Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Buffalo wolves

I used to tell a story about Microsoft whenever they'd done something that disenfranchised their users or screwed the public in general. I was thinking about that same story again today with respect to Wells Fargo. (I was printing out a scathing letter about the incredibly shabby quality of service their Home Mortgage group seems to specialize in and the story came to mind.) And, thinking of the fascists in our country who are currently on the ascendant thanks to a somnolent population, I'm reminded of it even more.

Many years ago, I went to Wolf Haven in Tenino, WA. It's a great place: they provide sanctuary for captivity-born wolves, raise awareness about wolves, and provide protection for wild wolves in a variety of ways. While I was there, I saw a buffalo wolf.

Buffalo wolves, we were told, are "triply extinct." (It makes me sad to write this, even now.) Their habitat's gone (the plains), their food source is gone (buffalo), and at the time I saw them, there weren't enough left to form a viable captive breeding population. If they're not gone from the Earth now, they will be soon. But that's not the point of this story.

Buffalo wolves (canis lupus nubilus), also known as "Great Plains wolves," are a subspecies of gray wolf. They hunted buffalo. Buffalo, in case you aren't familiar with them, don't take shit from anyone. Bulls can weigh a ton or more. They stand 5-6' high at the shoulders. They're incredibly agile and they can sprint at 30mph. They can jump over a 6' fence from a standing position. They are tough dudes.

Nevertheless, buffalo wolves would hunt, kill, and eat them regularly. This went on for thousands of years (before humans came along and screwed things up). How did they do that to an animal that could kill them just by stepping on them? The answer is that, like other wolves, buffalo wolves hunted in packs. They didn't need to face down a buffalo singlehandedly. No one wolf had but a fraction of the strength and power of a buffalo, but a lot of them together were able to whittle a buffalo down, kill it, and eat it.

This story gives me heart and hope. I'll never be as strong as a buffalo myself, but the buffalo wolf has taught me that I don't need to be. I just have to be part of a big-enough pack of other buffalo wolves focused on bringing down that particular buffalo and we'll win every time. It's a very appealing image.



moltar said...

I never saw the "nobility" that some have in wolves. They're pack animals that go for the weakest member and engage in a terribly unfair fight of dodging and weaving and tearing out throats. About as noble as any hyena pack to me. They're just dogs on crack - and steriods.

John Hedtke said...

I never said that wolves were noble; they're wolves, for good or bad. They're an important part of the balance but it's not like they're "nice" or something. Predators aren't fair; they're just very, very efficient.

Anonymous said...

Hi ---

I read a story about that last population of Buffalo Wolves about 20 years ago, and I was just trying to track it down, but most sources are saying they died out in the 1920s. Could you give me the name of the park or any other leads? In the article I read, there was one older scientist and a few postdocs or PhD students spending their own money trying to keep these guys alive.

Wikipedia today is talking about the Kakapo -- there were only 21 of those a few years ago, and people are clearing islands to keep them alive. Now that I'm an adult I wonder if there's a way to help the buffalo wolves...

jaibee at gmail.com

Anonymous said...

PS actually spotted hyenas are pretty cool too. They have social organizations almost as complicated as primates.