1902 Encyclopedia > Wolf


WOLF. The zoological position and general characters of the wolf (Canis lupus) are described in the article MAMMALIA (vol. xv. P. 438), where the difficulties that naturalists meet with in separating and defining the numerous variations of the animals called wolves, dogs, jackals, and foxes are show. The true wolves are (excluding some varieties of the domestic dog) the largest members of the genus, and have a wide geographical range, extending over nearly the whole of Europe and Asia, and North America from Greenland to Mexico, but they are not found in South America or Africa, being replaced in both of these continents by various species of jackals and foxes. As might be expected from this extensive range, and the varied character of the climatic conditions of the countries they inhabit, they present great diversities of size, length and thickness of fur, and coloration, although resembling each other in all important structural characters. These differences have given rise to a supposed multiplicity of speces, expressed by the names of C. lupus, C. lycaon (Central Europe), C. laniger and C. niger (Tibet), C. pallipes (India), C. occidentalis, C. nubilis, C. mexicanus, &c., of North America, but it is very doubtful whether these ought to be distinguished as other than local varieties. In North America there is a second distinct smaller species, called the coyote or prairie wolf (Canis latrans), and perhaps the Japanese wolf (C. hodophylax) may also be distinct, although, except for its smaller size and shorter legs, it is scarcely distinguishable from the common species. Though generally distributed throughout the Indian peninsula, the wold is not found in Ceylon nor in Burmah and Siam. The ordinary color of the wolf is a yellowish or fulvous grey, but specimens have been met with almost pure white and others entirely black. In northern countries the fur is longer and thicker, and the animal generally larger more powerful than in the southern portion of its range. Its habits are similar everywhere, and it is still, and has been from time immemorial, especially known to man in all the countries it inhabits as the devastator of his flocks of sheep. Wolves do not catch their pray by lying in ambush, or stealing up close to it, and making a sudden spring as the cat tribe do, but by fairly running it down in open chase, which their speed and remarkable endurance enable them to do, and usually, except during summer, when the young families of cubs are being separately provided for by their parents, they assemble in troops or packs, and by their combined and persevering efforts are able to overpower and kill even such great animals as the American bison. It is singular that such closely allied species as the domestic dog and the Arctic fox arte among the favorite prey of wolves, and, as is well known, children and even full-grown people are not unfrequently the objects of their attack when pressed by hunger. Notwithstanding the proverbial ferocity of the wolf in a wild state, many instances are recorded of animals taken when quite young becoming perfectly tame and attached to the person who has brought them up, when they exhibit many of the ways of a dog. They can, however, rarely be trusted by strangers.

The history of the wolf in the a British Isles, and its gradual extirpation, had been thoroughly investigated by Harting in his work on Extinct British Animals, from which the following account is abridged. To judge by the osteological remains which the researches of geologists have brought to light, there was perhaps scarcely a county in England or Wales in which, at one time or another, wolves did not abound, while in Scotland and Ireland they must have been still more numerous. The fossil remains which have been discovered in Britain are not larger than, nor in any way to be distinguished from, those of European wolves of the present day. Wolf-hunting was a favorite pursuit of the ancient Britons as well as of the Anglo-Saxons. In Athelstan’s reign these animals abounded to such an extent in Yorkshire that a retreat was built by one Acehorn, at Flixton, near Filey, wherein travelers might seek refuge if attacked by them. as is well known, great efforts were made by King Edgar t reduce the number of wolves in the country, but, notwithstanding the annual tribute of 300 skins paid to him during several years by the king of Wales, he was not altogether so successful as has been commonly imagined. In the reign of Henry III. wolves were sufficiently numerous in some parts of the country to induce the king to make grants of land to various individuals upon the express condition of their taking measures to destroy these animals wherever they could be found. In Edward II.’s time, the king’s forest of the Peak, in Derbyshire, is especially mentioned as infested with wolves, and it was not until the regn of Henry VII. (1485-1509) that wolves appear to have become finally extinct in England. This, however, is rather a matter of inference from the cessation of all mention of them in local records than from any definite evidence of their extirpation. Their last retreat was probably in the desolate worlds of Yorkshire. In Scotland, as might be supposed from the nature of the country, the wolf maintained its hold for a much longer period. There is a well-known story of the last of the race being killed by Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel in 1680, but there is evidence of wolves having survived in Sutherlandshire and other parts into the following century (perhaps as late as 1743), though the date of their final extinction cannot be accurately fixed. In Ireland, in Cromwell’s time, wolves were particularly troublesome, and said to be increasing in numbers, so that special measures were taken for their destruction, such as the offering of large rewards for their heads, and the prohibition (in 1562) of the exportation of "wolf-dogs," the large dogs used for hunting the wolves. The active measures taken then and later reduced their numbers greatly, so that towards the end of the century they became scarce, but, as in the case of the sister island, the date of their final disappearance cannot now be ascertained. It has been placed, upon the evidence of somewhat doubtful traditions, as 1966.

It is entirely owing to their insular position that the British Islands have been able to clear themselves of these formidable and destructive animals, for the neighboring country of France, with no natural barriers to prevent their incursions from the vast continent to the east, is still liable every winter to visits from numbers of them, as the following figures indicate. Government rewards were paid in 1883 for 1316 wolves destroyed, in 1884 for 1035, in 1885 for 900, and 1886 for 760. The increase of the reward just before the first-named date seems thus to have had some effect in lessening the number. (W. H. F.)

The above article was written by Sir William Henry Flower, K.C.B., D.Sc, D.C.L., LL.D., Ph.D., F.R.S.; Director of British Museum, Natural History Department; President of the Zoological Society; President of the Britsh Association, 1889; author of Introduction to the Osteology of Mammalia and The Horse: a Study in Natural History.

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