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No, wolves can’t teach people a ‘leadership lesson’

An old meme on what wolves can teach us about leadership has found its way onto Facebook in South Africa. The image shows two dozen wolves walking in single file through the snow.

Three wolves in front are circled, as are five behind them. Another five wolves towards the back are also marked, and an arrow points to one wolf straggling behind.

The explanation is that the three wolves in front are “old and sick”. They are there to set the pace, to make sure the rest of the wolves don’t leave them behind.

The next five, and the five at the back, are the strongest, the meme says. They’re there to protect the 10 or so ordinary pack members between them.

And the lone wolf behind the rest? He’s the leader. “He ensures no one is left behind. He keeps the pack tight and on the same path. He is ready to run in any direction to protect his pack.”

Female wolf leads this family

It is a valuable and humane idea: the weaker members of a group set the pace, the stronger members are always ready to protect everyone else, and the leader walks behind to take care of the entire team.

But it’s not a lesson we can learn from these wolves.

A fact-check by Snopes tracked the original to a photo by Chadden Hunter. It also featured in the 2011 BBC documentary Frozen Planet.

The photo is of a wolf family in northern Canada, in the Arctic Circle.

Its original description says the “alpha female” (not a male “leader”) led the pack – she didn’t follow behind. The rest followed in her tracks simply to save energy.  

Snopes adds that the “alpha” wolf doesn’t exist in the wild. The leaders of wolf packs are mostly just the parents of the rest of the wolves. – Africa Check (26/02/19)


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