1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wolf
WOLF (Canis lupus), the common English name for any wild member of the typical section of the genus Canis (see Carnivora). Excluding some varieties of domestic dogs, wolves are the largest members of the genus, and have a wide geographical range, extending over nearly the whole of Europe and Asia, and North America from Greenland to Mexico, but are not found in South America or Africa, where they are replaced by other members of the family. They present great diversities of size, length and thickness of fur, and coloration, although resembling each other in all important structural characters. These differences have given rise to a supposed multiplicity of species, expressed by the names C. lycaon (Central Europe), C. laniger and C. niger (Tibet), the C. occidentalis, C. nubilus, C. mexicanus, &c., of North America, and the great blackish-brown Alaskan C. pambasileus, the largest of them all. But it is doubtful whether these should be regarded as more than local varieties. In North America there is a second distinct smaller species, called the coyote or prairie-wolf (Canis latrans), and perhaps the Japanese wolf (C. hodophylax) may be distinct, although, except for its smaller size and shorter legs, it is scarcely distinguishable from the common species. The wolf enters the N.W. corner of India, but in the peninsula is replaced by the more jackal-like C. pallipes, which is probably a member of the jackal group, and not a wolf at all.
The ordinary colour of the wolf is yellowish or fulvous grey, but almost pure white and entirely black wolves are known. In northern countries the fur is longer and thicker, and the animal generally larger and more powerful than in the southern portion of its range. Its habits are similar everywhere and it is still, and has been from time immemorial, especially known to man in all the countries it inhabits as the devastator of sheep flocks. Wolves do not catch their prey by lying in ambush, or stealing up close and making a sudden spring, but by fairly running it down in open chase, which their speed and remarkable endurance enable them to do. Except during summer when the young families of cubs are being separately provided for by their parents, they assemble in troops or packs, often in relays, and by their combined and persevering efforts are able to overpower and kill deer, antelope and wounded animals of all sizes. It is singular that such closely allied species as the domestic dog and the Arctic fox are among the favourite prey of wolves, and, as is well known, children and even full-grown people are not infrequently the objects of their attack when pressed by hunger. Notwithstanding the proverbial ferocity of the wolf in a wildstate, many instances are recorded of animals taken quite young becoming tame and attached to the person who has brought them up, when they exhibit many of the ways of a dog. They can, however, rarely be trusted by strangers.
The history of the wolf in the British Isles, and its gradual extirpation, has been thoroughly investigated by Mr J. E. Harting in his work on Extinct British Animals, from which the following account is abridged. To judge by the osteological remains which the researches of geologists have brought to light, there was perhaps scarcely a county in England or Wales in which, at one time or another, wolves did not abound, while in Scotland and Ireland they must have been still more numerous. The fossil remains which have been discovered in Britain are not larger than, nor than in any way to be distinguished from, the corresponding bones and teeth of European wolves of the present day. Wolf-hunting was a favourite pursuit of the ancient Britons as well of the Anglo-Saxons. In Athelstan’s reign these animals abounded to such an extent in Yorkshire that a retreat was built by one Acehorn, at Flixton, near Filey, wherein travellers might seek refuge if attacked by them. As is well known, great efforts were made by King Edgar to reduce the number of wolves in the country, but, not withstanding the annual tribute of 300 skins paid to him during several years by the king of Wales, he was not altogether so successful as has been commonly imagined. In the reign of Henry III. wolves were sufficiently numerous in some parts of the country to induce the king to make grants of land to various individuals on the express condition of their taking measures to destroy these animals wherever they could be found. In Edward II.'s time, the king's forest of the Peak, in Derbyshire is especially mentioned as infested with wolves, and it was not until the reign of Henry VII. (1485–1509) that wolves appear to have become finally extinct in England. This, however, is rather a matter of inference from the cessation of all mention of them in local records than from any definite evidence of their extirpation. Their last retreat was probably in the desolate wolds of Yorkshire. In Scotland, as might be supposed from the nature of the country, the wolf maintained its hold for a much longer period. There is a well-known story of the last of the race being killed by Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel in 1680, but there is evidence of wolves having survived in Sutherlandshire and other parts into the following century (perhaps as late as 1743), though the date of their final extinction cannot be accurately fixed. In Ireland, in Cromwell’s time, wolves were particularly troublesome, and said to be increasing in numbers so that special measures were taken for their destruction, such as the offering of large rewards for their heads, and the prohibition (in 1652) of the exportation of “wolf-dogs,” the large dogs used for hunting the wolves. The active measures taken then and later reduced their numbers greatly, so that towards the end of the century they became scarce, but, as in the case of the sister island, the date of their final appearance cannot now be ascertained. It has been placed, upon the evidence of somewhat doubtful traditions, as late as 1766.
It is owing to their position that the British Isles have been able to clear themselves of these formidable and destructive animals, for France, with no natural boundaries to prevent their incursions from the continent to the east, is liable every winter to visits from numbers of these animals.