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Running with the Wolves

posted Jun 7, 2017, 6:39 PM by chloe owens

5/14/17, by Janaki Lenin, The Hindu

Running with the wolves

Mahendra Kattal nudged his sandal against the sun-bleached dog poop. “Wolf scat,” he said…Suddenly, a pack of dogs charged at us with their hackles up, barking ferociously, only to slink away at a sharp word from Kattal…At the camp that they call Konkanwadi, women and young boys tightened a long length of net within which some 2,000 corralled sheep settled down for the evening. In the dim light of sunset, the net was barely visible. To the wolves, the huddled sheep must seem like so many juicy kebabs on hoof. Did Kattal and his people expect the flimsy net to protect their animals?... Although the wolves filled their bellies at their expense, the Dhangars didn’t begrudge the predators. “When a wolf takes one of our animals, our flock will increase,” Kattal said. “It will be blessed.”… Only the ragtag pack of scrawny dogs that set up an unholy clamor at any approaching human or animal stood between the wolves and the Dhangars’ livelihood. In the U.S., the mere thought of wolves in the vicinity of their animals turns sheep ranchers apoplectic with rage. I found Kattal’s attitude incomprehensible. “So far I’ve seen 55 wolves this year,” he said. “I recognize them from the number of cubs in each group.” Even if he had seen the same wolves again and again, I was surprised by his nonchalance when he added, “I’ve lost 25 sheep to wolves so far.” For Kattal, the canids were as natural as the weather, and he accepted their presence unquestioningly. More than wolves, it was the bluetongue epidemic that kept him awake at night. He had lost 35 sheep to it already and two more were sick…According to Dhangar mythology, a lovelorn Khandoba slaughtered 9,00,000 sheep and goats and offered to resurrect them on the condition that Banai marry him. When she acceded, not only did the animals prance to life but their numbers doubled. “Sacrifice creates life out of death,” Sontheimer wrote of the Dhangar worldview. “Sacrifice to wolves increases the herd.” Earlier, the Dhangars spilled their animals’ blood ritually as a sacrifice to wolves. Over time, they directed the annual animal offering to Khandoba. When wolves took Kattal’s animals, they were only taking what was theirs.