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