Special Issues » 2011 Southeastern Wildlife Exposition

Jim and Jamie Dutcher ran with the wolves

Don't Be Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf

by

comment

I'm charging Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs with defamation. For years their libelous fables have portrayed wolves in a false light. I'd also like to call to the stand Stephanie Meyer for propagating the myth of the werewolf in her Twilight series. Tweens nationwide are now convinced that a simple camping trip could lead to a romantic tryst with a chiseled wolf boy. Thanks Steph, I can't wait to see what questions that'll raise in health class.

The truth? Forget everything you thought you knew about wolves and go see Jim and Jamie Dutcher's SEWE presentation, Living With Wolves.

From 1990 to 1996, the Dutchers lived in Idaho in a yurt with a pack of wolves. I repeat — six years in a yurt.

As the story goes, Jim began producing documentary films in the 1960s. His subject matter has varied from cougars to beavers, but his interest in wolves was sparked in his youth when he happened upon one of the fluffy guys while working on a horse ranch. After some research Jim discovered little had been documented about the lives of wolf packs or their social habits. Wanting to learn more, he decided to attempt to build a wolf pack within an enclosure below the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. There he could film the natural habitat of the wolves and document their lifestyle. Meanwhile, Jim was corresponding with Jamie, an employee in the animal hospital of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The two had met on a flight out of Africa and stayed in touch. Letters turned to love. Jamie left her D.C. abode and traded it in for Jim's yurt where they co-habitated for six years filming and photographing the wolves' every move.

Together, the duo made a few remarkable discoveries about wolves and walked away with two Emmys for their films. Far from the nightmarish depictions Hollywood has given us, the Dutchers uncovered the fact that wolves are extremely social creatures.

"When one of the pack members was killed," Jim says in a phone call from his home in Idaho, "the rest of the pack were despondent for a month. They were mourning."

As Living With Wolves shows, the relationship between wolves and their packs are strikingly similar to the relationships people have with their family members. In fact, it's their tight familial bonds that help them survive. Every member of the family has their role.

"There's a hierarchy," Jamie explains. "There's an alpha male who leads the pack and an omega who is there to encourage play and diffuse tension."

The documentary also shows how similar wolves can be to domesticated dogs. They love their puppies, they're affectionate to each other, and they have a strong sense of fear and friendship. Unfortunately, man has long misunderstood the wolf, and in the American West, wolves had once been hunted nearly to extinction.

But thanks in part to the Dutchers' research, that seems to be changing. "Wolf populations are being reintroduced into the wild in areas like Yellowstone," Jim says. And the reintroduction of the wolf population has actually been shown to improve the ecosystems in which they live. However, public misconception about wolves — not to mention flawed legislation — continues to threaten the species.

Ultimately, Jim says the couple's goal is for the American public to see wolves as "an intelligent social animal just like gorillas, elephants, and whales, and as a critical ecosystem manager, bringing balance to the natural world." Hopefully, their presentation at SEWE will be a step toward doing just that.

Now if we could only get the Three Little Pigs to quit spreading their lies about the igbay adbay olfway, we'd be set.

Add a comment