Gray Wolves, Homo Sapiens and Other Endangered Species
Leafing through what passes for news in the Sunday edition of the Kansas City Star is an exercise that normally takes about 10-15 minutes if you don't happen to care about the bulging sports pages. But this particular Sunday I came across a tiny back-page item that stopped me cold:
TOPEKA │ First wolf since 1905 confirmed in Kansas
Coyote hunters have killed a wolf in northwest Kansas, the first documented wolf in the state since 1905.
The wolf was killed in December. The animal weighed more than 80 pounds, more than twice as much as a large coyote.
Federal officials confirmed through tissue testing that the animal was a full-bodied Great Lakes gray wolf. │Topeka Capital-Journal
That's all. The first documented gray wolf in Kansas in over a century was twice the size of a large coyote and killed in December. Nothing else. Not even one line about the rapid decline of all large four-legged creatures and many small ones, even creatures with no legs. Not even a kind word about hard-to-hate "endangered species" like the tapered pig toe (a clam) or the New England cottontail rabbit.
The story about the gray wolf brought to mind two other recent articles; one about the gray wolf and the other about Israel and Gaza. Oddly enough, it was the latter, a story about Israeli politics, where the term "endangered species" popped up.
No, not right whales or gray wolves or black bears. Not the bison that once roamed the Great Plains or mountain lions that, against all odds, still inhabit the rocky redoubts above the verdant valley we call home. No, he was giving an interview, talking about Palestine and Israeli politics.
More specifically, he was talking about his rivals for leadership in a land hardliners in Israel say belongs to the Jews, God's chosen people. His name is not important if you live in Colorado or Texas. He's an Israeli politician, Likud leader (initials D.D.) who proposes that for every rocket launched by Hamas, Israel "delete" one neighborhood in Gaza. Extreme? Hardly. He is quoted as saying, "I tell my colleagues on the left in the Knesset, 'you are an endangered species. We'll build a nature reserve for you.'"
Any casual follower of Middle Eastern politics aware of the genocidal mass murder that led to Israel's creation after World War II cannot be surprised to learn hardliners always have the upper hand. What caught my attention was not the Likud leader's pugnacity but his smug description of Knesset peace-seekers as "an endangered species" and his condescending reference to building a "nature reserve" for them.
It conjured up a distant memory of watching a war unfold, one of many between Israeli and Arabs. Watching it with a dear friend, a member of the IDF, Israel's army S. would one day rise to the rank of colonel as a military intelligence officer who dared to challenge the political-military orthodoxies of the day. But life can be cruel: S. suffered a career-ending stroke a few years ago that left him confined to a wheelchair and speechless.
It occurred to me that people like S. are an endangered species. They are vulnerable and need help from friends, family, and a community. What prompted this train of thought was an article about an endangered species. One was a lot like S., but far from Israel (4500 miles, give or take).
I'm talking about the gray wolves of Yakutia, a vast region in Siberia. You may think wolves and humans are not at all alike but if you'd known S. before the stroke brought him down you'd change your mind. He was a soldier's soldier, clever and potentially dangerous. Supremely well adapted to succeed in a profession that too often devours its own, until he had a stroke.
Now back to Yakutia and the gray wolves. Earlier this month, the president of the Sakha Republic (also known as Yakutia) issued a decree aimed at reducing the gray-wolf population to 500 in three months through an intensive hunt. This decree, supported by a state of emergency and bounties for every wolf shot, plus a prize of 1 million rubles ($30,000) is awarded for the most killed.
Being the target of a massacre (call it "hunting" if it makes you feel better) is the moral equivalent of genocide. Kapish? And being shot for being part of species in the course of this type of "hunt" is to become an endangered species within an endangered species.
There were an estimated 3,500 wolves in Sakha-Yakutia before the slaughter. Sounds like quite a few? Think again: Sakha-Yakutia is the size of India. Oh, but it's necessary, don't you see, because the wolves are killing livestock costing as much as 5 million rubles ($150,000) a year.
The lunatic logic of this crime against canis lupus prompted one writer (George Monbiot, The Guardian UK, 1/18/2013) to ask: "Would it not make more sense to use the money to compensate the farmers? Would it not make more sense to protect the wolves' natural prey: animals such as hares which are currently being overhunted by people, driving the wolves to look elsewhere for food?" If you're not sure, ask the nine-year-old next door.
The same writer (Monbiot) went on: "In November, when I wrote about plans to exterminate wolves in Norway, some of those who supported the killings wrote to me to explain that there are plenty of wolves in Russia, so why bother protecting them in Scandinavia?" Or Canada. Plenty of wolves left in Canada, right? It turns out, "similar massacres are being planned there, on the most cynical of premises." If you're interested in the details, do what George W. does and get on the Google.
What you'll discover is that wolves, like fair-minded Israelis, are an endangered species. By what reckoning do they deserve sudden death after surviving for eons before homo erectus, our early ancestors, appeared on the scene? With 7.3 billion predatory humans now crawling over the length and breadth of the planet, it seems there's no room for wild animals that eat the tame animals we eat. Not in Russia. Not in Scandinavia. Not in Canada.
And, sadly, not for even one lone gray wolf in Kansas.