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Gray Wolf

Scientific classification
Binomial name
Canis lupus

The Wolf or Gray Wolf, (Canis lupus) is a mammal of the Canidae family and a close relative of the domestic dog.

Wolves once had an almost worldwide distribution. In the northern hemisphere, human encroachment on their habitat and persecution of the animals themselves have drastically reduced their range.

Wolves function as social predators and hunt in packs organised according to a strict social hierarchy and led by an alpha male and alpha female.

Normally, only the alpha pair of the pack breed. This kind of organisation also occurs in other pack-hunting canids, such as the Dhole and the African Hunting Dog.

Much debate has occurred over the relationship between the wolf and the domestic dog. Most authorities see the wolf as the dog's direct ancestor, but others point to the Golden Jackal as the most likely ancestor. Because the canids have evolved recently and different canids interbreed fairly readily, untangling the true relationships is a difficult task.

Human Attitudes towards Wolves

The history of the relationship between people and wolves is a long and troubled one. Historically, humans have often viewed wolves as a danger or as nuisance to be destroyed. An opposing view suggests that wolves form a valuable part of the ecosystem and require protection. Often these views occur simultaneously and cause conflicts among differing groups of people, as one sees when a wildlife service or organization attempts to preserve vanishing wolves or to reintroduce wolves to a habitat.

Wolves in human folklore have the dominant image of a predator; however, interesting exceptions occur.

Little Red Riding Hood and bad wolves
Romulus and Remus and good wolves
Children Raised by Wolves (see Feral children)

In the late 20th century an increased awareness of the beneficial nature of wolves arose, encouraged by books like Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat and nature documentaries as well as by classification of the species as endangered. Accordingly, while the stereotype of wolves still has influence, a significant portion of the public has gained a positive opinion of wolves as interesting, valuable and even noble animals. Thus parks with a visible wolf population have often become popular tourist attractions. For instance, visitors to Yellowstone National Park can often see wolves from the roads.

In other parks, tourists often participate in wolf howls, trying to make wolf-like howls in hopes that the resident wolves will answer. In fact, some nature-lovers have complained that this popularity has drawbacks since tourists sometimes intrude into wolf habitats and disturb them.


The classification of wolves and closely allied creatures is fraught with difficulty. Although many species have been proposed over the years, most types are clearly not true species. Indeed, there may in fact be no more than a single wolf species. A host of subspecies has been proposed. Many of these are also unlikely to stand. Further taxonomic clarification may well take decades.

In films and television shows, while the image of wolves as dangerous predators commonly persists, numerous productions portray wolves as heroic characters. In literature, Rudyard Kipling and Jack London used sympathetic wolf characters. Many fantasy novels depict friendships between humans and wolves, and the comic book Elfquest centers around the Wolfrider elf tribe and its wolfpack.

See also: