By JOANNA LAMBERT In his March 9 piece to OutThere Colorado, Joey Bunch provided his version of medical advice to the citizens of Colorado: Don’t hang out with wolves and don’t eat one.
His source of advice is former head of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources Greg Walcher who recently asserted (Daily Sentinel, March 5) that “wolves are among the Earth’s primary carriers of coronavirus, the pandemic that is sweeping the globe,” suggesting that Coloradans should not “mess with Mother Nature” by restoring them to their former range of western Colorado.
Arguments that gray wolves are responsible for our current global crisis are as ridiculous as they are abjectly false. The broad term “coronavirus” refers to a large family of viruses. Canine coronavirus (CCoV) is one of these viruses — it results in a mild and self-limiting infection to a dog’s intestinal tract. But, CCoV is not the same thing as COVID-19 virus, which is called “novel” for a reason — it is a new virus and was named by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses only last year. Moreover, scientists at the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Heath have indicated that there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted from a canine to a human.
Assertions and myths such as those forwarded by Mr. Bunch and Mr. Walcher put me in mind of medieval Europe. As Bubonic Plague scourged throughout the continent, killing people by the millions, myths about wolves were rife. At that time of fear and uncertainty, it was widely believed that the heat of a wolf’s breath could cook meat. Many thought that if a horse stepped into the footprint left by a wolf it would be crippled. Werewolf stories were used to condemn those who had made pacts with the Devil to avoid the Black Death.
The medical advice of the day? Like Bunch’s advice a couple of weeks ago, people were advised not to eat wolves as they were poisonous. Though, there was a twist: back then, one could wear the right front paw of a wolf to thwart a sore throat. Humans were scared then and they are scared now. Spinning myths about wolves to make sense of the world during the Middle Ages is understandable. Today? Inexcusable.
Joanna Lambert is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research on animal ecology takes her to sites around the world, including Yellowstone National Park and Colorado, where she investigates canid biology.