The Wolves Of Iraq

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While farmers and conservationists in the U.S. grapple over what to do about the soon-to-be-delisted wolf and its incursions on rancher's livestock, it seems ranchers on the other side of the world in Iraq struggle with the same problem. The L.A.Times published an interesting story Monday about villagers in remote Southeastern Iraq fighting off a resurgence of Arabian wolves, who've apparently grown bolder in recent years and regularly prey on local sheep:

"The locals formed armed groups, exchanging shifts throughout the day in order to protect people, cattle, sheep, and also children and women heading to schools, from those ferocious wolves," said Mohammed abu Reesha. "They appear during the day and don't fear bullets and challenge even men holding rifles."

"I have passed 60 years and I have never seen such wolves!" exclaimed Ugla Mohammed, a farmer wearing a full ammunition belt and carrying a rifle in his hand. "They are vicious and stubborn grays."

While the article is long on eyewitness accounts and grim details of human-wolf skirmishes at the edge of town, it lacks scientific input and seems to feed on local superstition, painting wolves as hulking, howling, opportunistic killers waiting to snatch a baby. In fact, the endangered Arabian wolf is smaller, hunts in pairs rather than packs, and isn't known to howl — all of which conflict with details in the story. Instead of getting any scientific data, the reporter writes the article as a treatment for a "Black Hawk Down" sequel, using wolves in place of Somali warlords as antagonists. Gripping, but I don't know if I buy all of it.

Then again, with today marking five years of turmoil in Iraq, I can imagine it's pretty tough to get a hold of any Iraqi biologists, conservationists, or wolf behavior specialists. Still, it's wild to think Montana and Iraqi ranchers have wolves in common, of all things. — Ted Alvarez

Villagers in Iraq fend off new menace (L.A. Times)