Thursday, December 18, 2014


by elspatula

This post is sort of a response to a late night exchange on Twitter between two respected and intelligent people who differed about the proper way to think about a wolf.  I’m not really going to make a list of 100 items.  I’m sure you’re relieved.  I am going to hit some high points of how I look at wolves.  Not all of them are the wonderful media images that show up everywhere now that we don’t see wolves as evil -- well, unless you’re trying to raise sheep.

In about 1967 Bob and I went moose hunting near the Swan Hills above Whitecourt.  “Hunting” is accurate, since we never saw a moose -- just tracks.  It was taiga with seismic lines cut through it.  We were told that the moose were supposed to be hunted out in preparation for a huge dam project.  Now I’m wondering whether the real goal was development of the tar sands.

On the way back on the remote highway, a wolf ran across the highway in front of us, teased by a raven that dive-bombed it repeatedly.  It was a dance.  

Al Oeming feeds his bear.

That got us thinking about Al Oeming’s game farm near Edmonton so we went there.   (I didn’t realize he had died this past spring. ) We were curious to see Colonel Przewalski’s horse, the earliest wild horse, never domesticated.  Oeming kept his animals on huge pastures.  The muskoxen looked at us suspiciously from a margin of mist along the far wooded edge of their field.  The rhino came galloping, full speed.  Its “fence” was a stone wall about three feet high -- we fell back -- can rhinos jump?  Then we realized we were driving the same kind of pickup as the feeding keepers.

by LupinGoddess

But this is about wolves.  They were a pack.  Some would argue that with pack animals it is the entire group that is the “creature.”  These guys were relaxed, interested, clearly related to each other.  We looked for something to feed them, but all we had was a sack of apples too big to go through the wire mesh, so we lobbed them high enough to arc over the eight feet height.  What developed was a kind of basketball game -- a leaping melee.  Their jaws were so strong that when they bit down they shattered the fruit but they soon adjusted so they could use them for balls, tossing and catching.  That’s my key image: joyful social animals.

Then there was Charlie, the wolf a government trapper poisoned far north and brought down to Calgary where friends kept the carcass until we could drive up to fetch it.  It was the wife of the couple who gave him his name.  We put him in the back of the pickup under a tarp and heaped our endless supply of plaster rubble over the top to look like ordinary trash.  This saved a lot of time and explanation at the border.

by whiteokami

At the shop, we buried our fingers in Charlie’s fur, examined the pads of his feet, ran our hands over his soft ears, and made measurements.  Bob’s portrait of him is called “Lunging Lobo” and was sold as half of a pair, the other one being a female crouched into moose horns.  Finally he was mounted and put on a high shelf in the Museum of Montana Wildlife.  

Today’s youngsters consider such uses horrifying and shocking.  We were not being scientists but something like old-fashioned naturalists.  Some will say art justifies such investigation -- the goal of the Museum was to be a resource for wildlife artists. Carl Rungius, one of the big “R’s” of Western art (with Russell and Remington), used to shoot a moose, string it up under a tree for a model and paint until it rotted.  Then shoot another one.
by Donald SVD

In the Eighties Chuck Jonkel, patriarch of bear/wolf studies, used to sponsor an annual conference for the hardy field researchers.  Maybe his son Jamie continues with them.  I attended a couple but they were hard to find out about because if they weren’t kept secret, they were invaded by activists who disrupted the exchange of knowledge.  Usually the clash was science versus romance.  Passion on both sides.  

Since then the same dynamics have spread out into huge international networks of people formally studying animals, mostly young folks because it takes muscle and endurance to be out there in the snow.  In those days they didn’t use helicopters as much as they seem to now.  I was indelibly impressed by a woman named Diane (I think) who had studied wolves so much she was half-wolf herself, evocative of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, except that she didn’t kill the animals.

The old tradition of gentleman naturalists with a sense of privilege and a kind of cool have been forever displaced by two contemporary forces:  one is extreme adventure and maybe Matthiessen had something to do with that after the success of “The Snow Leopard,” though if a person thinks that they probably didn’t read the book.  It was not Outside magazine stuff.

by beastofoblivion

The other is the Disney influence which started way back in the Fifties with the success of films like “Beaver Valley” and soon supported such corruptions as wildlife farms where little vignettes could be staged, funny incidents about baby animals who would never have contact in the wild.  I don’t know what to think about Bart the Bear.  

Now teams go everywhere on the planet so that the lowliest deep sea squid has no privacy and even the fish get cameras glued to their backs.  My fav photog animals are the English “moogies” (cats) prowling their own nabes.  is a copycat production with National Geographic, which is deep into the animal shadowing thing, having run out of exotic people.  The last remnants shoot your low-flying airplane full of arrows.

“Species romance” is one of these various animal complexes, defending the purity of the genome even though canids mix every which way.  When I was an animal control officer we were forever getting embroiled in arguments about whether a troublesome canine were enough wolf to be wildlife (illegal without a special permit) or enough dog to be a pet.  Some learned the hard way that even a 90% dog can come up wolf under the right/wrong circumstances.  

by Beastofoblivion

But a big problem these days is simply that people aren’t around animals a whole lot. Even a country town like Valier won’t allow chickens (but pigs are okay if they’re a 4-H project) and some of the newly arrived city people who see a loose horse are afraid it will attack their children.  Kids who grow up with no animal contact see them as something between a machine and a human victim of enchantment. 

It’s a dilemma in part because the more we know about animals, esp. the big charismatic mammals, the more scientists study and authors write about them, the more people want to meddle with them, exploit them, convert them to commodities, even try to become them.  But their idea of animals is unreal.  

I was talking to the friend who sold his foothills ranch to Bob Scriver.  He described being out in the yard and having an eerie feeling of being watched.  It was a timber wolf, just standing and looking.  No collar, no name, no pack, no predation, just there.  They stood staring at each other a while and then my friend went into the house.  It was sort of like Calvin and Hobbs where Calvin can only stand to be outside under the stars gazing at the cosmos about so long.  
by Kiraxlee

But don’t romanticize Bob.  After I was gone he kept a “pet” wolf in a cage for years.  It was not a big cage.  Even Bob had shrunk.  I like it better when there's room to dance.  Even for the stars.

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