The Big Bad Wolf Was Only Ever A Big Fat Lie
How I made a Timber wolf laugh and captured it in a photo
He stands 3 feet tall at the shoulder and is just over 6 feet long from his coal black nose to his perpetually wagging tail. His name is Buddy and he's a wolf. A grey wolf, also known as a timber wolf.
I'm going to tell you how this photo came to be and how I made a timber wolf smile and captured it in a photo. But first I have to tell you a little about Buddy. Only then will it make sense.
The biggest irony of Buddy's life is that in a world where many people are afraid of wolves, he was locked up for loving people too much.
I read that bad people who want to kidnap children often tell them they have puppies or kittens and innocent children run to see.
No one needed to bribe buddy. You just had to say "here, boy" and he'd run just as eagerly. He loved people so much it wasn't safe for him to be in the wild.
It makes perfect sense, really.
The Big Bad Wolf Is A Lie...
Fairy tales teach us that wolves are the bad guy. Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs both featured the big bad wolf. If you grew up on Grimm's fairy tales, you might know of Peter and the Wolf, too. Yet another big bad wolf.
Any farmer, even today, will tell you wolves are terrifying and a menace. Killing cattle and creating hardship for farmers.
Except, it's not true.
According to National Geographic, that's a myth started by the livestock industry. Wolves are responsible for about 0.2% of cattle deaths. Less than one percent.
Know what cattle really die of? Respiratory and digestive problems, disease, weather, and complications of birthing. In that orders. But we blamed the wolves. Because we didn't know.
We killed all the wolves, on purpose...
Buddy's ancestors have been on Earth twice as long as modern humans. For all of time, wolves roamed North America and were an important part of the ecosystem.
They're not so different than us, really.
They live in small packs that humans call "families." A wolf pack is usually a dad, mom and their children. They have pups every year and the pups stay with the family helping to hunt and raise the younger pups.
Until one day they are old enough to go find their own partner and start their own pack. Their own family.
Humans have "alpha wolves" too. We call them Dad.
But in the early 1900s, the government decided to wipe out all the wolves in America. To keep the cattle safe, and so today, there are less than 6,000 wolves across the lower 48 states. Some states don't have any wolves at all. For no reason except we didn't know better.
Wolves aren't similar to dogs. They are dogs.
Way back in 1758, a Swedish zoologist named Carl Linnaeus decided to start classifying animals with two-word Latin names.
The Latin name for a pet dog is Canus Familiaris. Wolves were listed as Canis lupus. Canis means dog, so even their Latin names meant they were both dogs.
But "familiaris" means friend or servant.
Dog is man's best friend, right?
It wasn't until 1999 that a study of mitochondrial DNA showed us that domestic dogs actually came from wolves. Related. Their DNA says so.
So maybe Buddy isn't so strange in loving people so much.
He just didn't learn about stranger danger.
How I made a Timber wolf smile
As much as we love to look at the mavericks, introverts and non-conformists of the world and call them a lone wolf, it's not true and it's not the same. Not even close
Wolves weren't made to live alone. They suffer without a pack. They can't hunt an elk alone, and they grieve for companionship. Buddy doesn't want for food. His keepers make sure he's well fed.
But he doesn't have companionship. He is a lone wolf. Not by choice, but because he wanted love from humans too much.
I stand and watch as people approach his enclosure. He runs like a beloved pet dog would, from person to person, wagging his tail. I watch as a young girl bends and puts her hands on the glass. He runs to her for the hug he can never have. Because he's a wolf, not a dog.
So many people later, Buddy stops and yawns.
With my camera set on continuous shoot, I take dozens of shots of that yawn. Later, looking through those photos, I single out one shot.
It looks like he's laughing.
That's how I want to remember him.
* * *
Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky, And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back; For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
– Rudyard Kipling
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