Each Friday night in the fall, local student athletes face off on the football field. But for a moment, let’s forget all that. Let’s take a different look at the battle — who would win in a fight, a wolf or a red elephant? The Times spoke with wildlife experts to determine the answer. And each Friday this fall, we’ll pit two different mascots against each other.
Leading up to this evening’s football game, there will be a lot of speculation on who will win: the Gainesville High School Red Elephants or Buford High School Wolves?
Fans will likely be talking about how their team has the best defense, the best quarterback or how they are sure their runningback will make at least one touchdown.
But there is another question to consider — who would win in a literal match up between the teams’ mascots, an elephant and a wolf?
“Size-wize, obviously, elephants have the advantage by a long shot,” said Ken Riddleberger, Department of Natural Resources’ Northeast Georgia regional supervisor for game management. “But wolves have the advantage of quickness and working as a team.”
Each animal has certain advantages that have allowed them to be dominant in their habitats — likely why they were chosen to represent a football team’s ferocity on the field.
The Gainesville Red Elephants got their name from Atlanta Journal sports writer Everette Strupper back in the 1930s.
According to legend, the team, known as the Gainesville Gladiators, were a force on the field. Strupper described the team’s performance by writing, “Gainesville marched up and down the field like a herd of red elephants.” And the nickname stuck.
Little is known about how Buford High School became the wolves. But it is believed that the mascot has endured since the school’s early days.
Riddleberger said elephants, which are native to India and Africa, are herbivores. Because they eat plants, they don’t have to hunt like wolves. But he said elephants live in herds and fiercely protect their young from other predators.
“Who’s going to go up against a big mama elephant? It’s not a smart thing to do,” Riddleberger said.
Wolves today live mostly in the northern United States and Canada, Riddleberger said. Wolves no longer roam the hills of North Georgia; coyotes have moved in and taken their place as predators.
“At one time there was a Southeastern wolf known as a red wolf,” Riddleberger said. “There are still some red wolves around, but most are in captivity...They are extremely endangered.”
Robyn Hood Black, a local children’s author who wrote a book about wolves, said wolves are apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain.
“They are designed to prey on large, hoofed animals,” Black said. “They do that most effectively by cooperating with each other as a pack.”
Wolves typically like to eat animals that are much bigger than they are like moose, deer and elk.
“Those large animals are also well equipped,” Black said. “(Wolves) have to actually be careful when they hunt.”
Though they almost always hunt in groups, some wolves can successfully kill on their own.
“A strong experienced wolf could take down a large, weak hoofed animal by itself if it had a lot of experience,” Black said.
The stealthy predators live in packs. They always share, but the leaders always get first pick.
“Wolves are a lot like people. They hunt cooperatively and they have that dominance hierarchy,” Blacks said. “And they are very devoted to their social groups, their families.”
So if an elephant and a wolf were to engage in a duel, who would be the likely winner?
“I think it would depend on the condition of the elephant and the condition of the (wolf) pack,” Black said. “That’s pretty nebulous but that’s what it would probably boil down to.”
“I’d probably put my money on the elephant just by sheer size,” Riddleberger said. “He’s got something big to bring down ... But a wolf may surprise me.”
Riddleberger said it’s hard to judge since the two never clash in nature.
“The good news is neither wolves nor elephants are endemic to Georgia,” Riddleberger said. “Those two species would never come in contact in the wild.”