China has given up trying to eradicate wolves

April 7, 2021
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Conservationists had much to cheer about when, in early February, China published a long-awaited update to its list of protected animals. It is now twice as long, with almost 1,000 species. Snake-lovers celebrated the inclusion of the lime-green Mangshan pit viper. Fans of the Yangzi finless porpoise, also known as the “smiling angel”, had reason to rejoice. Yet perhaps the most unexpected gift was handed to champions of the common wolf. Unloved in many places, wolves were until recently seen as a pest in China. When the country last drew up a protected-species list in 1988, a campaign to exterminate wolves for rewards, launched in the 1950s under Mao, was still popular. Killers now face steep fines and possible prison time.

In Chinese, as in other languages, wolves get a raw deal. They feature in proverbs about collusion and cruelty (to have “the heart of a wolf and the lungs of a dog”), infamy and greed (to harbour the “ambition of wild wolves”). Lechers are wolf-like. In “The Wolf of Zhongshan”, a 16th-century fable known to all Chinese children, a scholar helps hide a wolf from a hunting party, but the ungrateful animal tries to eat him. To be “a Zhongshan wolf” is to repay good with evil.

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