Not Dancing With Wolves


Christopher Benfey considers our complicated relationship to wolves:

I have learned a great deal about the systematic extermination of wolves from a beautiful and heartbreaking book called The Lost Wolves of Japan by the environmental historian Brett Walker, who seeks “to explain why one species—our species, Homo sapiens—has worked so tirelessly to destroy another.” Walker points out that before Japan began its rapid modernization during the last quarter of the nineteenth century—under pressure from American forces and with the help of American experts, many of whom came from New England—wolves were considered sacred: “Grain farmers worshiped wolves at shrines, beseeching this elusive canine to protect their crops from the sharp hooves and voracious appetites of wild boars and deer.”

Beef was considered the proper staple of a modern nation, however. With the introduction of so-called “industrial farms” for breeding horses and cattle, especially in the northern island of Hokkaido, wolves were re-categorized as evil predators, and Japan created “a culture of wolf hatred.” So efficient were the Japanese, with guns and traps and strychnine, that the last Japanese wolf was killed, near the beautiful ancient capital of Nara, in 1905, the same year in which the upstart nation won the Russo-Japanese War and took its place among the beef-eating world powers.

(Photo by Flickr user tambako.)