Empire editorial: Save Romeo; stay away

Posted: Sunday, February 11, 2007

People couldn't have come up with a more romantic name than Romeo for a wild animal. Let's just hope that Juneau's favorite black wolf isn't as star-crossed as his Shakespearean namesake.

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It's not often that a wolf's nickname becomes a household word. But it has. Many people have become familiar with the lone wolf who's been hanging out for several years around the Mendenhall Glacier.

Romeo may be a sweetheart of a wolf, but he's no pet.

His kind usually avoids humans. And if we really care about Romeo, our kind should avoid him.

And we should make sure our dogs do the same.

There's a reason many biologists bristle at pinning a cute name like Romeo on a wolf. Pet dogs usually come when we call. The only call this wolf needs to hear is the call of the wild.

People have lost sight of the fact that he's a predator who kills to survive.

People need to give up the chances to get great photos or a good story about how their dog frolicked with the wolf. Such yarns may be good for human egos, but are they worth a wild creature's life?

What's baffling is that most people who want to get close to Romeo are not ignorant about wildlife. Many are people who have a wealth of outdoors experience and know better. But they ignore the facts about animal behavior because a close encounter with a wolf feels cool. It's exhilarating.

It's also stupid. And it's going to lead to this wolf's death.

The chances of this wolf surviving seem slimmer by the day.

Like other wolves, he's unpredictable. If a pet or person gets hurt, people will turn on the wolf and call for it to be killed. That's what happened two years ago when he apparently killed a miniature beagle.

In similar instances, people have blamed state and federal officials for not protecting the public from a predator. But the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Forest Service have been trying to warn people away from the wolf and make it more wary of humans. It's time for people to help.

Wildlife experts know that wolves by nature are creatures of the pack, so it's natural for a loner to seek the company of dogs.

That's no excuse to let your dog seek his company.

While many dogs respond to voice commands, very few respond all the time and in difficult circumstances. Dogs should be kept on leash in the Mendenhall Lake area. Even though it's not an official requirement, leashing your dog is the right thing for anyone who wants this wolf to survive.

Let's hope Romeo's life does not end in tragedy. His fate is in our hands, but if we want this story to have a happy ending, people need to back off.



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