Review: The Last Wolf by Jim Crumley

It was the second year after the wolves came back that they noticed the difference. The patch of scrub land at the bottom of the hill scree had developed into a patch of lush green ground. Over subsequent years the ground became a beautiful high pasture. For as long as anyone alive could remember this had been a poor stretch of land as a result of over-grazing by deer. The wolves had re-asserted the natural rhythm of things, keeping the deer on the move and helping restore lost habitat.

A lto has been written about the restoration of wolves to the Scottish Highlands over the last few years. Naturalist Jim Crumley would argue much of this was pure rubbish and the result of severe ignorance and mythology. And then we have Paul Lister in the Highlands and — no — this is not a book in praise of Lister. Crumely sees the Lister project as a big zoo, maybe better than a small zoo but still a zoo. Rather, this book is about something else indeed.

Crumley’s thesis is that one of the main reasons that so much of the Highlands is no high desert is because of the removal of nature’s top predator. in his view the restoration of wolves would reset the balance and all of us would be better off. Man has never really been able to get to grips with the management of deer heards, something wolves do naturally.

Crumley’s book tackles three issues in an informed and fascinating manner. Firstly, he shows how the myth of the wolf is simply a myth. Simply forget most of what you have heard about wolves it will almost certainly be wrong. As a result, he argues, our debate is framed by un-truths. Secondly, Crumley looks at the real world experience of the re-introduction of wolves. in some places — such as in Yellowstone — this has been done artificially but in other places such as Norway the wolves have simply made their way back to their old ancestral hunting lands. Finally, Crumley looks at the idea of re-introduction and what it would really mean.

The myth of the wolf is explored through the myth of the ‘last wolf’. Many cultures share the myth of the last wolf, a fierce and bold animal that is killed by an exceptional hunter or fighter, always a man a massive stature. The hunter needs to be of massive stature for he has killed a wolf the size of which is almost impossible!

In Scotland the myth of the last wolf centres around the River Findhorn in the Monaliadth, the wolf dying sometime in the 1600s. Crumley authoritatively exposes the myth. For him the home land of the wolf would have been far from man and they probably survived a lot longer. For Crumley, the last home of the wolf in Scotland was most probably somewhere on Rannock Moor near the Blackwater, land which was pretty useless for most things (which is why the current reservoir is built there).

So how about the real world experiments in resettlement? These are described in some detail and, according to Crumley, have been more than a little successful. in Yellowstone wolves have succeeded in living in close association to man without there being any main problems. the wolves have begun to move as well with one killed by a car on a highway many, many miles from Yellowstone a migration that maybe be similar to that experienced by Norway.

Norway farmers have always been frightened by the wolf. They argue Norway is a small country and there must be real limits to the number of wolf packs that are allowed to survive. The government has said it will limit wolves to four packs across the whole of the country but that might not be too difficult as it might be about the right number for nature. In Scotland Crumley argues that the entire Highland landscape could support perhaps 20 wolves. Not a great number but a significant number in terms of dealing with the kinds of natural problems that he identifies. After all, a wolf pack travels over extraordinary distances each year.

One thing I hadn’t realised is that the EU has a directive that asks member countries, where the wolf was hunted to extinction, to examine ways in which they could be re-introduced.Crumley argues that, in Scotland’s case, we should be aiming to use Rannock Moor as the re-introduction point for the wolf. As I said earlier he is not a Lister supporter pointing out that even in a big zoo a wolf that escaped would be likely to be shot and would certainly not be living according to the natural rhythm of life.

I found this a fascinating book and an informed contribution to a debate which is all too often polarised. Although not perfect it works in the main — I could have done without the prose that imagines the life of the last wolf, but I guess there is room for such poetry in such a book.

If this is a subject that interests you the Last Wolf is definitely worth a look.



  1. Mike fae Dundee says:

    I like Jim Cumleys work. He is a local man, and i always look forward to his weekly column in the local paper.

  2. Gibson looked at this and I’ve had it on my amazon list since – sounds like a good read

  3. This is an excellent book and deserves a lot more recognition on its second reprint.
    Restoring the wolf back in Scotland is something that just has to be done.
    Scotland would benefit greatly and most people would feel a lot better about themselves even if they never see one. If only the land owners could open there hearts and trust in nature.
    Please enlightened government do the right thing. A Big Fan of Mr crumleys passionate book.

  4. It’s a fascinating subject! I live in Eastern Europe in an area where wolves survive but have never seen any even though we walk a lot. Livestock numbers are very low here now and the wolves keep away from the settlements.

    • Interesting Lena. There seems no reason why wolves and livestock cannot co-exist across large expances of land.

  5. I read this book after recommendation from Gibson. I was sceptical when i started the read but loved the way the book was written and i finished it converted to give them a chance.
    They give the mountains colour, (or similar wording) is something i now understand.

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