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The Last Wolf
on 12 September 2010
I was very much looking forward to reading this book and expected a well grounded and rational overview of the wolf and its place in Scotland old and new. What I got instead was a poorly researched polemic that actually amounts to a rather unpleasant book overall.
The author rails against the lack of historical context and the demonisation of the wolf particularly by Harting in "British Animals Extinct within Historic Times" a Victorian tome that is scantly reflective of modern thinking on the wolf. He is strong on the romantic nonsense of previous authors and then propagates the same himself by following a sub text written from the perspective of a free ranging wolf. He visits the sites of supposed last wolf slayings giving credence to one in Perthshire (His very favourite place) and thoroughly dismissing one in Invernesshire. Had he done his research a little better he would have realised that the wolf killed by Cameron of Loch Eil was actually despatched at Glac a'Mhadaidh at the head of Loch Arkaig in Lochaber rather than Killiecrankie.
Instead of wandering about Skye where wolf evidence is pretty thin on the ground he could have viewed historic wolf pits no great distance from Moy close to Inverness (He reserves particular spleen for an alleged last wolf incident in this area) or he could have followed up on the rich Gaelic traditions of the area and commentary on the wolf across the Highlands (not Perthshire mind you!) from now dead native people in Timothy Neats book on lost communities in the Highlands. He confuses Strath Naver with the vastly broader historical province of Strathnavern and his self admitted lack of knowledge of Gaelic seems to place him at a disadvantage of interpreting place names except in Perthshire. Some time with an ordnance survey map and a Gaelic dictionary would give him a good overview of wolf related features particularly in Sutherland where wolf evidence is overwhelming right down to the identification of historic wolf denning areas. He rants against Camden writing about wolves but fails to realise that Pont on his ground survey in North West Sutherland specifically comments on his maps about the presence of significant numbers of wolves in the area. Crumley is probably right about wolves dying out away from the human eye however Irish wolves appeared intermittently for decades with years of gaps between sightings before they finally vanished.
On the actual science and behavioural aspects of the European wolf he is even weaker. He makes the blanket assertion that black wolves are unknown in Europe which was and is untrue albeit they are rare. A comprehensive modern study by the Norwegian Nature Institute illustrated that in particular circumstances wolves can be predatory towards humans specifically children and it does not do to underestimate the dangers of introducing an apex predator into a hugely modified environment. Crumley obsesses about Rannoch Moor as a potential reintroduction site ignoring the fact that it is on the edge of the Highlands and offers convenient access to the highly populated lowlands.
Poor research of bastardized Gaelic oral tradition, Victorian wildlife literature and extant Scottish wolf data alongside selective science and a fictional sub plot does not amount to a serious contribution to any debate on the future reintroduction of the wolf. A poor effort from a Scottish author who should have been capable of so much more given his pedigree.