• Reading Level 5
Science | History | Geography

The people seeking the company of wolves

Is it time for the return of the wolf? For centuries, these fierce animals have been seen as a menace. But some now believe they have a vital part to play in rebalancing the environment. The Italian town of Scanno was in lockdown when Ennio Ciccoti glanced out of his window and saw an amazing sight. Racing along the road past shuttered shops and restaurants came a herd of red deer, pursued by four wolves. As he watched, one of the deer tried to leap a high fence – in vain. The wolves caught and killed it. This was not the only such incident during the lockdown – Cicotti alone witnessed two others. It was a dramatic reminder that, despite historical attempts to eradicate them, wolves have survived in some unexpected places. Now, experts are arguing that they should be not only protected, but encouraged – and reintroduced into places where they have not been seen in living memory. A significant step towards this was taken three weeks ago, when the people of Colorado voted by a narrow margin in favour of reintroduction. It followed confirmation that a wolf pack had made its home in the US state for the first time in nearly a century. “Together with biologists, ranchers, wildlife watchers and hunters, we will lean in to craft a future where co-existing with wolves is a widely shared value,” declared the president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, Rob Edward. “We will put science to work to build understanding and trust.” People like Edward believe that we have upset the balance of nature by claiming untamed countryside for agriculture and housing, and hunting down species we perceive as a threat. What is needed, they argue, is “rewilding” to restore the environment to health. Paul Lister, who owns a Scottish wilderness reserve, agrees. He is particularly concerned by the effect on the landscape of overgrazing by deer, whose numbers in Scotland have grown from 150,000 to 400,000 in the past 60 years. Lister would like to create a 50,000-acre enclosure where wolves would control the deer population. Not only would they reduce numbers to a sustainable point, but fear of them would keep the deer moving so that no area was grazed bare. Trees and plants would flourish once again. This is what happened in Yellowstone National Park after grey wolves were reintroduced in 1995. Over the following 15 years, the wolves – together with mountain lions, which re-established themselves naturally – halved the number of elk in the park. The landscape became far more fertile. Not surprisingly, there is considerable opposition. Those who campaigned against the new measure in Colorado included the Colorado Cattleman's Association, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Last month President Trump removed grey wolves from the US government’s list of protected species, and in some states people are hunting the animals again. It is estimated that 12,000 sheep were killed by wolves in France in 2017. In Germany, one shepherd has reported six attacks on his flock in the last four years. In one of them, 20 sheep were killed and another 30 disappeared. Is it time for the return of the wolf? Legal claws Some say, no. Wolves are incredibly dangerous animals that threaten humans and animals alike – which is why they were hunted almost to extinction. We are deluded if we think we can manage wild creatures: such experiments almost always end in disaster. If wolves were to imitate foxes and start searching for food in cities, the consequences would be terrifying. Others argue that the best way to care for the environment is to let nature take its course. That means allowing animal populations to be controlled by their instinctive predators, who ensure the health of a herd by preying on its weakest members. As the example of Yellowstone National Park shows, this has benefits for the whole of the food chain. KeywordsYellowstone National Park - Founded in 1872 in the US, Yellowstone was the first National Park in the world and sits on top of a "supervolcano", a massive area of volcanic and geothermal activity.

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