It seems there is once again movement afoot to delist the gray wolf (Canis lupus) in most of the lower 48 states, except for portions of Arizona and New Mexico where a population of approximately 75 Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi), the smallest subspecies of gray wolf, is found (photo credit of gray wolf: Joel Sartore for National Geographic). The gray wolf is a fascinating creature, given status as both a villain or ecological hero, depending on the person with whom you’re talking. The gray wolf is listed as a species of “least concern” by the IUCN. The re-introduction of the gray wolf to Yellowstone Park was a long and controversial conservation project that has resulted in several healthy packs of wolves in that ecosystem. To learn about that entire project, you should definitely read The Return of the Wolf to Yellowstone by Thomas McNamee, an account of the entire project that’s non-fiction but reads like an entertaining novel.
What’s so interesting about wolves? Here are a few fun facts about a few wolf species:
- Gray wolves are found throughout the northern hemisphere, including spots like Italy, Bhutan, Norway, and Oman (IUCN 2013)
- Maned wolves (Chrysocyon brachyurus) are found in South America and look more like foxes on stilts than like their distant cousin the gray wolf.
- Gray wolves are related to your family dog, but they’re the largest member of the canid family. Like the family dog, gray wolves come in a variety of different fur colors, not just gray.
- Red wolves (Canis rufus) are another species that lives in North Carolina – this species is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN.
- Gray wolves live and hunt in packs, and the pack enforces a strict hierarchy with only the alpha male and female breeding.
- Gray wolves hunt primarily ungulates, but will also feed on smaller mammals or even scavenge already dead animals.
- The presence of gray wolves has effects throughout the entire ecosystem, changing the population sizes of prey species, as well as the plants on which the prey species graze.
If you’re interested in gray wolves and issues involved in their management under the Endangered Species Act, be sure to visit the Defenders of Wildlife website or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Profile. (red wolf photo below: John and Karen Hollingsworth, USFWS on Defenders of Wildlife website)
(photo of maned wolf: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/amazonia/facts/manedwolffacts.cfm)
IUCN. 2012. “Canis lupus” IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed online 4/29/2013: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/3746/rangemap
Mitra, M.N. “Feds Plan to End Endangered Species Protection for Grey Wolves Across the US” Earth Island Institute. April 29, 2013. Accessed online 4/29/2013: http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/feds_plan_to_end_endangered_species_protection_for_grey_wolves_across_us