For eons, wolves have prowled the lore of mankind. They’re mentioned in Greek, Roman, Norse, Celtic, Indian, and Chinese myth.
The ancient Hebrews became a society about 1200 BC, and wolves appear in their Holy Scriptures. Roman myth tells of abandoned twins, Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome, and who survived only because a she-wolf found them and raised them as her own.
Although the nurturing mother wolf is also found in Celtic myth where an ancient Irish king, Cormac, was suckled by a wolf, the first such story concerns the German wolf-child of Hesse (ca. 1344). A more recent one is from India where two girls, Amala and Kamala, were supposedly found in a wolf’s den in 1920.
Despite wolves being presented as mother symbols, they were so feared in Europe they were practically wiped out. For example, only one or two can be found in Switzerland today, and there are perhaps 100 each in Finland, Estonia, and Lithuania. Denmark’s lone wolf, the first spotted in 199 years, died in 2012.
Wolves were annihilated in Germany a century ago, but have made a surprising comeback in the last decade. There are now about 160 of them in Germany roaming in 17 or so packs.
There may be fewer than 1,000, perhaps only 700, in Poland, but Russia is thought to be home to thousands. With an estimated 50,000, Canada trails only Russia in its wolf population.
In the U.S., wolves were almost killed off, except in Alaska. Efforts to reintroduce these animals via transfers from Canada are proving highly successful. Even so, they remain a protected species there. They are also protected in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and other continental European countries, as well as in Britain and Ireland.
Almost eradicated in the British Isles, they were reintroduced at the end of the 1900s, a reintroduction that took centuries to occur. The last wild Irish wolf was killed in 1786.
We find all this sad because this ancient animal once roamed freely throughout the northern hemisphere. They have been radio-carbon dated to 34,000 BC.
So what happened?
Despite the warm fuzzy tales of Cormac, Romulus and Remus, the wolf-child of Hesse, and St. Bridget whose companion was a wolf, this creature has a reputation for treachery. In Chinese culture, he symbolizes destruction, greed, and danger. Ancient Celts believed the wolf ruled winter and February was considered the month of the wolf. In Teutonic tradition, the wolf represents both treachery and menace.
Because this animal was once found everywhere in our hemisphere, he’s known by many names. In Polish, he is wilk; Finns call him susi; Serbo-Croat uses vuk; Hungarians say farkas; Germans say Wolf; in Turkish he’s called kurt; Japanese has ookami; and Welsh uses blaidd. The Ojibwa word is maengua, while the the Cree say mahikan, and the Métis know the wolf as aen loo.
The scientific name is Latin — Canis lupus.
Our English word, wolf, is from the Old Teutonic, wulfoz. It entered English as wulf.