THE DOMAIN OF THE WOLF
In the Scotland of Gaia’s Children wolves are once again part of the landscape..
Imagine a diverse forest of pine, oak, rowan, and willows, interspersed with ponds, an open forest that you could ride through on a horse. You’d likely meet up with all sorts of animals. Not only rabbits, foxes or deer, but an occasional boar, brown bear and lynx. Maybe a wolf pack, though more likely than not the wolves would hide from you rather than go looking for you. It’s the forested world of Caledon that, two thousand years ago, covered the Scottish hills and now no longer exists. Bit by bit the forests were cleared for agriculture and crofts, the wild animals hunted to extinction. Today only a few remnants for the old forest remain in western Scotland.
Hector Boece, writing in 1536, describes the forest as containing `wild hors’ along With the `Wolffis’ in the Caledonian forests ; Wolves were ` rycht noysum to the tame bestial in all parts of Scotland.’ Sir Robert Gordon,” says that the forests then were ‘full of reid deer and roes, Woulffs, foxes, wyld catts, brocks, skyurells, whittrets, weasels, otters martrixes, hares and fumarts’ ; and in 1621 the reward paid in that county for killing a wolf was, by Statute, £6 13s 4d.; ‘Scots’ no doubt. (Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland from its origin to the year 1630.)
SHEEP IN WOLVES’ CLOTHING
Local attitudes haven’t changed much. Mention wolves at a dinner party, and expect a long nervous silence. The proposal that wolves may one day be re-introduced into the Scottish countryside doesn’t exactly have legs. Farmers who raise sheep and cattle, and are happy that they can roam freely and safely, and don’t require extra fencing for protection. Wolves and sheep have never gotten along. In Norway and in Spain where wolves were recently reintroduced, attacks on sheep occasionally make the news. Many locals shoot the wolves when no one is looking.
For centuries the big bad wolf has borne the brunt of our hatred. The New Testament references “Sheep in wolves’ clothing”, “False prophets who are ravening wolves.” (Mathew Ch 7). The imagery must go back further, to the dawn of agriculture. It’s been reinforced in fairy tales (Red Riding Hood, Peter and the Wolf). More recently, horror literature gave us werewolves. There was Frankenstein vs. the Wolf Man. The Underworld series, and even the wargs in The Lord of the Rings that depict wolves as rapacious beasts, drooling blood, that infect people with their poisonous bite. Even chomp on babies when hungry.
On the other side there’s a romantic notion of wolves, that views them as kind, wise animals. Almost sociable. Most likely the truth is somewhere in between. Wolves are not particularly cuddly animals. Like ourselves, they are unashamed carnivores. Quite ruthless the way they hunt on deer and moose, animals much larger than themselves. They’ll also go after unprotected livestock, kill sheep and leave the carcasses. But for all our dark lore and grim fairy tales, attacks on human are rare. If we’ve despised them, it’s mostly because our interests clash.
At least for now. Ecologists have long recognized that the relationship is more complex. Reintroducing wolves in Scotland may revitalize many dying ecosystems, bring benefits both to agriculture, forestry and tourism. Successful wolf re-introduction in theUnited States has helped transform the countryside within a decade, allowing diverse and healthier forests to flourish. Also bringing economic benefits in the form of wolf-tourism.