Sunday 25 September 2016

Think twice about keeping the wolf at bay

Lay of the land

Fiona O'Connell

Published 13/03/2016 | 02:30

A wolf walks in the forest of the Bourbansais zoo in Pleugueneuc, northwestern France Photo: AFP/Getty
A wolf walks in the forest of the Bourbansais zoo in Pleugueneuc, northwestern France Photo: AFP/Getty

As I write, the world around me is soaking wet. And if this is your birthday, as a water sign under the western zodiac, I'm afraid you could likewise be deemed a drip.

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So why not identify instead with the Native American zodiac, where you enjoy the wonderful symbol of the wolf? It's more appropriate to these seemingly tame shores than you might first think.

For these wily creatures were once so prevalent here that the wolf symbolised strength and courage to the native Irish. But the arriving settlers from the 16th century onwards viewed them as evil beasts, representing all that was wrong with Ireland.

Indeed, documentary evidence has uncovered early propaganda linking the rebel Irish, the Catholic priest and the savage wolf - and a campaign to rid Ireland of all three.

It proved all too successful, with the last wolf here killed around 1786. This reflected a worldwide trend, with the wolf being brutally wiped out almost everywhere people were present.

But many have begun to realise how impoverished our world is without these awesome animals.

Wolves have been reintroduced across the US, where they have restored the balance of the ecosystem. I was lucky enough to have one cross my path in the mid-western state of Wisconsin some years ago.

David Attenborough has supported calls for the reintroduction of wolves to the Scottish highlands. "They have been demonised," he says, "but really they're gentle and very loyal creatures, whose sole purpose is to survive and look after each other."

There has been similar talk of bringing the wolf back to Ireland. But this would likely be a disaster. In practical terms, we would need far more extensive wilderness areas. But the biggest problem is our prejudice against predators.

Look at our track record regarding the reintroduction of aerial predators such as the golden and white-tailed eagles. There have been many incidences of poisoning and shooting - yet no prosecutions for any of these wildlife crimes.

Perhaps people who view predators other than ourselves as vermin should heed the words of those same so-called primitives, the Native Americans. Like the native Irish 'savages', they respected the wolf.

According to Cherokee legend, an old man teaches his grandson about a fight that goes on inside each of us, between two wolves. One wolf is full of anger, greed, arrogance and other vices. The other possesses joy, kindness and similar virtues.

The boy asks which wolf will win. To which his grandfather replies: "The one you feed."

In this age of planetary chaos caused largely by the destructive side of our nature, which one of those wolves will we continue to keep from our door?

Sunday Independent

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