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Animal minds: Do wolves need to be smart? – a computer model

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Eastern timber wolves/Christian Jansky

In “Wolf packs don’t need to cooperate to make a kill” (New Scientist, 26 October 2011) Michael Marshall tells us:

According to a new computer model, a virtual wolf pack can replicate a real pack’s behaviour by obeying just two rules, suggesting that the wolf’s hunting strategy does not need much brain power.

Raymond Coppinger of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and colleagues modelled a five-strong wolf pack in pursuit of prey. They programmed each wolf to move towards the prey until it reached a certain safe distance. It then moved away from any other wolves that had reached that distance.

While it’s good that these models help some urbanites realize that wolves are not furry, cuddly people, the modellers seem to overlook the fact that intelligence is mostly required for the pack’s day-to-day life together. Including the days they don’t kill anything, which are numerous. When they don’t have anything to give the constantly yipping cubs. When they are all sullen and resentful.

Bovines are, in general, stupid, and it is useful – though not a surprise – to learn that any systematic strategy will bring many of them down.


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