Dogs and Wolves
On the road south of Helmsdale is the famous Glen Loth Wolfstone commemorating, at least according to Scrope in his book “The Art of Deerstalking”, the spot where the last surviving wolf in Sutherland was killed. The stone attracts many tourists, as indeed it was intended to do when it was erected in 1923, long after the wolf died so conveniently close to the A9, but such is the interest in wolves, and so important were wolves to the lifestyle of British agriculturalists that there are few countries where the memory of the last wolves is not preserved in monuments and place names.
The Feinnes –Richard and Alice- in there interesting book “Natural History of The Dog” take their findings of the origin of the domestic dog a stage further by naming the various species of wolf which gave rise to certain breeds of canine.
However there is new evidence to suggest that they may well have been wrong. As a marker and to shatter anyone’s dreams that the dog is a direct descendant of the wolf, and likewise for those who watch such Romanic rubbish as the Martin Clunes programme “a wolf in your living room”, scientists have never been in agreement over this theory, neither have the world’s zoologists or cynologists, and it is far from a done deal.
In fact, it has never been plausible to me as the interaction between man and wolf just doesn’t stack up. Wolves can be tamed, that is true, and it is also true they will in a somewhat un- orthodox fashion accept man to be the Lupine pack leader.
Lois Crisler in her very confusing book “Arctic Wild” describes how she reared and tamed Timber Wolf cubs but then decided to kill them after she saw what captivity and contact with man had done to them.
There is also a great deal of conclusive evidence to suggest that dogs and wolves show a deep antipathy to each other. Mrs Robert Russell, one time president of The Alaskan Malemute Club of America, tells the story of a wolf cub called Daffney she reared in the company of a litter of Basenji and Malemute puppies. The cub was taken at three weeks old and reared by hand and then at 6 weeks of age transferred to a litter of ten week old Malemute puppies living with a fourteen week old Basenji whelp.
The wolf cub assumed the bottom most level of the puppy pack, not surprisingly, when one considers the age of the cub’s kennel mates but despite a massive and very intensive socialising programme at four months of age the cub became shy of humans and simply hid when strangers approached her kennel, though the Malemutes and Basenji clambered the wire at the appearance of approaching strangers.
When Daffney came into season the Malemutes ignored her and as she became older they did their level best to avoid the wolf. Mrs Russell is one I should add, that formed a group that lobbied Congress to stop the sale of wolf dog hybrids in the U.S.A.- and there is evidence to suggest that these hybrids are somewhat biological timebombs.
I have always followed the more likely explanation that the Dingo type pariah dogs which accompanied the migrating tribes across the Middle and Far East, to be a far more plausible animal for man to interact with.
Darwin “ The Variation of Plants and animals under Domestication” believed the only way man would determine the origin of the dog, would be to allow a variety of dog breeds to breed indiscriminately to recreate the original type of dog ancestor. In another 20 years or so years, I’m sure the answer will be found, whether all the world scientists agree is debatable.
However I for one would question the “Wolf Origin” of the domesticated dog.
The Dingo is the only non marsupial native animal apart from the Australian Aborigine on this continent; however the term native has been debated and likewise still is for that matter. Alfred Russel Wallace OM FRS – 1823-1913) the Monmouthshire naturalist- an associate of Charles Darwin and extremely interesting man, with a very unique name (Russel) I might add, however it was Wallace that inspired Darwin to write the book “On the Origin of Species”, Wallace in his own right was already quite a prominent figure a geographer, anthropologist, biologist and explorer.
Wallace believed it was the Australian Aborigine that brought the species from New Guinea in dugout canoes perhaps. And since arriving the Dingo has enjoyed a somewhat partial state of domestication, interestingly Konrad Lorenz, in Man Meets Dog 1954, not only shared this view, believed, other primitive dogs of Europe and Africa enjoyed this same early partial domestication with early man, dogs such as the New Guinea singing dog, perhaps the same breed if not a very close cousin of the Dingo.
Early settlers to Australia tell the tales of Dingoes which lived with and around Aborigine camps, that were obviously very tame, however reverted back to their wild, or perhaps then even feral state in times of famine, or to breed, it is likewise interesting that these early settlers reported strange singing from these early Dingoes, a trait that has sadly long diminished.
It is logical then for any likeminded Cynologists to assume cubs may have been taken with the intension of utilising them as hunting dogs; however the relationship between these primitive hunters and Dingoes was an extremely fragile one as in times of hardship they may have become perhaps the next meal, either of them.
It was only a matter of a century ago that it was believed the Dingo travelling with their Aboriginal owners arrived on these shores, possible as late as the early Christian era, however recent discoveries have changed this scientific pattern of thinking regarding this type of wild dog.
Riddle in his fascinating book “The Wild Dogs” (1979) believed the Dingo arrived much early, and highlights the fact that fossilised Dingo bones, little different from the bones of modern Dingoes have been found in with the remains of giant marsupials such as the Thylacoleo Carniflex the pouched lion, and likewise the giant Kangaroo, and also the enormous Euryzygoma Dunense Quadrupedal marsupial, which was as large as a hippopotamus, these beasts had survived the Antipodeans Ice age, but died out as the continent became warmer some 15,000 years ago.
If Riddle is correct it would seem that the Dingo must have predated the Aborigine and arrived much earlier with perhaps people who likewise were taken by the Ice age. However to throw yet another spanner into the works? Aborigine encountered “Cook and Dampier-Leaky and Lewin “Origens” (1976) believed that some type of man accompanied with Dingoes must have arrived in Australia 200,000 years ago and sat out the Ice Age on the continent.
The Dingo Study Foundation curiously now have documented that the Dingo is not a feral dog and is a variety of pale footed wolf –Canis Lupus Pallipes, while certain members of the Australian Kennel Club are pushing for the breed to now be recognised as a pure breed of family dog?
My money dear reader is the Dingo was the start of the domesticated dog that we are sharing our lives with. (©) Graham Nicholson