For generations, the grey wolf has remained one of the most controversial large carnivores in Europe, engendering love and awe in some, hatred and mistrust in many others. Indeed, as Theberge & Theberge (1998) write in their book Wolf Country: Eleven years tracking the Algonquin wolves, 'It has been said that wolf's eyes are mirrors; what different people see in them is simply a reflection of ourselves. Could they reflect even more, not just a person’s attitudes towards wolves, but towards the environment, wild lands, nature itself?'
Over the centuries, the image of grey wolves and the attitudes of man towards them have been shaped through a combination of folklore, mythology, prejudice, fear and competition for food, resulting in high levels of persecution and attempts at extermination. In many societies there is a pervading perception of the grey wolf as dangerous to man; however, as the Action Plan for the Conservation of Wolves (Canis lupus) in Europe (2000) ponts out there is no hard evidence that wild non-rabid grey wolves pose any danger to humans in Europe today and in this century there is no reliable documentation of cases of a non-rabid, free-ranging wolf killing a human in Europe.'
The Action Plan for the Conservation of Wolves (Canis lupus) in Europe (2000) goes on to highlight a much more rational fear about grey wolves, that is man’s historical fear of attacks on his livestock. 'Depredation on domestic animals is as old as domestication itself. It is the most serious problem in wolf management because depredation has been the main reason for controlling or exterminating the wolf.' In reality, 'the damage to livestock caused by wolves is very low when compared with other causes of livestock mortality and is often perceived as excessively important. This may to some extent be due to the psychological impact of this type of mortality (caused by a predator) and the fact that it is hard to distinguish clearly the attacks of wolves from those of stray and feral dogs.'
However, for an individual livestock owner living at almost subsistence level in a remote mountainous region, the loss of even one animal to grey wolf predation can be a severe economic blow. For this reason, effective wolf conservation programmes need to include both financial compensation for economic loss, and assistance with the establishment of efficient livestock guarding systems. Furthermore, greater educational efforts are needed to help bring about more positive attitudes towards the benefits of human-wolf coexistence. Grey wolves should be seen as a barometer of both regional biodiversity and an integral part of a healthy local ecosystem, fulfilling a variety of key ecosystem services.
At Wild Rodopi, we are committed to the conservation of brown bears and brown bear habitats in the Rodopi (Rhodope) Mountains. Grey wolf conservation is important. As Weiss et al. (2007) state: 'Our treatment of the wolf measures the scope of our own place in the world, with respect to the landscape and with respect to the human and nonhuman inhabitants with whom we share that world.'