Writing this week in the New York Times, author Emily Anthes spun the truly sad story of 832F, a six-year-old female who left Yellowstone’s protected lands and was immediately shot to death.
832F was, as you might already know, a gray wolf as well as a cause célèbre. Because 832F was bold and fearless, often spotted in the park and oft-discussed by the rangers there, Anthes reports an “outpouring of grief” over the animal’s slaughter. The wolf was also tagged, which allowed scientists to follow her every move to learn more about the species at large and that one animal individually.
We often write about about tagging initiatives here at the O’Reilly Animals Project, because they are techy and rapidly improving and generally open source and just plain cool. What Anthes makes clear in her essay, covering as she does several other websites devoted to such charismatic (though not necessarily endangered) animals as milk cows, is that we humans are suckers for a hero.
If we can track a wild animal safely from the frost-free confines of a pillow-propped laptop, we can begin to empathize with it and, to a small extent, anthropomorphize its qualities. And that’s a good thing. Anthes writes:
[T]racking projects may be our best hope for getting the public to invest in conservation. We may be able to ignore a nameless, faceless mass of threatened creatures, but fill in their personalities and back stories, and it becomes harder to look the other way as their habitats disappear or they are hunted to extinction. A famous animal can become an ambassador for its species, inspiring efforts to conserve the entire population.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the sere chilly hills of Northern California roams OR-7, a lone male gray wolf originally from Oregon who crossed the state line about a year ago. The seventh wolf tagged in Oregon, OR-7 is said to be looking for a mate or a pack with which to align. Less than four years old now, chances are that he’ll die mateless and alone; his species last lived wild in California in 1924. But he does have a Twitter feed with over 2100 followers.
Sure, the feed is silly, like most gentle fun is when humanizing animals. But it allows us to imaginatively connect with OR-7, to consider the 3,000 miles he is said to have traveled, and to map his lonely life up in the hills, endlessly in search of others of his kind. Others he will never find.
It’s possible he’s a hero.