The following is reprinted from Aug. 2013.

Few, probably no, animals historically have been hated and persecuted the world over as have wolves. All the way back into the 16th century, man has needlessly slaughtered wolves, especially in Europe, mostly because wolves were depicted as vicious, bloodthirsty creatures, re: “Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf.”

I have lived closely with wildlife for my entire life, and if I were to make a list of my favorite species of wildlife, it would be a three-way tie with bluebirds, wolves and bald eagles at the top of the list. 

Indeed, wolves have been unfairly hated and killed for a long time, but a light has begun to shine on their horizon. There is currently a growing concern for wildlife the world over, as some people are becoming aware of the plight of wild animals, mainly due to loss of habitat, pollution and contamination. In this country, the wildlife receiving the most concern are certain marine fish and animals, bluebirds, eagles and wolves. 

Even though wolves are hated by many in this country, they play a critical role in maintaining the balance of nature. Most wildlife enthusiasts are well aware of what happened in Yellowstone Park and in other adjoining areas of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming when great herds of cattle were brought into areas, competing with deer, buffalo and elk that had been there for thousands of years. The wolves had also been there, feeding on the old and weak deer, buffalo and elk, and that maintained the balance of nature and kept the populations healthy and stable. 

When many of the deer, buffalo and elk were gone, the wolves had to feed on some of the cattle to survive. This turned the ranchers against them, and the wolves were hunted, killed and driven from the land. 

Almost immediately, bad things began to happen as nature was out of balance, and it stayed that way for many years with the federal government leaning toward the ranchers, who were fiercely anti-wolf. Finally, they were forced to recognize the terrible condition of the environment, that the only way to correct it was to restore the balance of nature, and the only way to do that was to bring back the wolves that nature originally put there. 

So they did, and it was good, but that’s another story. I might add it’s a story that everyone should know about. I spent a few days in Montana last year and found that approximately half of the people were pro-wolf and half were anti-wolf. Even many ranchers now understand the importance of wolves and are willing to accept and tolerate them. That is a huge advancement for the wolves. Only a short time ago, that area was 99 percent anti-wolf. If that many people in that area can be converted, it stands to reason that a lot of other people in other places can change their way of thinking also.   

Next to the cottontail rabbit, the wolf is the most gentle wild animal in the habitat. Wolves do not stalk and attack people.  A wolf’s senses of smell and hearing are 100 times stronger than man’s; therefore, whenever humans enter the territory of a pack of wolves, the wolves are long gone when the humans arrive.

I said earlier that there is a light starting to shine on the wolves’ horizon. Here at Newell Farms Wildlife Center, we are aware of a growing interest in and a love for wolves, and it’s not just young people as you might imagine. At our many wildlife shows, the wolves receive more interest and attention than any other thing. 

We recently returned from a four-day road trip to participate in the Pee Dee Deer Classic in Florence, S.C. Of the hundreds of exhibits and displays, our wildlife exhibit, including the wolves, drew more people than any other attraction. At every one of our shows, there have been certain individuals, young and old, who spend hours looking at the wolves, asking questions and telling us of their fascination and love for all wolves. 

Like the bald eagle, there is something about wolves that can touch you inside. At the Pee Dee Deer Classic, there was a middle-aged man who spent several hours the first two days just standing beside the wolf pens, staring at the wolves. On the third day, his wife discreetly told us that he had cancer and would not live much longer, although you couldn’t tell it by looking at him. She said that all his life he had been fascinated by wolves, and his lifelong dream was to touch a wolf.

We usually don’t allow anyone other than our staff to handle them, but later that day when the man returned, we asked him if he would like to touch one of the wolves.  He began to tremble and said yes, he would. So we let him pet and love our biggest one, named Kiowa, who licked his hands and laid his big head on the man’s chest. When the man came out of the pen, tears were rolling down his cheeks, and he said, “Now my life is complete.”

The Pee Dee officials had already asked us to come back next year. The man thanked us, and as he started to walk away, I said to him, “We will be back next year, and we expect to see you then.” He replied, “Yes, I’ll be here.”