The wolf cookbook and other tales. Wolf hunting throughout history and wolves in mythology
A kerfuffle in Sweden
Sweden has come under the spotlight this month from the European Commission for allowing the killing of 20 wolves. According to Environment Commissioner Janex Potocnik, this breaches EU environmental law. He has clearly expressed his disappointment in the situation and states that:
“The actions of the Swedish authorities leave me with little choice other than to propose to the Commission that it begin formal proceedings against Sweden for breach of EU environmental law. I hope that the Swedish government’s promised effort to address the unfavourable conservation status of the wolf population in Sweden through translocation of wolves from other parts of Europe will be pursued without delay.”
This is the first time that wolf hunting has been allowed in the country since 1964, and has clearly proved to be popular amongst hunting enthusiasts with 6,000 people signing up to kill just 20 wolves of the approximate 200 individuals currently in the wild in Sweden.
All this fuss, but Sweden is by no means the only country to legalise wolf hunting.
So where else is wolf hunting allowed?
It seems to be that everywhere wolves exist, hunting them occurs to varying extents.
Perhaps old habits die hard. Right back to the humble beginnings of humanity, humankind has hunted wolves.
Wolf hunting through history (a brief overview!)
UK: Wolves were hunted to extinction in the United Kingdom very early on, between 1485 to 1509, and it’s no wonder: in 950AD, King Athelstan ordered 300 wolf skins be given to Welsh King Hywel Dda each year. This tradition continued until the time of the Norman Conquest in around 1066. Even then, hunting continued. Kings employed wolf hunters who were able to live on certain lands in return for their services. William the Conqueror made Robert de Umfraville Lord of Riddesdale in Northumberland on the condition that he defended the land from wolves and human foes. King Edward (from 1272 to 1307) ordered that the wolf population in his kingdom be destroyed.
Wolves were able to survive in Scotland until the late 18th century, largely owing to the country’s remoteness. They were wiped out in Ireland around the same time.
France: The ‘Luparii’ – an organisation of wolf hunting officials – was founded by Charlemagne during the 9th century. This office is still in force today and is now known as the Wolfcatcher Royal, but now has a less exciting purpose serving as an administrative office with the purpose of regulating vermin and maintaining healthy wildlife populations throughout France.
After the French revolution, wolf hunting – previously an activity that was restricted to members of the aristocracy – became open to anyone, and the equivalent of one month’s pay was offered for each wolf killed. From 1818 to 1829, a staggering 14,000 wolves were killed each year in France.
The last wolf was reportedly killed in France in 1937, and it seems surprising that they lasted that long.
Scandinavia: In Sweden, offering a bounty prize for wolves first occurred in 1647, and remained a practice for centuries after. In the 1960s the invention of snow mobiles put the wolf population under increased threat, to the extent that the last wolf was killed in 1966. Since this time wolves have been reintroduced here, although they are being hunted again! The argument for this is that the gene pool is currently too small to maintain a healthy population, and a number need to be exterminated to make way for fresh genes.
In Norway the last wolf was killed in 1976 before they were reintroduced and placed under protection by the state.
Russia: Although wolves have been hunted in Russia for hundreds of years and the practice still continues – and in spite of a massive culling (during the late 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet Union killed over 1,500,000 wolves) – the animal is still relatively prevalent across Russia, possibly owing to the country’s enormous size and the fact that is is largely rural, remote, and sparsely populated.
India: In the late 19th century and early 20th century wolves were heavily hunted for a different reason other than for sport or because they were seen as a pest. It is reported that 721 people were attacked and killed by wolves in the Northwest of India in 1876. In response, 2,825 wolves were killed in the region.
Further attacks on humans occurred in 1878, in which 624 people were killed. To counter this, 2,600 wolves were killed. During 1871 to 1916, it is estimated that a totally of approximately 100,000 wolves were killed in then British India.
Japan: The last wolf was killed in Japan in 1905.
Central Asia: Golden eagles have traditionally been used to hunt wolves. This is done by immobilising wolf cubs; the eagle places one foot to the back of the neck, and one at the flank near the heart and lungs. The coat of the wolf was often used as a vital material for clothing and for protection against the harsh weather for these nomadic peoples.
Humankind has hunted wolves in every civilization where wolves existed throughout history. We have killed them to protect our homes and livestock, for clothing, for good fortune, a right of passage, and even for medicine.
So now we’ve got all of these dead wolves, what are we going to do with them?
The wolf cookbook
People have generally avoided eating wolves; apparently the meat is not good. However, in certain Native American tribes, the meat of wolf cubs was considered a delicacy. Killing wolf cubs also served the purpose of maintaining the wolf population when numbers became too high. But generally, wolves were not eaten for pleasure. Most often their body parts were consumed as part of the ingredients of certain medicines across the ancient world. It seems that nearly all parts of the wolf was used for some kind of medicinal concoction in some form or another, and was even believed to give people certain supernatural powers.
In Ancient Greece and Rome wolf meat was used in ointments to ward of evil, and was also thought to help treat epilepsy, plague, and gout. The liver, when turned into a powder and mixed with ingredients such as wine, flour, water, blood, and urine, was believed to cure and aid a range of ailments including; epilepsy, edema, tachycardia, syphilis, gangrene, vertigo, migraines, verrucas, and dysentery. The tongue of a wolf, when cooked with honey and flour, was administered to cure epilepsy and give the consumer good luck. It was believed that the eyes of a wolf could give the consumer partial invisibility (I wonder how long this belief ensued, as surely this was a myth that could easily be disproved: after the eyes were consumed and the spectators hopefully not blind drunk on mead, onlookers must have been able to testify that wolf eyes did not in fact render the eater partially invisible, unless he was hiding behind a plant). Eyes were also given to children to imbue them with courage. In powdered form, wolf bones were given to patients with chest and back pains, broken bones, and injured tendons. Wolf penis was administered to cure impotency. The blood of a wolf was used to cure gout, period pains, and deafness. Wolves’ heads were often hung outside houses to deter wolves, robbers, and evil spirits. In powdered form, it was thought wolf head could cure toothache and joint pains. The milk of a female wolf was believed to make people invincible (again, easily disproved, although people would possibly be less inclined to test this out). Wolf heart was believed to give warriors courage during battle, while the tail was used as a love charm (whoever said romance was dead was probably right).
My personal favourite comes from traditional shamanic Mongolian medicine: while eating the intestines of a wolf was said to cure chronic indigestion, patients with haemorrhoids were prescribed food sprinkled with powdered wolf rectum.
I doubt that the Swedish will be so resourceful with the 20 wolves they have killed in Sweden this month.