Nature – Taking Care of the Elderly – Fake News?

26th July 2017 / Global, United Kingdom

By Graham Vanbergen: This is the commonly used quote across social media and certain advertising campaigns for the image you see.

“A wolf pack: the first 3 are the old or sick, they give the pace to the entire pack. If it was the other way round, they would be left behind, losing contact with the pack. In case of an ambush they would be sacrificed. Then come 5 strong ones, the front line. In the center are the rest of the pack members, then the 5 strongest following. Last is alone, the alpha. He controls everything from the rear. In that position he can see everything, decide the direction. He sees all of the pack. The pack moves according to the elders pace and help each other, watch each other.”

It’s a nice thought. It makes us wonder why it is that human society cannot arrange itself in such benevolent and civilised order.

However, despite the image’s popularity that ultimately went globally viral, the description of the social workings of a wolf pack are wholly inaccurate and is unfortunately just a fake news story. The photograph was taken by Chadden Hunter and featured in the BBC documentary Frozen Planet in 2011. The original description was that the “alpha female” led the pack from the front and that the rest of the wolves followed in her tracks in order to save energy.

“This is a massive pack of 25 timberwolves hunting bison on the Arctic circle in northern Canada. In mid-winter in Wood Buffalo National Park temperatures hover around -40°C. The wolf pack, led by the alpha female, travel single-file through the deep snow to save energy. The size of the pack is a sign of how rich their prey base is during winter when the bison are more restricted by poor feeding and deep snow. The wolf packs in this National Park are the only wolves in the world that specialise in hunting bison ten times their size. They have grown to be the largest and most powerful wolves on earth.” the factchecker for urban legends and internet rumours cites David Mech’s 1999 paper “Alpha Status, Dominance, and Division of Labor in Wolf Packs.” Mech argued that the concept of an “alpha” wolf who asserts his dominance over other pack members doesn’t really exist in the wild:

“Labelling a high-ranking wolf alpha emphasises its rank in a dominance hierarchy. However, in natural wolf packs, the alpha male or female are merely the breeding animals, the parents of the pack, and dominance contests with other wolves are rare, if they exist at all. During my 13 summers observing the Ellesmere Island pack, I saw none.”

Wolves are complex, highly intelligent animals who are caring, playful, and above all devoted to family. Only a select few other species exhibit these traits so clearly. Just like elephants, gorillas and dolphins, wolves educate their young, take care of their injured and live in family groups.

The latest research on these animals is that everything in a wolf’s nature tells it to belong to something greater than itself: a pack. The term ‘lone-wolf’ is equally as inaccurate. Like us, wolves form friendships and maintain lifelong bonds. They succeed by cooperating, and they struggle when they’re alone. You can read all about wolves at The Social Wolf.

It’s interesting that this fake news story, generated to exploit the general public by click-baiting is somewhat typical of human society today in many ways. The creator of the story was simply preying on the more vulnerable by using the worlds biggest ‘social media’ platform, itself designed to exploit the masses and make everyone an easy target for advertisers. Even politically driven right-wing economic advisors use this wolf story to promote their own agenda such as the headline for this article as you can see here: Nature – Taking Care of the Elderly implying that somehow society does not need the state to help the elderly or vulnerable in any way.

Wolves have developed a foundation for cooperative living. They are known to care for each other as individuals. They form friendships and nurture their own sick and injured and encourage the transfer of knowledge across generations.

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And, as the late biologist Gordon Haber puts it: “Wolves don’t kill for sport but when they lose a pack mate, there is evidence that they suffer and mourn that loss. When we look at wolves, we are looking at tribes—extended families, each with its own homeland, history, knowledge, and, indeed, culture.” Wolves don’t exploit either their own kind, others or the environment.

I suppose one can draw some sort of analogy here. A pack of wolves are led by the best of its society, not the most aggressive, not the biggest, not an alpha – the opposite to the way modern western human society is arranged today.





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