Wolves

Grey wolf (<i>Canis lupus</i>) In the snow, United States of America. rel=
Grey wolf (Canis lupus) In the snow, United States of America.
© WWF-Canon / KLEIN & HUBERT

Feared and revered

What
Grey wolves (Canis lupus) are extremely social animals having descended from the same lineage that gave us domestic dogs. They tend to travel and hunt in collective units called packs using their body language, facial expressions and sense of smell to communicate.

Why
Mythologically, horrifyingly and inspirationally: wolves have played a large role in the psyche of man - especially in the northern hemisphere.

About
Wolves are built for stamina, possessing features tailored for long-distance travel. Narrow chests, powerful backs and strong legs contribute to the wolf's proficiency.

They are capable of covering several miles trotting at about a 10 km/h (6 mph) pace, and have been known to reach speeds approaching 65 km/h (40 mph) during a chase, when a single bound can cover up to 5 meters (16 feet) per bound.

Wolf paws are able to traverse easily through a wide variety of terrains, especially snow. There is a slight webbing between each toe, which allows wolves to move over snow more easily than comparatively hampered prey. Bristled hairs and blunt claws also enhance their grip on slippery surfaces, and special blood vessels keep paw pads from freezing.

Furthermore, scent glands located between a wolf's toes leave trace chemical markers behind, thereby helping the wolf to effectively navigate over large expanses while concurrently keeping others informed of its whereabouts.

History has given birth to various myths regarding the wolves. Stories of Werewolves and the Big Bad Wolf led generations to believe that the wolves were snarling, evil beasts waiting to pounce on innocent people.

Yet despite their negative image, wolves have often been credited for nurturing human children, with the most famous examples being Romulus and Remus and Mowgli of The Jungle Book.

In fact, in North America there has been no case of a fatal attack on a human by a healthy wolf in the last 100 years. As research continues, public acceptance of the wolf as an integral part of our ecosystem will hopefully prevail.

Your chances of seeing one in the wild
Without sounding like a broken record and repeating ourselves - it depends where you go and when you go.

Although we only focus on the gray wolf here, there were once at least 30 subspecies of the wolf, but sadly, today, all but 5 subspecies have become extinct.

They continue to be hunted in many parts of the world and are often mistakenly considered a threat to livestock and human well-being.

Wolves have been virtually exterminated from the continental United States and western Europe, although a few survive in Spain, northern Scandinavia and Italy.
Grey wolf (<i>Canis lupus</i>). / ©: WWF-Canon / Chris Martin BAHR
Grey wolf (Canis lupus).
© WWF-Canon / Chris Martin BAHR

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