Return of the Wolf

By Stéphane Antol


Wolves were once running across the whole world.

A magnificent, powerful and intelligent animal, the wolf is adaptable to many environments, including forests, tundra, taiga, deserts, plains and mountains, as long as there is suitable food, Some men revered it, lot of them hated it. From animal it became legend, then myth, then monster, and it was extirpated from most of its original habitat.

Once upon a time, one could hear its howling across the land and country of France, as well as  throughout the rest of the world, part of the tenuous balance governing nature and life. In the year 1908, however, the last wolf was killed in Hirztbach, Alsace. Followed by the last one of them in France in 1954, in Vignieu, Dauphiné. Its howling now silenced.

But not forever. In the 90’s, the wolf naturally came back in the Mercantour Mountains south of the French Alps, probably from Italian populations, and then dispersed to the Pyrénées Mountains . In 2011, a wolf was spotted in the Vosges Mountains, near Alsace region, 103 years after the Hirtzbach killing, followed by a female individual in 2012. In 2013 both wolves mated and pups were born. Actually, a pack was born. But would they survive? Today, it is believed that two packs are inhabiting the Vosges Mountains.

As one might expect, the news that wolves had reappeared led to a lot of controversial and conflicting feelings from pro-wolves supporters and anti-wolves partisans. Nature lovers seeing the animals as a good omen, and stockbreeders as harmful. Of course, it is really difficult to separate fact from fiction on a subject people are so passionate about. As L. David Mech once said: “It is neither saint nor sinner except to those who want to make it so” (Elsevier, March 2012, Is science in danger of sanctifying the wolf?).

There is one certainty: the wolf is back in France, in the Vosges Mountains. Time has now come to question ourselves: are we going to follow our ancestors' steps and try to exterminate wolves again, this time for good? Or as being blessed with the gift of consciousness, are we going to understand that the wolf is part of our world, that we humans are infringing on its territory, and are we going to learn to live together? Maybe one day our children will listen to the wolf's song rising towards the sky again, not with fear, but with joy.