Wolves x TED

by Y.I.


I have always been a great fan of wolves, and I have always said so to my friends. I have repeatedly professed that I wanted to work as a wildlife conserver in the future. But I must confess, I could never give a single decent answer when asked questions such as, “What’s so great about wolves?” and “Why do we have to save them?” until I watched a TED talk titled, “Why I love Vultures”, given by Munir Virani.

Let me digress, to advertise TED talks.

For those of you who do not know, TED is a nonprofit conference devoted to spreading ideas around the globe, in which various topics of Technology, Entertainment, and Design merge (hence TED). I believe TED is the most inspiring and entertaining source of information — and to top it off, talks are short (a maximum of 18 minutes), rich in variety, and available online. I strongly recommend watching them. For starters, here’s two that I loved: “I got 99 problems…palsy is just one”, by Maysoon Zayid, and “Cloudy with a chance of joy”, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.

As I was saying before my above 30-second advertisement, the TED talk, “Why I love Vultures”, motivated me to learn more about wolves, and to identify reasons for protecting them. So, I went on to watch another TED talk, in which for the first time, I learned details about the role of wolves in the ecosystem.

For centuries, wolves have been seen as evil, violent, no-good predators. Myths and folktales have strengthened the notorious image: the myth of the werewolf, the story of “The Little Red Riding-Hood”, or “The Three Little Pigs”. The wolf = evil connection has been imprinted deep in our childhood memories, and it has been this way for centuries. But time has now come to change how we think.

Wolves are vital to the ecosystem, and here’s why:

For nearly 70 years till 1940, there were absolutely no wolves in Yellowstone National Park. They had been killed off by humans who blamed the wolves for eating precious domestic livestock. As a result, elk and deer, the main prey of wolves, expanded their populations and consumed all the young trees and shrubs, so that the next generation could not grow. The disappearance of new generations of plants was a severe blow to animals that relied on such plants to hide from predators, and animals that used this vegetation as their habitat. Take birds for example — the disappearance of plants meant the disappearance of locations to build their nests and raise their young. And thus the whole ecosystem had started to tip off balance.

In 1995, the once-eradicated grey wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park.

In the presence of a new predator, the deer and the elk started to avoid some parts of the park where they could be easily trapped. Plants grew again in valleys, forests formed, and the birds came back. Along with the forests, beavers came back. The dams they created provided habitat for otters and ducks. Other than deer and elk, the wolves also killed coyotes. The decrease in the number of coyotes made abundant the number of rabbits and mice. More rabbits and mice meant more hawks, foxes and badgers. Thus the presence of wolves created niches in which other species could survive.

But wolves changed not only the ecosystem, but the rivers, too. The regenerating forests secured the river banks, and prevented them from eroding. Thus the rivers ceased to meander, and became stabilized in their positions.

What happened in Yellowstone proves that wolves are a “keystone species” (a species that has a large effect on its environment and is crucial to its abundance). This is why we cannot continue to condemn wolves into extinction. This is why we have to protect wolves.

Humans are predators, almost never prey. As the ruling species in the food chain, we have to realize that we have the responsibility of maintaining balance in the ecosystem. At the same time, we must realize that the knowledge we have now about the ecosystem is only a small portion of the whole and moreover, that the knowledge we have now may turn out to be inadequate in the future. We must think seriously about what we can and should do as the controllers of the ecosystem.

Here is a quotation that I believe we should all keep in mind:

Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.

(The first line of the “Humanifesto” by Conservation International. They have recently launched a new media campaign called “Nature is Speaking”.)

Sources:

“Conservation International.” Conservation International. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2015.; United States. National Park Service. “Wolves in Yellowstone.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 09 June 2015. Web. 12 June 2015.; “TED: Ideas worth Spreading.” TED: Ideas worth Spreading. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2015.