Hunting Behavior of the Wolf
While the wolf is often stereotypically labeled as one of the most brutal, savage, and violent animals that inhabits the Earth, this is not true. It is a common misconception that the wolf is a savage creature that uses sheer strength and ferociousness to kill and slaughter some of the strongest animals in its habitat. Contrary to popular belief, the wolf uses intelligence and a type of “pack mentality” to hunt the food off of which it lives as opposed to savagery. In Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf, the reader sees that wolves hunt a variety of animals, hunt as a pack, choose specific prey out of a herd, and teach their young how to hunt at a young age.
The grey wolf of Northern Canada relies heavily on caribou as its main food source. It is a large animal and can feed many wolves. However, the caribou migrate during the summer and are not available to be hunted. Thus, the wolves are forced to find another type of food to hunt. The wolf’s diet was mostly composed of caribou, duck, mice, and fish. During the winter, the wolves generally hunted caribou. The males would leave at night, hunt, make a kill, and then come home the following morning with their kill. Hunting caribou was convenient for wolves, as if it were killed, it could feed all of the wolves for a few days. During the summer, the caribou migrated north in order to escape the heat. This caused the wolves to find other foods to eat in order to appease their stomachs. Their summer diet was mainly composed of mice, duck and fish. At one point in the novel, the female wolf, Angeline, hunts and eats 23 mice as part of a meal. She would then regurgitate part of that for the pups to consume. The author, who was at one point skeptical and a wolf could get nutrition from a mouse, goes on a mice only diet during his sojourn in the Arctic in order to test this theory, and as he states “evidence that my metabolic functions remained unimpaired under a mouse regiment would strongly indicate that wolves, too, could survive and function normally on the same diet. The author also describes how the wolves hunted for fish in a stream and for duck in a lake. While the duck and fish remained to be a tasty treat for the wolves, their main staple during the summer was mice and during the winter it was caribou.
The wolf pack works as a team to catch its prey. Because they all share in eating it, it only makes sense that they should all share the duty of killing it. The wolves employ a variety of techniques in order to capture their prey. Together, they chase a large herd just long enough to find out if there are any weak, old, or sick animals in the pack. These animals would be slower than the others, and thus, easier to catch. Once they have found this weaker animal, they take turns chasing it for short distances in order to wear it out, while at the same time, not wearing themselves out. In some cases, they have other wolves lay in wait as a trap. “Several wolves acting in concert would sometimes drive a small herd of deer into an ambush where other wolves were waiting…” Together, with these techniques, the wolves can work in unison and eliminate the caribou’s natural advantages, such as speed.
It is very commonly thought that wolves are the main killers of large, healthy deer and caribou, taking away those available from hunters; however, this is not the case. The caribou generally killed by wolves are the unfit one, those that are most inferior. The caribou that are most often targeted are those that are the weak, sick, old, and inferior. Basically, the deer that puts up the least fight is the deer that the wolves go for. However cruel that might sound, it actually plays to the caribou’s advantage in the end. Due to the wolves going after the weakest, sickest deer, it helps keep all of the other deer healthy and in shape. Once all of the unhealthy caribou are eaten, it leaves room for and takes fewer resources away from the fat, healthy caribou. “…for the caribou feeds the wolf, but it is the wolf who keeps the caribou strong.”
As is tradition in almost every culture, the ways of living are passed down from one generation to the next. This applies to the wolf as well. The parent wolves teach the pups the hunting behaviors and how to catch food. In the story, Mowat witnesses the older wolves take the pups out to a valley where there are a herd of caribou. They then lead them in weeding out the weakest of them. After the weakest are excluded from the pack, the pups take over and run at flat out full speed after them. In the end, after much chasing, no caribou was hurt; however, it proved to be a valuable lesson for all of the pups. Later in the book, the author watches on as the pups begin to be able to catch mice by themselves, something that their parents had to do prior to that. The pups also play with each other and “Uncle Albert” a lot. They rough house, play tag, and play many other games. The author speculates that these games help get the pups ready to go hunting. In any case, the older wolves play a vital role in the teaching of the young.
There are many common misconceptions concerning the grey wolf. They are not savage, inhumane beasts. On the contrary, they are animals just as others are. They are intelligent, playful, and friendly. The wolf deserves more respect from humans. It should be praised for its clever and intelligent hunting techniques, instead of being criticized. We should study the wolf more carefully in order to better understand it.