Grey Wolf (Canis lupus): Barry Kent MacKay

This painting shows a pair of Grey Wolves (Canis lupus), a species that is found around the northern hemisphere, so as might be imagined, shows a considerable amount of geographic and subspecific variation in terms of size, colour and pattern. But even within a geographic region one finds a lot of variation with individual animals ranging from quite black to white with various shades of grey, brown and rusty-brown often mixed in.  I’ve shown a fairly dark individual and a more typical one greyer one, both howling.  They are in the same family, Canidae, as the domestic dog, foxes, jackals, dholes, coyotes, dingoes and raccoon-dogs, and are the largest species of wild Canid.  They are, of course, highly social. Their genus, Canis, includes dogs (C. familiaris) Coyotes (C. familaris) and, in a vast range in Eurasia, the Golden Jackal (C. aureus), and can produce fertile hybrids with any of them.  In North America there are two species so similar that identification sight alone, without DNA analysis, is probably not possible, the critically endangered Red Wolf (C. rufus), which is sometimes classified as a subspecies of the Grey Wolf, native to the south-eastern United States, and the Eastern (Algonquin) Wolf, (C. lycaon), also thought generally to be a subspecies of the Grey.  Other wolves are named for locations where they occur, such as the Iberian wolf or the Mexican wolf.  Other names are applied to Grey Wolves such as the “Timber” Wolf, and, with reference to the arctic subspecies whose fur can be virtually pure white, the “Arctic” Wolf.  In short, wolf taxonomy and nomenclature is far too complex and confusing to address here.

But we know what we mean by “wolf” and it is both an iconic species and a generator of great controversy, and certainly an “iconic” wilderness animal ranging across the less inhabited regions of Canada. In North American alone about ten or eleven distinctive races of the wolf have been exterminated, including one once found on the prairies, another on the island of Newfoundland, one from Florida, a Texan race and others have all been exterminated. But persecution continues, even while growing number of people come to appreciate the importance of wolves as apex predators within healthy ecosystems. It seems to me that there is nowhere in North America where there is the “right number” of wolves, with folks complaining that there are too many or too few, often in reference to the same population. Even as I was typing these words the B.C. government chose to allow more destruction of old growth forest we now know is essential to the survival of woodland caribou at the same time it wants to blame wolves, and kill them, to protect woodland caribou. Wolves are not the problem but they do make a suitable scapegoat, it seems. 

Personally, I’m no fonder of romanticizing wolves than I am demonizing them, but I am a huge fan of nature, of which wolves are an integral part in true wilderness, and they are endlessly fascinating in so many ways. That includes their howling, a strange, mournful sound that, like the call of a loon or the bugling of an elk says to me, here be wildness and nature unmarred by human hubris. greed and ignorance, vulnerable to our deadly administrations, but still intact, still the domain of the wolf, resulting from the three billion year history of the evolution of life on our planet.

The painting is in oils on compressed hardboard (acid-free Masonite) and is 24 by 30 inches.

I’ve also added a cub I painted in acrylics in 1995.

Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905) 472 9731

31 Colonel Butler Drive

Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada

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