Saturday, February 14, 2009

Everybody Knows...

Last week, I referenced a book by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, The Emperor's Embrace. In it, he says the essence of a wolf pack is "the joy of being together" and he refers to a wolf pack as a family unit.

Now, just wait a minute. Everybody knows a wolf pack is ruled by the alpha wolf. Everybody knows the alpha and his mate control all aspects of the pack. Everybody knows that other wolves will fight to become the alpha, who must constantly struggle to retain the role.

But there is a rule I try to live by: The phrase "everybody knows..." always introduces a concept that MUST be examined carefully.

Now, I'm not in a position to study wolves, but fortunately L. David Mech is. And very fortunately he is not afraid to examine his own notions. He says the image of the "alpha wolf" is wrong, and he regrets his contribution to the myth. He has even asked his publisher to discontinue publishing his 39-year-old classic work, The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species, because it is perpetuating the "alpha wolf" myth.

The wolf pack is basically a family unit. The father and mother wolves' relationship to the others is that of parents in a family. In Mech's paper, Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs, he says,
Even the much-touted wolf dominance hierarchy is primarily a natural reflection of the age, sex, and reproductive structure of the group, with the breeding male dominating all others posturally and the breeding female garnering food from the male while she is tending young pups.

The typical wolf pack, then, should be viewed as a family with the adult parents guiding the activities of the group and sharing group leadership in a division-of-labor system in which the female predominates primarily in such activities as pup care and defense and the male primarily during foraging and food-provisioning and the travels associated with them. [emphasis added by me]
The "alpha wolf" myth grew out of observing unrelated wolves in a confined space in captivity. Who knew that such unnatural conditions could not be extrapolated to wolves in a natural environment? (/sarcasm)

So, what everybody knows about wolves and the brutal nature of their lives, is wrong. A natural wolf pack is a family. And this would seem to go a long way toward explaining Masson's observation of the joy the wolves experience by being together.

Here is a video of L. David Mech explaining the current situation of scientists and wolves:

As more is learned and more myths disspelled, the most current, accurate, and objective wolf news can be found on the website of the International Wolf Center.

Thank you, Robin, for alerting me to this news.

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