The recent publication of Jacqui Murray’s book ‘Survival of The Fittest’, about the adventures of an ancient woman and her wolf companion, travelling across three continents in search of a place to settle, reminded me of a fascinating discovery in a 32,000 years old cave. The Chauvet Cave in France is famous for its 400 paintings of animals, the world’s oldest. Deep inside the cave, there are also preserved in the soft clay floor, now hardened, the footprints of an 8 to 10 year old child and by their side the paw prints of a wolf. From the prints it is clear that the child was not running but walking beside the wolf. The youngster was using a flame torch (bits of charcoal fell on the ground), to see the paintings and the bear heads that had been put at the back of the cave in reverence. The footprints of the child and wolf, stretching over a distance of 150 feet, are thought to be 26,000 years old. The cave dates from the Paleolithic period. As is often the case, reality is more unbelievable than fantasy.
The evolution of human hunting tribes and packs of wolves has strong similarities; small sizes of tribes, same hunting technique and strong work ethics. This is why human hunters and wolf hunters were drawn together, and in time, hunted together. The shifting of the tectonic plates and the emergence of different continents explain the movements of wolves to the Northern Hemisphere. It has also been established that huskies have traces of wolf DNA. We don’t know for sure but many scientists believe that wolves evolved from primitive carnivores, known as miacids. They lived around 52 million years ago.
The genets of Africa are today’s direct descendant of ancient miacids. In another line of evolution, the dawn-wolf, a fox-like creature, developed, and they lived and climbed among tree canopies. They migrated from North America to Asia, but it is believed that they also crossed from Alaska to Siberia. They developed over time into today’s wolf and migrated to Canada and USA. In time of climate changes and with disappearance of food sources, the dawn-wolf but not the grey wolf, become extinct. Scientists are still searching for the explanation why some animals became extinct while others did not.
There has been debate whether the dog has descended from the wolf or evolved separately from a common ancestor. Recently the American Society of Mammalogists recommended that the dog should be accepted as evolved from wolf on the basis of genetic evidence. Also the fifth toe on the hind leg of the ancient wolf became vestigial, and is present today as a dew claw on both wolves and dogs. The question of how humans and dogs became the best of friends has been answered in countless books that are always bestsellers.
Recent research found that wolves are easy to befriend as they are exceptionally intelligent, and there are many ‘wolf whisperers’ writing about their experiences of living with wolves in perfect harmony. The old superstitions of werewolves have long been discredited. The wolf howling at the full moon is just his expression of longing for the unobtainable universe, Earth’s motherland. This fascination with the universe was also shared by humans – from the ancient times of prehistoric man, the ancient Egyptians and others, to the Elon Musks of the present world. One day we may even be living on Mars, no doubt, with wolves by our side.
Today, most people have never crossed paths with a wolf, not under normal circumstances. Recently it was reported from Estonia, the Baltic state, about an amazing happening at the dam on the frozen river Parnu. Two dam workers were alerted to the sound of a distressed animal. Thinking that somebody’s pet dog was in trouble, they sprang into action. They cleared a path through the ice and pulled the creature out from the freezing river. The creature was covered in ice, weighed down by its soaked fur and semi-conscious. The workers carried him down the slope to their car. Wrapped up in a blanket, ‘the stray’ lay motionless on their legs during the journey to the local vet. There, the vet could not think what kind of dog it could be. Only a local hunter confirmed that in fact it was a year-old wolf. Saved, warmed up and fed, after treatment the wolf was released back into the wild. All involved in his rescue were jubilant, including The Estonian Union for the Protection of Animals, because although wolves have been living in Estonia for 10,000 years, presently only 150 have been accounted for, and are now protected. Good news indeed.