What do Underworld, Harry Potter, and Twilight all have in common? They are all movies that drive horror into the human heart with blood-thirsty werewolves. Stories like this drive fear into our hearts and are common throughout human history. One of the earliest known werewolf legends comes from Greek mythology. According to the legend, a man named Lycaon angered Zeus, the Lord of the Gods, when he served Zeus a meal made from human flesh. As punishment, the enraged Zeus turned Lycaon into a wolf. Since the ancient myths, werewolves have reappeared time and again throughout history, making numerous appearances in fifthteenth and sixthteenth century folklore.
So where did the myth of werewolves come from? One common werewolf myth centers around people changing into werewolves during the night of a full moon. Some studies have found increased crime or changes in behaviors by both people and animals during full moons, and this idea of the ‘animal inside’ revealing itself during the night may have influenced the original werewolf myths.
An unnatural human-animal mutant unnerves us, but many people fear werewolves because of their relation to the actual wolf, Canis lupus. Wolves have been persecuted for centuries, killed by people out of fear or because they hunt and eat livestock and game animals. Populations of wolves were disappearing across North America, Asia, and Europe in the early 20th century, but, in the 1970s, attitudes towards wolves began to change. Scientists discovered the importance of wolves for managing overpopulation of their prey species, including elk and moose, which can cause overgrazing of lands. Wolves were reintroduced in many areas, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service has managed the wolf population to limit negative interactions between wolves and people. Because of these actions, the grey wolf has recently been down-listed to threatened from its original stance as endangered under the US Endangered Species Act.
Today, wolves thrive in a few pockets throughout the US, and their populations continue to grow. However, some people still find wolves undesirable, and there is much debate as to how we should manage this species into the future. Public surveys have shown that, when people understand the benefits of wildlife species, tolerance for the species increases. The wolf’s fate is in our hands, and it will be up to society and wildlife managers to determine their place in this country and in this world.
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