Article first appeared on Saluki International issue 5 - Autumn/Winter 1996
Wolf Songs and Saluqis
With the enormous, relentless stress of my Saluqi book project peeling away, layer after layer, I feel somewhat like a creature that sheds its worn old skin, or a bird that goes through a moult, emerging fresh and ready for new challenges. After years of reading almost nothing except book proofs, my concentration and curiosity are returning. The desire to explore new realms and build on undeveloped fragments has led me to purchase "new" used books, the first read Wolf Songs, the classic collection of writing about wolves, edited by Robert Bush (Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1994).
Wolf Songs is a wonderful introductory reader about wolves. Each section is from 3 to 10 pages, excerpted from complete, well known works, by gifted writers and observers of wolves, nature, and the human spirit. The text arrangement leads us from some of the early American writers who were of the period when the only good wolf was a dead one to the present. We read Aldo Leopold, who even then sensed that there was more, as he watched the fierce green fire dying in the eyes of a wolf he'd shot, or Ernest Thompson Seton, who pondered whether the great wolf, King of the Currumpaw, Lobo, had released his spirit to die once captured.
We read through the excerpts of those who lived with wolves, some in captivity, some in the wild as observers and end with questions about the place of the wolf in the wild today, reintroduction programs, and the place of wolves in our hearts and minds. Eloquently, Michael W. Fox concludes, "Man is Iinked with wolf and with all of nature. To break this Iink is to destroy the spirit of the earth and the essence of humanity within it" (p. 168).
My interest in wolves is driven by desire to understand dogs better, particularly Saluqis, which appear to retain more "wolf-Ioke" characteristies than many breeds due to their evolution as long distance runners often relying on falcons, other Saluqis, or humans as "pack members" in attempts to kill prey, in other words, the Saluqi like the wolf, can be an opportunistic hunter working alone, or it can be a member of a "team effort". Like the wolf, but unlike greyhounds which have been bred to course (ie. chase game using only sight to follow the quarry), the Saluqi evolved as a hunter, able to use all of the cues of the quarry during the chase but also able to use all of its senses and intelligence as a hunter.
Though most of the wolf-like characteristies have been bred out of Western hounds, ignored or selected against, Eastern bred and direct Eastern descent, or "desert bred" Saluqis retain a large number of wolf-like behaviors and characteristics. Through the excerpts in Wolf Songs many qualities of wolves and Saluqis emerged and overlapped, and many of the feelings of the observers of wolves overlap with the observers of Saluqis. For me, even the introductory comment by editor Robert H. Busch, reflects my own feelings toward the Saluqi: "And to many people the wolf is the very symbol of wilderness, the symbol of freedom, and a reminder that there is something out there stronger than ourselves" (p. I). For me this is the Saluqi… not a symbol of wilderness so much as a symbol of enduring nature, not so much strength as timelessness.
Like wolves. Saluqis are great howlers -- at least mine are. Many writers pondered the "meaning" of the wolfs howl. It was described as variously as the varied purposes it seems to serve for the wolves themselves. Aldo Leopold wrote of the deep chesty bawl that echoes from rimrock to timrock, down mountains, fading into the far blackness of noght "an outburst of wild defìant sorrow, and of content far all the adversities of the world" (p.9). Leopold ponders that the true meaning of the wolf howl may be understanding of Thoreau's dictum: In wilderness is the salvation of the world, the hidden meaning of the howl of the wolf for us.
David Mech describes chorus howling, first citing Lois Crisler who described it "Like a community sing, a howl is...a happy social occasion. Wolves love to howl" (p.61). Mech observed that the High Arctic pack howled on four distinct occasions: a) when disturbed but not freightened to flight, b) when awaking, c) at the end of intense social activity or play, d) when split up. "The only common denomenator among these situations seems to be arousal' (ibid).
Saluqis that are deeply bonded with their owners will howl, or moan, when left with strangers at ringside. My own would howl if I left them in the car when we were travelling to a coursing meet and I had to walk them in relays; it was awful, I had to keep running back to the car to try to make them be quiet. They also howled if one got to chase a hare and the others weren't slipped. They howl when I leave, when I come home, when delivery trucks come, and when "girls" are in season. The first time Bedvi competed in California he had an extremely long course in partial fog. He was totally disoriented but stopped and howled and his brothers howled back and he made his way back to my son. All of this fits Mech's profile for wolves. However, Jim Brandenburg adds a final note, suggesting that "sometimes wolves seem to howl purely for pleasure. It's impossible to watch them singing, in their animation and amiability toward one another, and not get some sense that they are enjoying themselves" (p.84).
Wolves also kiss (Iick) each other and their humans (if raised by people), bark, and wag their tails. When something catches their attention they prick their ears and hold their tails high, even "curled". Wolves have large, permanent hunting territories which are often more than 1000 square miles; during a normal hunt between 30 and 40 miles are covered. Wolves can cover a mile in five minutes and can cover 120 miles in a day. They lead well regulated lives, moving through a series of activities with some regularity. When wolf pups go out un the trail with humans, they run up the trail on their own, but, initially, never really far ahead. This description remarkably compares to my Eastern import Saluqi as a pup and starkly contrasts with a Western bred pup I had who the first time turned loose ran out onto a frozen lake and fell through the ice!
Adolf Murie observed that "Wolves vary much in color, size, contour, and action. No doubt there is also much variation in temperament" (p,44). He described a female, mother of the pups in his study group as "thick bodied, short-legged, short muzzled, and smaller than the others" (ibid). Another female in the pack was slender built, long legged with a long muzzle and not as thick a neck ruff as the male. The largest wolf of the pack was a tall, rangey male with a long silvery mane and dark mantle over the back whose trot had a springy, sprightly spirit while his tail waved jauntily as he started out to hunt. "The excess energy at time gave him a rocking-horse gaIlop quite different from that of any of the others" (p,45). One grey male had a mask over his eyes but a light face and white chest. A large female wolf can stand 40 inches at the withers, measure over six feet from tip of nose to base of tail, make a six inch track and weight over 100 pounds. There is great variation in size between wolves and between males and females.
Lois Crisler, based on the eight wolves she and her husband were involved with (captured or orphaned), describes a very different wolf than that usually drawn or depicted in myths. She begin "Real wolves are slender, invincibly aristocratic looking. They have disarmingly sweet faces" (p.50). She continues "They are slender all over and as sinuous and graceful as cats. Bodies ore long, and carried high on long legs. Paws and legs are unlike those of dogs. Legs are twined "nervously” with veins and sinews. (By nervous I mean innervated, alive and sensitive all over.) Paws are nervous too-not mere dumps like most dog paws. but long-fìngered and spreading.
... Wolves seem to have a fìneness and delicacy of articulation Iost to dogs through centuries of breeding. In motion they ripple, they flow.
And how wolves leap! Lifting leaps-straight up all bushy and flowing, to the tip of the tail. Straight down. That is their way of partecipating in gaity. They leap perpendicular... they leap sidewise. They leap backward. They twirl into a doughnut in midair... Heads too are slender, long.
A wolf most undoglike feature is his tail. He runs with his tail, thinks with it, marks mood with it, even controls with it" (pp. 50-51).
Crisler states that the higher the wolfs spirit, the higher the tail but that wolf tails are never carried curled over their backs like sled dogs. When wolves wag their tails they start at the base of the tail with the rest languidly following. Wolf chests are described as being like those of bull elks, deep from the side but narrow from the front, narrower than the palm of a hand.
Wolves are superbly adapted to their environments. with Iegendary olfactory acuity, according to Jim Brandenburg. They are constantly testing the wind, cocking their snouts in the direction of the prevailing breezes. "It has been reported in the scientifìc literature that the surface area receptive to smells in the nose of a wolf is 14 times larger than that of a human... For wolves... a breeze provides a constant stream of information about their world" (p. 79). The eyesight and hearing of wolves is as impressive as their sense of smell.
Regardless of the despair it causes Saluqi owners. Saluqi LOVE to roll in rank and awful stuff. Awful to the owners but obviously irresistable to the gounds.
In my long experience, the most horrible is dead sheep. On one occasion my cream male, Barbor (swan in Hebrew) tore off into the scrub where dead sheep were left to rot, and came back grinning, a greasy green substance over three quarters of his body, bits of flesh dangling from his collar! The smell was gruesome. Try cleaning up a dog so decorated with only a canteen and a 10 gallon jug! The hour ride home remains etched in my nostrils forever. I can smell sheep, alive or dead, for miles!
Next time you have to clean up a stinking Saluqi, think wolf. Jim Brandenburg recounts when he observed several wolves make their way to a nearby beach where they located a long dead, rank smelling fish. "The wolves, who were usually so fastidious with their white coats, lay down on the fìsh and began rolling around on it until they had alI become seeped in the stench" (p. 80).
At first it seemed bizarre but began to make sense when they took off to hunt. "They were evidently masking their own scent with something their prey had no fear of… no need to worry, a hapless musk ox might have assured itself on some primal level of consciousness; it's only a dead fish stalking me” (ibid). So, you see, your smelly Saluqi is demonstrating its cleverness, not some spiteful method of torturing you.
Wolves cache food as well as regurgitate for pups. The object when wolves feed at a kill is to remove as much from the kill as quickly as possible. At the kill, wolves seemed to view each other as competitors. "Each would feed for twenty minutes to almost an hour, then sneak off furtively and regurgitate into a cache" (p. 74).
Several would drink at the river between feeds and a few would take loads directly to the pups in the den. When the adults regurgitate, the pups "frantically gobble up every bit of food that faIls. Within less than thirthy seconds, nothing is left. He or she who hesitate is truly lost" (p. 63).
David Mech suggests that this food transfer process "helps select for pups that are aggressive and large, and it increases the differences among pups..." (ibid). In some litters some pups can weigh twice as much as others. Food cached by the pack was also dug up to feed the pups. Next time your brood bitch regurgitates her meal in the middle of the whelping box-think wolf.
William O. Pruitt. Jr. makes an extremely interesting commentary on the folklore theme that "A wolf can catch any animaI it chases". Pruitt suggests that this is indeed true because the wolf does not really chase any quarry "unless the chances for success are very high" (p. 98). Pruitt continues: "The probability of success is established very soon after contact-the limp, the slow turn, the delayed escape reaction; these are the "releasers" that trigger the change from the fIexible, searching appetitive behavior phase to the stereotyped, deadly efficient consumatory phase" (p. 98).
Wolves often exhibit their danger stimulus many times before they detect the appropriate weakness in their prey to shift into their actual attack mode. Once an attack is mounted, "success is virtually assured" (ibid). Seen as terminal carnivores, preying almost exclusively on the young, old, or weak, their culling function is clear.Though Wolf Songs has many more observations on wolf behaviour that parallel Saluqi behaviour, I will draw this piece to a close with the comments of Michael W. Fox. He is reflecting on "wolf kin and humankins", but the sentiments refer equally to those who expIoit dogs - they are many and many are well respected breed authorities. Their authority rests on piles of dead dogs-culled because they were the wrong color, sex, markings, structure, or just too oId or somehow useless to the quest - for what? Breeder recognition based on the few near perfect specimens that survive the artificial-criteria-driven slaughter. There is no parallel between natural selection and purebred dog culling. Culling is an excuse for ego-driven overbreeding. Fox eloquently states.
The tragic flaw in human perception, though, is that modern man does not really see the world as it really is. It is seen only in terms of how it can satisfy certain needs. "See me for what I am, not as you wish to use me," is silent cry of wilderness, of wolf, whale, forest, and ocean alike.
Once a man can see a tree, a wolf, or his fellow and value the otther for what it, he, or she is, then his world will be very different.
Monkind's destiny and the future of the world is our burden of responsibility and our price for the freedom to be." (p. 170)
As for the future and survival of the wolf in wild places, it is critical that myths surrounding wolves be dispelled and that people receive broad and accurate information about the role of the wolf in the ecosystem. According to Robert Busch, studies show that "people with fuller knowledge obout wolves tend to have more positive attitudes toward them" (p. 180). Whether future generations "will continue to be thrilled by the quivering cry of wild wolf songs" depends almost entirely on man, the super predator. Ultimately, says Busch, not only the wolf but all other fellow animaIs will survive at the option of man.
1) Wolf Songs may still be available through the Sierra Club, 730 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
2) For used book on wolves, Western Americana, hunting, fishing, natural history, etc., write for a catalog from: High Lonesome Books, P.O. Box 878, Silver City, New Mexico 88062 USA.
3) Sources of the Photographs of wolves:
- Of Wolves and man (1978), Barry Holstun Lopez. New York: Charles Sckibner's Sons;
- The Arctic Wolf Living with the Pack (1988), L. David Mech. Stillwater, MN: Voyager Press,