The sun hangs leaden in the skies over the frozen tundra of the high arctic. Horizontal expanses of land are dotted with low-growing shrubs dusted with frost. In the south a herd of musk oxen loiter along, digging away the icy surface of the ground to achieve nutritious lichen and ground plants, oblivious as eight stealthy white characters move in about them. The circle would be impossible for one wolf to penetrate, so the pack must work as a team. Forth and back race the wolves, snapping at the legs of creatures five times their own weight. Standing shoulder to shoulder, the musk oxen hold their ground, using their enormous horns and hard skulls to throw off the charging wolves. The wolves tear from 1 side to another, shifting the disoriented herd, until one infiltrates the circle. The herd scatters as wolves give chase. The race doesn’t last long, for musk oxen overheat and tire easily, unlike wolves which are able to keep high speeds over much lengthier pursuits. The largest of the bunch, the alpha male, leaps and grasps its victim’s neck in a desperate hold. The mighty animal collapses in a heap.
Statistically, only one in ten wolf attacks are powerful, and it has been a few days since the bunch has obtained such a large kill. They will each eat up to 20 pounds of meat at this meal, leaving nothing of the creature behind, neither bones nor fur. A few miles off the alpha female cares for her month-old cubs, waiting for the herd to bring back food. The package shares in the duty, even regurgitating meat for the cubs to eat.
Arctic wolves, also called polars and whites, have thrived in the high arctic for centuries, one of the few mammals able to tolerate the sub-zero temperatures and five weeks of darkness. Indeed, they’ve been more effective than their grey cousins to the south, who have hardly escaped extinction due to their encounters with man. There aren’t many differences between the arctic and gray wolf subspecies. The white wolf is a little shorter, standing 25-31 inches high at the shoulder. But they’re bulkier; an adult male can weigh up to 175 lbs. Smaller, rounded ears and thicker fur are physical adaptations that have enabled the arctic wolf to weather its inhospitable terrain.
To survive, wolves reside in tiny packs of 7-10. The family group consists of a breeding pair (the alpha male and female), their pups, and their unmated offspring from previous seasons. A strong hierarchy exists within packs, along with the dominant animals will induce inferiors to cringe or lie on their backs to show respect. Lesser wolves maintain their tails at a lesser angle than the dominant man. Males reach maturity at 3 years old, but they may strike out on their own anytime after their first year. Lone wolves are in great danger, and they will avoid contact with other wolves unless it’s a potential mate. Then the man will find and claim an unoccupied land, marking it with its own odor.
Wolf lands are vast (as large as 800-1,000 square miles), as they must roam areas big enough to supply the quantity of food needed by a pack. Their main food source is musk oxen, caribou, and smaller mammals such as lemmings and hares, but wolves will eat anything they can catch. They may follow migrating caribou south in the summer. Arctic wolves are found all across the northern border of the North American continent, and along the eastern and northern shores of Greenland.
Wolves may be the most misunderstood and maligned animal in the world, due to their elusiveness and to superstitions extending back to prehistory. However, their pack structure, hunting procedures, and general inquisitive and friendly natures imply that man and wolf could have more in common than was ever envisioned.