It wasn’t until I was able to see other parts of the world and be a part of the lives of people from “strange” countries that I came to a belated realization that Americans are quite ignorant of what goes on in these “strange” lands. It’s not so much that we’re not smart, it’s more that we are spoiled brats who see little need of knowing what others do. In some cases we probably just don’t care. I think we may have a bit of a chip on our shoulders. What do you think?

I was first embarrassed when I sat down and talked with a 12-year old boy from Japan. It was when he began asking me questions about the United States’ influence around the world and rattled off a list of remote islands scattered across the globe that the U.S. owned or once owned, the years in which purchases and sales were made, etc., that I could see I knew nothing. Why would this kid know this stuff?

I don’t think I’m the only American so lacking in knowledge.

Does this same blissful ignorance carry over into many other things we do?

About a month ago, I sought and was granted permission to republish an article that appeared in The Bugle, a publication of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The article, “Wolves: When Ignorance is Bliss” by Dr. Valerius Geist, helped us to better understand that we don’t understand. We are ignorant in our knowledge and understanding of wolf behavior and we are in desperate need to expand that knowledge base.

The opening sentence of Geist’s article says a mouthful – “Nothing convinces like personal experience.” How very true but also how very dangerous and scientifically unfortunate if we have to wait for personal experience in order to discover or be willing to discover the truth about things. This is where Americans seemingly lack for want to discover how the rest of the world comes into play.

Our personal experiences with wolves in modern America are basically non existent. We have some history in Alaska and Canada but we cling heavily to the notion that wolves have little interest in man. Even when facts show wolves have attacked humans in North America, many simply are not willing to admit it.

Our own history tells us that as settlers went West, they were blamed for many things, including the near extirpation of the wolf. This seemed to be the focus on our history with wolves, not so much about wolf behavior.

It wasn’t until just recently, through the English interpretation of foreign country documents about wolves, that we have been presented an opportunity to dig into world wide accounts of wolf behavior. For those who don’t know, Will Graves wrote a book, “Wolves in Russia: Anxiety Through the Ages“, in which he documents for us the centuries of how the people and government of Russia dealt with wolves. The human encounters by wolves and the circumstances surrounding those encounters is eye opening and reveals many things we Americans need to learn if we are going to live with wolves in our back yards.

So, why are we insistent in turning a blind eye to facts? I wish I had the answer, or at least a simple one. Some of it seems to be that for some to admit that under the right circumstances wolves will attack people, it will shatter the sought after Disneyesque dream scape of cuddling up with a wolf. Those refusing to gain a better understanding of wolf behavior based on “personal experience” that Dr. Geist speaks of, may in fact become a victim of blissful ignorance. That would be unfortunate and unnecessary.

Bringing to light historic facts of global wolf documentation and human encounters should be received with open arms. Why then do we end every wolf story in the media with a statement that wolves rarely attack people, blah, blah, blah? This only serves to plant the thought in readers’ minds that there is nothing to be concerned with.

One of the problems I encounter is that whenever I try to present facts that run contrary to the wolf lovers’ talking points, I’m immediately labeled as one who wishes all wolves be killed. Because I desire that Americans, whether living in Central Idaho or next to Central Park, become educated with the truth, why am I a nutjob, wolf killer?

The Bugle recently received a letter from a reader who responded to Dr. Geist’s article on wolves. The writer was a former Army Captain stationed in Iran back in the mid 1960s. He was interested in sharing his “personal experience” with wolves in Iran.

We lost five men from one of the outlying local villages during the winter I spent in the province of Azerbaijan, Iran to wolves. I doubt the local papers fed the story to any international news services. There is no doubt of the truth of the story, but the men were local villagers and would not have been considered of importance to anyone but their families.

There were special circumstances that contributed to their deaths, but there may be special circumstance surrounding our future experiences.

The Army Captain went on to explain some of the circumstances that he felt led up to the attack on the five men. Those circumstances were a severe winter that drove the wolves’ prey base down to the low lands where the people lived. A second circumstance was the men were walking at night in a remote area and a third is that under Iranian law, these men were not allowed to own a weapon. All they could carry was a stick for prodding and a small tomahawk.

There were several other incidences that year according to the Army Captain.

It would be quite unfortunate that we Americans would have to first suffer “personal experience[s]” before we are willing to begin discussing that under the right circumstances wolves will attack humans. What is the harm of that? Let’s get the facts, all of them, out into the open so we can have rational debate. What are the circumstances that people need to learn that will increase their chances of an unfortunate encounter with a wolf, or a bear, or a mountain lion, etc.? It is irresponsible to turn a blind eye to facts from other corners of the globe as though somehow it can’t happen here.

Tom Remington