PR makeover for the leader and his pack

Van­ish­ing Ice: Wolves at the Door 6.30pm, An­i­mal Planet

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

IF ever an an­i­mal needs a PR con­sul­tant, it’s the poor old wolf. He gave Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood a ter­ri­ble time, Je­sus de­scribed him as wicked and B- grade hor­ror films have mor­phed him into a were­wolf. Per­haps all that howl­ing at the full moon freaked out our an­cient an­ces­tors. What­ever the root cause, the big bad wolf has been a po­tent sym­bol of vil­lainy for more than 2000 years. Farm­ers, too, present him as a bad guy, a ma­raud­ing killer who picks off live­stock at will.

Now for the re­al­ity check. But, be­fore you read on, look at the warm and fuzzy photo. Cute, eh? If it doesn’t re­duce you to a pud­dle or if you were un­moved by Two Socks, the lone wolf in Kevin Cost­ner’s 1990 opus Dances With Wolves , per­haps you should move straight on to the next re­view.

If you’re still with me, here are the facts. Wolves are among the most in­tel­li­gent an­i­mals on the planet, mate for life, form close fam­ily units, dote on their young and love to play. Wild dogs and coy­otes are much more of a threat to farm an­i­mals, as wolves feed mainly on small an­i­mals such as rabbits and racoons, with ber­ries and in­sects for dessert. To be sure, when a wolf gets to­gether with his mates, he’ll do what any pack an­i­mal does, which is bad news if you’re a deer or an elk.

The howl­ing? Well, that turns out to be a bit of sing- song for other mem­bers of the pack, es­pe­cially the fe­males. Give a wolf a rocky out­crop and he’ll howl like Stan­ley Kowal­ski for Stella.

If you still aren’t con­vinced, watch tonight’s doc­u­men­tary, which con­tains some of the most re­mark­able footage taken of wolves play­ing, court­ing and car­ing for their young. So much so that it snared an Emmy award for film­mak­ers Jim and Jamie Dutcher, who spent six years liv­ing among wolves in the Saw­tooth Moun­tains in Idaho. ‘‘ Our goal,’’ the ur­bane Jim Dutcher de­clares, ‘‘ was to lis­ten to the wolves . . . not as sci­en­tists but as so­cial part­ners.’’

The Saw­tooth wolves may live in the wild, but be­cause the Dutch­ers have bot­tle- fed and cared for them since they were pup­pies, they are re­mark­ably af­fec­tion­ate and trust­ing around hu­mans, al­low­ing the cam­eras to get up close and per­sonal.

When they are fully grown it is fit­ting that the Dutch­ers move Ka­mutz — the al­pha or head wolf — and his fam­ily back to an­ces­tral Na­tive Amer­i­can lands, where they are warmly wel­comed. The Na­tive Amer­i­cans re­spected the wolf as a mag­nif­i­cent hunter and carer of its young.

Greg Cal­laghan

In­tel­li­gent, so­cial an­i­mals: Wolves don’t de­serve their bad press

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