Wolf trainer James Gage brought two gray wolves, Shadow and Bailey, who he raised himself to Burdick Hall on March 1 to raise awareness about wolf conservation.
The presentation was called “Never Cry Wolf” and was sponsored by the Biology Club.
“Never Cry Wolf” covered a wide variety of topics relating to wolves and their importance.
Gage began his presentation with a list of common misconceptions about wolves.
“Wolves have always come across as ‘killing machines’ or ‘monsters’ in most people’s eyes,” Gage said. “This is simply not true. Wolves are actually fairly playful animals and they are among the smartest animals on the planet.”
He said that wolves have had a symbiotic relationship with the Native Americans since pre-historic times.
They saw wolves as teachers and learned their hunting skills from watching the wolves hunt, he said. Conversely, the wolves saw the natives as students and went as far as going onto the natives’ camps to bring them food when they could not find it.
Gage said the genetics of wolves are the characteristics that make them such effective predators.
He said that after the pre-historic Dire wolf died out, due to its large stature and inability to hunt smaller game, there were only two species of wolves left—Grey wolves and Red wolves.
The major characteristics of wolves that make them such effective predators are their two-layered fur coat (inner coat of light cotton-like fur serves as insulation, outer coarse fur serves as protection from the elements), their ability to regulate their body temperature depending on their surroundings and their specifically designed teeth which enable them to “cut” through flesh like scissors through paper.
The behavior of wolves also contributes to their ability to be effective predators. Wolves travel in packs, but these packs can range anywhere from two to 10 members.
The packs are hierarchical and territorial. Each pack member has its own specific role to play and does so with the utmost discipline.
“Through centuries of evolution, wolves have developed their packs into almost perfect social systems,” Gage said. “Compared to humans, their social systems are many times better.”
Wolves also have a variety of senses that have evolved over time to make them efficient hunters, he said.
“Wolves can smell up to 16 different scents at once,” Gage said. “They also have a very specialized system of communication that includes vocal howls, growls, snarls and yips, physical body language and scent-based communication.”
Due to the wolves’ tactical nature to hunt, wolves specialize on prey that live around their territory, and will adapt to hunt new game when the population becomes to low, and conversely when it becomes too high, Gage said. Wolves are trained during adolescence by the alpha female or “queen” of the pack on hunting strategies and tactics. Wolves play a key role in population control, vegetation control and disease control in specific ecosystems.
He said there were around two million wolves in the U.S. until the “War of Wolves” in the 1930s and that the last known wild one was killed in 1930.
Wolves were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1973 and the Aerial Hunting Act in 1971. However, they were recently removed from the endangered species list in 2011 to the protest of many conservationists.
Junior Mickael Blackwell said he learned a lot from the presentation.
“I found the presentation very intriguing,” Blackwell said. “I learned quite a bit and I think it did the job of raising awareness for wolves.”