What drives opposition to the recovery of predators like wolves? Perhaps the most visceral reason is fear -- fear of personal injury, fear of the unknown, fear for the safety of family and friends. A colleague from Spain related her feelings at watching a pack of wolves pass by their campsite at night during a full moon. Her fear was palpable, and admittedly based on unflattering cultural myths about wild canids. I could sense the chill as she told her story, and a story from William Bartram sprang to mind. An eighteenth century American naturalist, Bartram was exploring the wilds of Florida. One night he awoke to find his fish spirited away by a wolf....
How much easier and more eligible might it have been for him to have leaped upon my breast in the dead of sleep, and torn my throat, which would have instantly deprived me of life, and then gutted his stomach for the present with my warm blood, and dragged off my body, which would have made a feast afterwards for him and his howling associates! I say, would not this have been a wiser step, than to have made protracted and circular approaches, and then after, by chance, espying the fish over my head, with the greatest of caution and silence rear up, and take them off the snags one by one, then make off with them, and that so cunningly as not to awaken me until he had fairly accomplished his purpose?
....Fear and dread is a normal and often appropriate human reaction, especially towards large carnivorous animals....Nonetheless, our fears about wolves are unwarranted from ecological and ethological evidence. We know that wolves are neither beasts of waste and desolation, nor varmints, villains and vermin. They are simply wild beings enmeshed, like ourselves, in the tapestry of life. This common sense insight took the dominant European cultures thousands of years to develop, but it was something the indigenous people of North America (and elsewhere) understood long ago. Unfettered by the dualisms of nature/culture or animal/human, their relationship with wolves was characterized by appreciation, not denigration. Many early humans modeled themselves on wolf packs, learning cultural and practical skills from a highly successful species, and wolf-derived or wolf-like canids quickly became indispensable...[to] human culture. This is not to pretend that direct and violent conflicts between people and wolves never or cannot occur. Although we lack direct prehistoric evidence, it would be unreasonable to suppose that conflicts over food, family or territory never brought wolves and humans to blows. In our day, captive wolves socialized to the presence of humans are more likely to respond to perceived threats and infractions of their social order with often subtle but sometimes overt acts of physical intimidation and aggression. This should be put in context, as attacks by healthy wild wolves are extraordinarily rare and virtually never lethal (Linnell 2002; McNay 2002). Still, in spite of many years of observing and interacting with wolves, they still conjure moments of dread in me when, in their moods or my ignorance, I do something to which they respond with displeasure. They remind me that while our species is dominant on earth by virtue of cognitive acuity, complex social organization, advanced technology, sheer numbers and a regrettable disposition to species cleansing, homo sapiens are pitiful beings in term of natural strength, agility and perception. There is both humility and wonder to be gained from this insight.