A part of the pack: Wolves seen up close and personal

Carol A. Wright

By A Contributor

If humans want to obtain a better and complete understanding of wolves, it would not hurt for them to invest in “The Hidden Life of Wolves.”

  Twenty-five dollars might be considered a lot of money to many people, but once readers open their hearts and minds to the wolf research projects conducted by Jim and Jamie Dutcher, they will realize that it will not be a waste of their money or time.

  For centuries the wolf has been regarded as a “demon.” Myth and superstition are hard to bury. Although wolves can be unpredictable, they are not here on this earth to devour “Little Red Riding Hoods,” do evil deeds, or totally destroy humankind.

  The Dutchers sought to learn all they could about wolves, noting a wolf pack’s behavior, socialization among the different ranks of wolves, bonding, hunting and eating patterns, care and attention to pups, and strength as a family unit.

  Thus, the Dutchers and their crew set up an environment where a pack of wolves “could open their lives” to the couple and accept them just as another part of the wolf’s world. The research station was located at the edge of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountain. In 1990, the U.S. Government was preparing its wolf reintroduction program. The Dutchers sensed that it was a good time to make a feature film documentary that would show the intimate life of a wolf pack and how they might interact around humans. Leaving politics behind, they created a film unlike any other about wolves that led the couple to note the complex and compassionate social nature of the pack they called the “Sawtooth Pack.”

  From 1990 to 1996, Jim and Jamie Dutcher absorbed all the lessons Kamots (“Freedom”) and Lakota (“Friend”), their mates and all future litters would teach the couple. The crowning glory occurred in the sixth year of the project when two female pups and one male pup were born to Kamots, the confident alpha, and Chemukh (“Black”), the pack’s only breeding female at the time.

  Through the years, adorable tiny pups were bottle-fed by the couple, slept on warm laps or blankets (which resembled a wolf mother’s fur) and took turns in a playful tug-o-war eventually shredding shirts into little strips. The project’s purpose was not to make the pups pets. The fourth litter was gradually introduced to the wolf pack on the other side of a fence. There was wonderful celebration — much licking, howling and trust — among the pups and the welcoming pack.

  Toward the end of the project there was great concern and worry that the wolves would be removed from their home around the Sawtooth area. However, the Nez Perce tribe of Idaho stepped in at the last moment and offered a permanent home for the Sawtooth Pack. The tribe respected the wolves and their right to survive. The natural balance of the environment is essential to all life.

It is truly a miracle for the Dutchers to be accepted by a wolf pack, this Sawtooth Pack, to actually get down on the wolf’s level, to hug a wolf or allow a wolf to cuddle close, to film them during chow time or when they pounce around like playful dogs or even form together — human and wolves — a harmonious howling choir. Nevertheless, the hunting and poaching of wolves continue, and, sadly, some people feel that society would be better off if wolves were eradicated. But, humans are not the bosses of the earth. And the Dutchers are reasonable in pointing out that ranchers and farmers have their own rights. It would be far better for everyone — children and adults — to take time and research the wolf, to help support conservation programs, such as Living With Wolves, founded by the Dutchers, which is a non-profit organization devoted to promoting public awareness of the real truth about wolves.

Animal experts have said that wolves fear people. To the Dutchers, it seems more likely that they rely on their intelligence and willingness to observe humans at a relatively safe distance.

But, this pattern is changing, even for the coyote. Due to on-going housing development and loss of habitat, coyotes are not as timid about getting closer to people where they live. There’s also more evidence of the coywolf, a cross between a coyote and wolf entering the picture.

The Dutchers stress that hybrids are dangerous and should never be kept as pets.

  “The Hidden Life of Wolves” features many stunning photographs of the wolf pack and gray wolves. They are beautiful in adulthood in their natural environment. And it would be so tempting to embrace a little wolf pup, the pups are sweet as can be.

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