I don’t mean yes in Mongolia there are wolves. They’re here, just like Russia, Europe, and North America has gray wolves, canis lupus lupus. I mean, we have wolves like right on the front porch of the cabin from where we stage our wilderness horse riding expeditions. They come to visit from time to time, check us out. See what’s cooking.
Usually it’s in the night and I don’t see them. I’m sure they’re very careful when approaching the cabin and looking in the windows. They must do that. Watching me read, brew up some tea, scratch myself. The tracks we find in the snow after their nighttime visits indicate they were surely looking in the windows. And compared to the local dogs, Henbee and Stinky, two big Mongolian dogs that hang out with us, wolf tracks are huge, almost as big as my hand. They make dog tracks look tiny in comparison. It’s no wonder the dogs avoid them.
When out walking around the valley, checking the horses, visiting Yadmaa and Davasuren at their place, moving through the snow filled forest, I regularly come across wolf tracks. Sometimes when I do follow them, they often lead back to the cabins where it’s easy to see they were just checking things out as they cruised by in the night. They never come so close during daylight hours.
On one occasion while following the tracks of three wolves coming down off the ridge top and through the forest behind us, they broke out into an open section of the Darkhid valley where one can take in a large scenic view of the landscape below, overlooking snow covered larch trees and meadows. One of the wolves headed directly for a small rise, a knoll of sorts and sat down, apparently to take in the sights. I could see his paws and his butt print melting into the snow as he must have spent some time there gazing at the scene of forest and valley below. I like to imagine it, but this close to the cabins and herders I doubt they would have made noise or howled. They’re careful not to attract too much attention when near humans. And, I’m sure on this night they were just silent visitors.
Mongolian Wolves can be lethal to livestock
Wolves do warrant their reputation as livestock killers. If you’ve ever seen a pack of wolves tear into a deer carcass, you know how effective they can be. Sheep, goats and cows are defenseless against a wolf attack. Right from the cabin porch I’ve seen them up in the hills on the other side of the valley a kilometer away having a go at young cow yearlings in broad daylight. The panicked bawling of their mothers arose my attention and got me on my horse, “Littlebrother”, and charging to their defense. The three wolves easily saw me coming and took to the forest, quickly disappearing into the trees. They’ve learned not to stick around when humans come after them. Horses are regularly taken too, but not as often. They’re a bit quicker.
Our oldest horse “Fish” has so far survived three wolf attacks that left him ripped up and bloody but still standing. I’ve had to stitch him up and stick him with antibiotics a few times. He’s lucky. But two of our favorite horses, “Alag” a paint that was good for riding and packing, and “Sharag”, a beautiful, strong palomino, didn’t fare so well. Sharag was a twelve year old, strong and fast and well aware of wolves in his valley. They must have surprised him in the night. Alag was caught alone away from the herd in daylight. He got away, but was chewed up so badly he couldn’t survive. It’s gut wrenching when you lose good horses to wolves. I was kind of mad at them for awhile.
Wolves of Mongolia are wild and free
But wolves today represent the wild like no other creature. To hear a wolf howl up close is startlingly loud and sends a primitive shiver of wonder right through your bones. Listening to them talk to each other from one far off valley to the next is a gift from nature truly enjoyable. Their ancient song, a sound that has been a part of the northern forests for countless millennia is a connection to our own past when we as human hunters shared the chase with these magnificent creatures. It is always special, and it always comforts me when hearing wolves howl knowing that there is still some “wild” left in the world.
Yet as humans, we have a love/hate relationship with wolves unlike any other animal. Poisoning them, shooting them from helicopters, hunting them down and killing them as if they were vicious, heartless murderers. They’re not of course. They’re just wild and free. When their habitat is infringed upon and their natural food sources depleted, they take what’s available and easy. But I’ve often thought about this. Is it fear of a rival predator? Is it just because they take livestock when opportunity arises? With a little effort, livestock can be protected, as herders here have pointed out to me. Or is it deeper? They’re free and wild and always will be. Perhaps it’s this that is really envied.
Tonight maybe we’ll have wolves again at the door.