Back to Nature (Published on - April 26, 2006)
Wolf song
If you talk to the Animals, they will talk with you.
And you will know each other.
If you do not talk to them, you will not know them.
And what you do not know you will fear,
What one fears … One destroys.
– Chief Dan George

While viewing a cute, little baby panda at the zoo, the cuddly ball of fur infant tiger, or the human-like newborn chimpanzee, it’s difficult for us to imagine that someday that cute baby will grow up to be a hunter, provider … a wild animal.

It’s comfortable to anthropomorphize the animals around us, in other words: attribute human characteristics to animals. How easy it is for us to forget that Muffy and Buffy are not just dogs and cats, but are domesticated wild animals.

They don’t desire to build a robot, explore Mars or impress colleagues with the brand of coffee they drink. They don’t sit around contemplating, if only I could have the biggest doghouse in the neighborhood. Hmmm … how nice would it be to own that brand new, bright yellow Hummer. Hey, that neighbor over there has a bigger and brighter collar than me or I think I will lay here all day plotting and scheming how to get back at my littermate who got to go to the park today instead of me.

Those things only happen in cartoons created by human minds. Except for primates, animals in a natural setting don’t conceive greed, hatred, spite, vengeance, unkindness, nastiness or malevolence. We humans may perceive their behavior in these terms but they are acting on instinct, fear, hunger, danger and the power of learned techniques for the long-term survival of the species.

Animal behavior is governed by three basic motives: 1) to find food, 2) to avoid predators and 3) to reproduce. Consider: If you are edible, I will eat you. If you are challenging me, I will either walk away in peace or fight you for the sake of the herd, pack leadership and/or survival. I am here to find food, avoid my predators, make a family, provide for and protect that family.

This doesn’t mean animals don’t experience joy, happiness and a sense of well-being. It means that whatever an animal does involves action and response to stimulation. Canines understand the concept of freedom, food, social contact and reproduction. Take a look at the complex social life of wolves.

Wolves form groups called “packs,” which are typically composed of a dominant mated pair, their offspring, and an assortment of other adults, often with some genetic relationship to the “first family.” A wolf pack is a highly organized and complex social structure. Pack members live within a rigid hierarchy and the rules of that hierarchy must be obeyed. This structure determines who will eat first and thus ensure the safety and survival of the pack. When they go for a major hunt, they keep in touch through howling. Howling is a very important part of communicating with the community.

The pack behavior extends to care of the young. Cubs are never left alone and wolves will often care for other wolves’ young, bringing them food and guarding them from danger. They work as an efficient team for the good of the family.

Unlike humankind, in the world of wolves: No position is of less worth than another. Each place has a responsibility, which is of equal importance for the pack to operate as a team. This is a difficult concept for humans to grasp.

Words such as rank, dominant and domineering are human concepts, i.e. “I am of a higher rank, a more intelligent being, my words are to be followed, I am in control and I am the leader. I’m plotting against you. I will punish you. I will spite you with no regard for the well being of my pack,” are notions owned by humans. In the world of the canine, no such concepts exist.

Alpha animals “rule” the other pack members through a series of dominant gestures and sounds. This intricate social order is not kept in place by some misguided sense of insecurity, but by a rigid structure through which they use in order to survive, as they depend on each and every other member of the pack for food.

An alpha wolf pair mate until one dies or falls ill, then the healthy mate will find another mate. If two wolves have a difference of opinion, they generally draw back their lips, displaying what they hope to be a grand show of teeth. They growl, sneer and make every attempt to “out show” each other’s fierceness. If the challenging individual is serious in the contest, the higher-ranking animal will be forced to defend his/her position or be usurped. This behavior is more of a ritual than actual fighting and it almost never ends in serious injury.

These dominance “rules” help to keep order within the pack and dissuade arguments before they escalate. In this time of fearful confusing politics, self-indulgence, self-pity, lack of direction and role models and inflated concepts of worth, humankind could afford to take lessons from the wild wolves seeking stability, responsibility and unity. What one fears … one destroys … back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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