jim and jamie dutcher, determined to show “the hidden life of wolves”, lived for six years with a pack of wolves in the idaho wilderness of yellowstone. they came to know wolves as complex, highly intelligent animals with distinct individual personalities, who are caring, playful and above all devoted to family.
"only a select few other species exhibit these same traits so clearly," they note. "they are capable of not only emotion but also real compassion. this is the view of the wolf that we want to share. …it is an animal that cares for its sick and desperately needs to be part of something bigger than itself - the pack. the bond a wolf has to its pack is certainly as strong as the bond a human being has to his or her family."
they add, “rarely did two wolves pass each other without playfully rubbing shoulders together or exchanging a brief lick. so often we would see two wolves relaxing together, curled up beside each other.” the dutchers also recount wolf behavior rarely documented: grief at the death of a pack mate; excitement over the birth of pups; and the shared role of raising young pack members.
but as the wolves struggle to reestablish their foothold in the american west, their public demonization continues. say the dutchers, “as we see wolves, once again, being shot, trapped and poisoned, we recognize that our unique experience, living with wolves, is unlikely to ever happen again, and for that reason we feel that we have an obligation to share the lives of these wolves we with the widest audience possible.”
it’s not just the wolves at stake, but the entire yellowstone ecosystem. wolves keep the elk gene pool strong (no other predator does this); they redistribute elk herds, allowing vegetation to recover along rivers and streams, which provides food for beavers; and they keep the number of coyotes in check, which helps to maintain populations of rodents, antelopes and birds of prey.