BBC Wildlife Magazine

Wildlife champion

In our series about people with a passion for a species, we ask presenter and author Philippa Forrester why she loves the grey wolf.

- Interview by Jo Price PHILIPPA FORRESTER is a producer, writer and presenter who lives in Wyoming, USA. She is the author of On the Trail of Wolves: A British Adventure in the Wild West (Bloomsbury, £17.99).

Why Philippa Forrester admires the grey wolf

Why the lifelong fascinatio­n with wolves?

One of the things that makes wolves most interestin­g to me is their relationsh­ips. I love to hear the stories of individual­s that show ingenuity and extreme courage to protect or feed their family, and learn about the interactio­ns between packs. For example, while I was in Yellowston­e National Park, US, the Junction Butte pack had grown in power and was not afraid to show it, with the wolves f launting themselves in their neighbouri­ng pack’s territory, constantly pushing boundaries – they seemed so confident that it was almost like they were doing it for fun!

What have you learnt about the grey wolf after relocating to Wyoming?

I hadn’t realised the amount of passion people have for wolves – both negative and positive. The presence of wolves has affected so many human lives and I wanted to tell those stories in On the Trail of Wolves. Opinions of wolves are still polarised and this motivated me. I wanted to get beyond my own prejudice in order to listen and understand what the problems really were, to change the way I reacted to the things I didn’t understand, like trophy hunting, and ask questions instead of judging.

This kind of conversati­on, for me, is key to the successful conservati­on of apex predators and other species.

S 99 per cent of the time, camera-traps catch nothing, or just a bison’s bottom. T

How did the US wolf population become nearly extinct?

Until relatively recent times, the history of wolfand-human relationsh­ips here in Wyoming has been one of warfare.

While settlers were building ranches and the national buffalo herd was being decimated, wolves and ranchers were in a head-to-head. The wolves were vilified and there was every effort to eradicate them. I found the level of that hatred extraordin­ary when I read the old records and still find it painful, to be honest – there was no mercy until the job was done.

How did you trail grey wolves?

Tracking wolves is difficult without a plane! At first, my husband Charlie and I followed tracks through deep snow for miles. It was exhausting but great fun, we put camera-traps out in places where we were pretty sure the wolves would be hanging out (we had special permission) and checked them regularly. The challenge with cameratrap­s is that 99 per cent of the time they catch nothing, or just a bison’s bottom, or an elk’s face before he chews the cables. In Yellowston­e, it is easy to spot the wolves, because you see a group of wolf watchers first. Other times, you rely on contacts and sometimes, often the best times, it just happens by chance.

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