I recently finished reading Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat. I bought it at a used book store, and the copyright in my book says 1963, 1973 and 1993, but it must be out of print now. I’m pretty sure my parents hid this book from me when I was growing up. They must have known the effect it would have on me, and they probably didn’t wish to lose their daughter to the wilds of northern Canada for years at a time. Well, they weren’t able to avoid that altogether, but at least I have the technology to keep in touch with them.
Since living in Wrigley, my curiosity about wolves has been piqued. They are often talked about, because they are never very far away. At the airport, which is about 2 km from Wrigley, the wolves were coming onto the runway on the weekends and chewing on the wires going to some of the runway edge lights. When it’s particularly cold in winter, they come closer to town and sometimes attack and eat the local dogs. In December, wolves killed the alpha dog in town — dogs there run in packs and are not very far removed from wild, wolfish behaviour. In fact, some of what Farley Mowat talks about has helped me relate to dogs better, such as reading their facial expressions and understanding that they live by their own, non-human code. They have their own reasons for doing things, because of their canine culture.
I can see why this book is considered a classic! It is an excellent read. Farley is a phenomenal storyteller, and his story is a fantastic one. He is dropped off by a kamikaze bush pilot at an unknown frozen lake somewhere off the map in Northern Manitoba. His mission is to study wolves, their feeding habits and appetite for caribou. He plans to live among the wolves. Does that mean he crawls in their dens? Only once, and his reaction to what he finds within shakes him to the core. He adapts himself to the wolves’ ways — he learns to take wolf-naps so that he can observe them for long periods of time continuously without getting tired. And when the caribou return from their wintering grounds, he discovers, contrary to what the government has been told, that wolves are not responsible for the decline in caribou population.
Fast forward 50+ years, to this year, 2013. What is on the cover of the news/north newspaper this week?
Fifty years have gone by and the problem remains! Farley Mowat correctly identified the cause of the caribou slaughter when he found a field of caribou bones near a trapper’s shack — the trapper was killing hundreds of caribou a year to feed his sled dogs. Back then, they used nearly the whole animal, but now, killing for the sake of killing makes me ill. Trigger happy people should go to a gun range and shoot paper targets, not beautiful, majestic creatures. And there are a lot of trigger happy people in the North, and they think they can get away with it, and they think they have a right to kill what they want, and they do it because their twisted sense of humanity thinks it is fun. That newspaper article speaks of 50+ animals killed with only very small portions being taken for food, a practice very much against what the elders teach. (Wolves, by contrast, kill very few caribou, and only the weak and elderly ones, and, of course, eat it all.)
Part of me desperately hopes they find out who did it all (the carcasses were found in 12 different sites, so it was probably lots of different people), and part of me knows it won’t help. Not unless the local people — the people from that community — decide it is definitely wrong and their internal culture changes. Part of me thinks that if no witnesses will come forward — and who would want to rat on their friends and family? — then the whole community should lose its caribou hunting rights. They have a grocery store; let them buy their meat there. But, that’s our ugly friend colonialism back for a visit, telling native populations what to do and disciplining them like they are children. No, the government needs to stop interfering and the people who live there need to start acting like responsible, life-respecting adults. Own up to what you have done. Admit you feel bad about it (if you do, don’t lie if you don’t). Stop killing just because you can.
I would love to ask one of these trigger happy people “what will you do when all the caribou are gone? Elsewhere in Canada, when the native animals were killed off, domestic animals were brought in. Beef replaced buffalo, pigs in place of antelope. Are you going to become farmers? That will be challenging with the wolves and bears and so much wilderness. Will you cut down all the trees to make fields? Will you grow crops to feed your cows?”
It would be infinitely better if those who live among the caribou could learn to appreciate what they have in them — an amazing, healthy food source — and protect the caribou population, to prevent their extinction. I am a stranger in a strange land; I am not from here. I wasn’t raised among the caribou, among the wolves. I was raised on a farm (which you may have already guessed), so if I want to be an activist, I should do so in the realm where my heritage is — agriculture in Canada. To be an activist here makes me judgmental, as so many environmental activists who go far from home to make a stand are. And I do have some thoughts about agriculture in Canada… but they will have to wait for another day.