Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Saddam Hussein of the Animal World?

propaganda posterIn case you don't get the reference in the title of this post, I've included a picture of a poster that's frequently used by people who want to exterminate all wolves from North America. It's just part of the propaganda that people (inexplicably, to me) deliberately perpetuate.

Turning from propaganda to truth, next week a new book will be published called The Man Who Lives with Wolves. The man is Shaun Ellis, who has been on TV in the show Living With The Wolfman. Ellis is an expert on wolf behavior as a result of many years of living with wolves and paying close attention to them.

The following is condensed from the Preface of this new book. Mr. Ellis says,
I was helping out at a wildlife center in Hertfordshire, just north of London. A man appeared outside the wolf enclosure one day, pushing a child in an old-fashioned wheelchair with a large tray on the front of it. He told me that he and his son, who may have been 13 or 14 and who, I could see at a glance, was severely disabled, had driven 500 miles from Scotland. He had heard that we allowed members of the public to interact with wolves and he wanted his son to meet one.

The Man Who Lives with Wolves by Shaun EllisI was surprised that this man had gone to such lengths to show his son a wolf. The child didn't look as though he would get anything out of the encounter. He sat immobile, silent, staring into space, and I doubted that he would even be able to stroke the animal's fur. Normally, I loved this part of the job. Children arrived with such preconceptions. They pulled back when the wolf came near, convinced by all the stories they'd read and the cartoons they'd watched, that wolves were sly, vicious creatures that ate grandmothers, blew down the houses of little pigs, and ripped the throats out of little girls. I had grown up with exactly the same terror. It had taken me many years to discover that wolves are actually shy, intelligent animals with a very sophisticated social structure, whose bloodthirsty reputation is not deserved. I found nothing more gratifying than watching children touch the wolves and listen to what I had to say, and watch their prejudice and ignorance fade away.

I felt almost evangelical about this. I thought that if children could feel wolves' coats and look them in the eye, they could make up their own minds about them so that in time, future generations will be ready to give back to wolves the place in the world that is rightfully theirs.

Whenever I introduced a child to the wolves, it was vital that the child not become frightened. I had to watch their reaction carefully so that I didn't do more harm with this exercise than good. This boy didn't speak. His disabilities were clearly mental as well as physical. I asked the father, as tactfully as I could, whether the child would be able to indicate when he no longer wanted to be near the wolf. "He won't be able to," said the man, bluntly. "He has never spoken, and never reacted in any way to anything. And he has never expressed an emotion in his life."

Common sense was screaming at me to tell this man to turn around and take his poor child back to Scotland. But for reasons I can't explain, and a few I can, I agreed to go ahead.

We had a young wolf called Zarnesti who had been hand-reared and was not nervous around humans. His jaw had been crushed soon after he was born, and he looked a bit like Goofy in the Mickey Mouse cartoons.

I went into the enclosure and came out carrying Zarnesti. He was about three months old, the size of a spaniel, and a wriggling, struggling bundle of energy. It was all I could do to hold him; he was almost flying out of my arms as I put him down on the tray of the wheelchair, in front of the boy. I had the pup in a vise-like grip, but something miraculous happened. The moment Zarnesti saw the child he became still. He looked into the boy's eyes and they stared at each other. Then the pup settled down with his back legs tucked under him and his front legs stretched out in front. I took one hand off him and realized very quickly that I could take the other hand away, too. After a few moments, still looking into the boy's eyes, the cub reached forward and started to lick the boy's face. I lunged to intercept him, afraid that Zarnesti would nip the boy's mouth, which is what cubs do to adult wolves when they want them to regurgitate food. But Zarnesti didn't nip; he just licked, very gently.

The scene was electrifying. As I looked at the boy I saw one single tear welling up in his right eye, then trickle slowly down his cheek. Guessing that this had never happened before, I turned to his father. This big strong Scotsman was watching what was unfolding in front of him with tears streaming down his face.

In a matter of seconds, the wolf cub had gotten through to this boy in a way that no human had managed to do in fourteen years.


  1. It's enough to make a girl brave, to read your blog about boys and wolves.

    Very special.

    And it's great that you're reinforcing the Kimba ideas, too.

  2. Hi, I have been reading your blog on animals and how they are intelligent and have feeling just like humans and I want to say that I heartily agree. I read your blog nearly every day and have found it to be a great source of inspiration for my Watership Down-style stories.

    I also find it shocking that people want to destroy wolves; it's shocking especially as there are places where wolves are extinct (like the UK) which is where I live and I would love there to be wolves. I often say that wolves are a monster created by human greed; what I mean by this is that we only see wolves as monsters because they eat 'our' food aka deer, sheep etc. However the people who see them as monsters never think that maybe they are just doing what humans do in hunting animals for food.

    Anyway, I enjoy your blog, keep writing!

  3. Thank you both for writing! I'm always happy to hear from people who read my posts. It's nice to know you're there.

    Adelaide, I'm not sure I know what you mean about making you brave, but I think it's a good thing. :)

    Alicia, I see your point about man-made monsters. One of the things people say to promote wolf hunting in our western states is that wolves will wipe out the elk population, and they need the elk for elk hunters. But it simply isn't true. For one thing, wolves eat a lot of things besides elk, plus it is well-documented that wolves regulate their own populations so that they will not deplete their food supply.

    I do indeed intend to keep on writing--these subjects are very important to me.

  4. ಠ_ಠ Saddam Hussein? That poster is....mind-boggling. I can't fathom how people get these ideas in their heads to begin with. I wonder if they're saying it in a facetious way.

    I dunno if you heard the very sad news about the Yellowstone pack that was destroyed this week - with their home near the border, all of the adults, including two with collars, were gunned down. The pups are left, all alone... it's heartbreaking.

  5. If you'd seen the videos of the anti-wolf protesters, you'd know there is nothing facetious about that poster--they are deadly serious.

    That Yellowstone incident is heartbreaking. These wolf hunts are going to rip apart family units all across the area, ultimately creating far more problems than ever existed before the hunting was allowed.