same predicament.
3. Wolves in South Africa
While wolves are not native to South Africa, there are a few sanctuaries that take in wolves and wolfdogs (wolves bred with domestic dogs), who were imported but abused and abandoned. Here you can see these incredible animals up close.
4. The power of a pack
Wolves function within a fascinating social structure, using body language, facial expressions and howling to get their point across. They’ve developed this unique set of communication tools to function successfully within their packs and as pack hunters. They have a very close relationship, and individuals have been known to sacrifice themselves to protect the pack.
5. Why the long howl?
A wolf’s howl can be heard over long distances. They howl to let one another know where they are, to signal an alarm, to assemble the pack, and to protect their territory. A recent study showed that a wolf would howl more when a pack member he spent a lot of time with was separated from the pack, indicating that wolves have friends.
6. Family guys
A pack usually consists of a family: the dominant male and his mate, as well as one or more generations of their offspring, who can be adult wolves, juveniles or pups. Larger packs may consist of several such families – packs as big as 40 members have been discovered. The dominant pair is called the alphas, but many say this is a misleading term, as they are really just parent wolves. This pair usually mates for life.
7. Shared responsibility
The alpha male and female are the only animals of the pack to breed. They breed every year, and litters number about five or six, but could be more if food is abundant. All of the pack members share the responsibility of looking after the pups, like keeping an eye on them when other pack members go out to hunt. Once they have been weaned from their mother, the pups are fed by all of the adults, who regurgitate food for them to eat. The pups are fully grown by the time they are two years old. Wolves will usually leave their family pack at some stage to start a new one.
8. The lone wolf
Sometimes a wolf will have been driven from a pack or have left his pack. These wolves are called lone wolves, and avoid other packs. They rarely howl. Sometimes they will mate with the non-dominant females of other packs, earning them the nickname ‘Casanova wolves’.
9. The hunt
The pack works together as a team to hunt, and take down large prey like moose, elk and American bison. When prey is scarce they will also hunt smaller animals like hares, badgers and foxes. They supplement their diet with fruit like berries and apples. Some wolf packs in Alaska even eat salmon.
10. Long-distance athletes
Wolves have incredible stamina and endurance. Even though their top speed is about 60km/h, they can maintain a speed of 10km/h for an entire day. This allows them to hunt prey over long distances.