Wolves were once widespread throughout the northern hemisphere, but their range has been drastically reduced by human encroachment on their habitat and persecution of the animals themselves.
Wolves are social predators and hunt in packs organised according to a strict social hierarchy and led by an alpha male and alpha female.
Normally, the alpha pair are the only members of the pack to breed. This kind of organisation can also be found in other pack-hunting canids, such as the Indian dhole (Cuon alpinus) and the African Hunting Dog (Lycaon pictus).
The relation between the wolf and the domestic dog is a matter of debate. Some authorities see the wolf as the dog's direct ancestor, while others point to the Golden Jackal (Canis aureus) as the most likely ancestor. In fact, the Canidae is a family that has evolved fairly recently, and different species of the genus Canis are still able to interbreed to some extent.
Wolves in folklore and mythology
People and wolves have a history of troubled relationships - as is demonstrated every time a wildlife service or organization attempts to preserve vanishing wolves or reintroduce wolves to previous habitat. The dominant image of wolves in human folklore is as a predator; there are, however, interesting exceptions.
- Little Red Riding Hood and bad wolves
- Romulus and Remus and good wolves
- Children Raised by Wolves (see Feral children)
It has progressed to point where while the stereotype of wolves still has influence, a significant portion of the public has gained a positive opinion of wolves as interesting, valuable and even noble animals. This opinion is demonstrated with parks with a visible wolf population are often popular tourist attractions such as in Yellowstone National Park where the wolves can often be seen from the roads.
In other parks, wolf howls are often held where tourists try to make wolf-like howls in hopes that the resident wolves will answer. In fact, some naturist have complained that this popularity has drawbacks since tourists sometimes intrude into wolf habitats and disturb them.
In films and television shows, while the image of wolves as dangerous predators is still common, there are numerous productions that portray wolves as heroic characters. Many fantasy novels depict friendships between humans and wolves, and the comic book Elfquest centres around the Wolfrider elf tribe and its wolfpack.