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Ancestor to the domestic dog and the largest member of the canine family, the gray wolf makes its home in parts of North America, Greenland, Europe, and Asia. The gray wolf was once one of the most widely ranging carnivores in the world before its population dramatically decreased. Today, conservation efforts are in place to help bring back some of the gray wolf population in its natural habitat.
The gray wolf originated in Eurasia and made its way to North America more than 750,000 years ago. The gray wolf's habitat grew to cover most of the Northern Hemisphere and eventually came to inhabit the largest range of any mammal in history save the lions. This naturally adaptive animal flourished in a range of climates -- from the severe cold weather of the arctic wastes of Greenland to the harsh heat of the deserts of Arabia. Although estimates vary widely, it is believed that about 5,000 years ago approximately 2 million gray wolves inhabited the earth.
A combination of hunting, prejudices and habitat destruction greatly reduced the gray wolf population. People in the eastern hemisphere universally held prejudices against gray wolves during the Middle Ages, and the process of destroying the animals was under way. In most countries in Europe, the gray wolf became virtually destroyed from hunting and loss of environment. In North America, where gray wolves were common throughout, people placed bounties on the animals for their fur pelts. By the mid-1930s, the gray wolf population was killed off in most areas of the United States. By the 1970s, only the most remote parts of Minnesota and Michigan were home to gray wolves.
In 1973 legislation saved the gray wolf from further disappearing in the United States. Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act and protected the gray wolf that same year. In the 1990s, wildlife preservation groups called for the introduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone Park and central Idaho. Today, the gray wolf is listed as endangered in more than 40 states in the United States by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. In several states, the gray wolf is considered to be in recovery or experimental repopulation.
The gray wolf lives today in a diverse range of environments, including tundra, mountain areas, woodlands, forests, grasslands and deserts. An estimated 7,000 wolves live in Alaska. About 5,000 gray wolves inhabit the lower 48 states, more in Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Outside of the United States, gray wolves inhabit Canada, Poland, Scandinavia, Russia, Portugal, Spain and Italy.
- "Smithsonian Institution Animal"; David Burnie, Don Wilson; 2001
- National Wildlife Federation: Gray Wolf
- Defenders of Wildlife: Basic Facts About Gray Wolves
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Gray Wolf
- Sierra Club: Resilient Habitats: Gray Wolf
- WCS: Gray Wolf
- Yellowstone Gate: Killing of High-Profile Wolves Outside Yellowstone Park Prompts Montana Hunt Changes
- Kids Planet: Wolves Around the World
- wolf 1 image by fotohansi from Fotolia.com