The Feudal Wolf
The feudal wolf, Canis lupus feodalis, is a subspecies of the gray wolf found only on King Island, located in the Behring Straits and claimed by both Russia and the United States of America. Although closely related to the gray wolf, marked behavioral differences warrant the status of sub-species.
When gray wolfs form a pack, the alpha male is also the one to lead the hunt. In addition, the alpha male and female maintain the pack hierarchy, which allows them to coordinate as a group. In feudal wolfs, this is not so.
Although they are at the top of the hierarchy, alpha males and females of feudal wolfs do not participate in the hunt. Like in lion prides, they simply wait in their lair for the others to bring them food. However, as there is only one pack of feudal wolfs living on King Island, they do not need to defend their territory, as the male of a pride of lions would.
It has been observed that the alpha animals patrol the island from time to time. Whenever they encounter another wolf eating, they will attack him without mercy. On several occasion, they killed the offender. This behavior is of course used to deter underlings who try to hoard food. But since it can lead to death, it is also a selection mechanism which will favor more docile traits in the underlings. It is probably due to this that most often, alpha animals are replaced by their descendants.
There have been several theories as to the origin of the feudal wolf's strange behavior. Prof. Ikmar Ketakki, of the Finnish Institute of Wolf Studies (FIWS), believes that it has to do with the fact that the wolfs have arrived on the island at the same time as the last Ice Age ended, about 10'000 years ago. This is the same time-frame in which the genetic drift between the feudal wolf and the gray wolf accelerated, and it is commonly accepted that the feudal wolf was left stranded on King Island during that period. Since food was scarce during that time, wolfs who hoard food would have a higher chance of survival. This increased fitness would allow the hoarders to steal prey from other wolfs they encountered, and this led to the pack-structure seen today.
Dr. Luke Beddington, from the English College of the Good Ol' Chaps (ECGOC), however, has a different opinion. An overall increase in hoarding behavior would hinder the pack-structure seen today, he argues, since the underlings would have a natural tendency to hoard their food. Instead, he believes it is due to the wolfs' intelligence. Unlike their cousins on the mainland, the feudal wolfs do not have any big game to hunt. Their prey is mainly composed of birds and rodents. When the prey is big, it is necessary to be part of the hunt to get a good piece, since it cannot be easily transported. As such, resources are best invested in hunting. But when the average of the prey became much smaller, it became more effective to have others hunt for you and bring you prey one by one. Dr. Beddington believes that, just as humans have tamed wolfs, the alpha wolfs of King Island have tamed their fellows.
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