My perception of wolves was much the same as any other kid. I was brought up to fear them. But it was through the fox that I got interested in wolves at an early age.
It was really evident that what we were learning from a scientific point of view from wolves wasn't very much. The Native Americans I lived with knew far more about wolves than we ever did. I believe it was because they had the time to live alongside these creatures, to share their world.
They have called me bizarre, neurotic or silly, and said that what I am doing is pointless. "Animals don't need a human to teach them how to behave." Many of these critics are generally misinformed about my intentions. This is not a one-time experiment. My "science," or my way of researching wolf behavior, is from inside the pack and actually becoming part of their world -- exploring the unknown and untested. I think the madness that some people will see in living alongside a pack of wolves will be justified when people see the results of what we've learned.
My ultimate ambition is to introduce a captive pack of wolves into the wild and live with them.
Wolves don't suffer things like guilt or remorse. They don't have any problems with the amount of discipline that they give to a fellow pack member, because in their world, the family is what matters, not the individual. So when you go in with a pack of wolves, you have to leave your emotions at the gate. When you come back out, it's very difficult to pick those emotions back up again.
My obsession with wolves hadn't helped past relationships. I had split up with Jan, the mother of my four children, after 11 years together, but there was never any animosity; it was more a case of separation by default. Maybe I never gave that relationship a chance. I was so passionate about wolves that I wonder whether any human relationship could have come close. If I'd had to choose between spending a night in the wolf enclosure or at home, I would probably have chosen the wolves.
I had always aimed to bridge the gap between humans and wolves but being able to speak for the wolf is pointless unless you can communicate with the people who need to hear you. What Helen couldn't cope with was my inability to give myself completely. Of the two worlds I lived in, one was devoid of emotion, the other was full of it. I knew I turned my emotions off when I was in the wolf world but I had always thought I turned them back on when I walked up the track to the caravan. I never did; I never truly left the forest.
I have to come to terms with the fact that I am not good at human relationships. I've known some wonderful women and I have beautiful children but I've probably disappointed them all. I regret that.
Native Americans would say that [the sight of a fox killed in a trap] was the moment when my fate was sealed. They say that you sign nature's unwritten contract to work with animals at a very young age as a result of some experience, either good or bad, that happens in early childhood. Looking back, there is no doubt that the shock of seeing that magnificent young fox-my friend-hanging from that tree left me with a feeling of revulsion for my own kind and a desire to distance myself from the human race.
No one would listen to me when I tried to protest that foxhunting was cruel. And as a young boy it was hard to argue with my elders about being disrespectful, but it seemed to me that if you didn't want foxes to get into your henhouse, then you needed to build an enclosure that was foxproof. It seemed totally unjust to set foxhounds to kill foxes because human beings were too lazy to take proper care of their chickens. Whenever I tried to speak to anyone about it, I was told to mind my manners, what did I know? I was just a child. It was years before I was vindicated and foxhunting was banned in England and Wales. During the debate that raged beforehand, I was involved in researching the effect hunting had on the fox. The prohunting lobby said that they only caught old and sick animals, but that was simply not true. I examined foxes that had been caught and among them were carcasses of eighteen-month-old foxes - animals in the prime of life - too young to know how to save themselves. Another myth was that the lead dog brought down the fox and it was all over in seconds with a single bite. The truth was they ran the fox to exhaustion until its brain boiled and swelled, its lungs bled, and the fox drowned in its own blood. They were often dead before the hounds even touched them. It was the most horrific death.
I was a regular visitor to the headmaster's office, so it was unsurprising that I left with no qualifications at the earliest moment I legally could, when I was barely sixteen.
I had never considered joining the army and, had I not been dodging the police, probably never would have done so, but the more I learned about it, the more it seemed the perfect career for me.
I've seen three wolves successfully take on a seven-hundred- to eight-hundred-pound bear and remain in control throughout just by waiting until it was pitch dark for the final assault. Being nocturnal animals, the wolves could still see clearly, but the bear, which is fundamentally a daytime creature, was at a disadvantage.
Ever since my extraordinary encounter with that big cream-colored wolf in the zoo near Thetford, I had wanted to see and know more about these creatures that had so preyed on my imagination as a child. I began reading natural history books, and a lot of what I had learned about foxes from years of watching them seemed applicable to what I was reading about wolves. Foxes were being cruelly and systematically persecuted because of a reputation I knew they didn't deserve; mankind had gone one further with wolves and exterminated them from most parts of the world. I began to wonder whether all the negative stories I had heard about wolves as I was growing up were any more reliable than the falsehoods I had been told about their small, red cousins.
I knew that scent was important and I discovered that if I put on different clothes or washed or at different food, the beta male would start nipping me again until he was satisfied that the new smell didn't mean I was going to react differently to his approach or that my mood had changed. The other high-ranking wolves did the same thing, but it didn't involve every wolf in the enclosure. The lower-ranking members of the pack, I was to learn, don't question what the higher-ranking members decide; they are foot soldiers - they have an important job to do, but it is not to think for themselves.
The alphas are the most important members because they are the decision makers and without them the pack is leaderless. So their survival is paramount. If food is scarce, they will eat first and they may be the only ones who do eat. Other members of the pack will go hungry, even the pups, and starve if necessary. And the rest of the pack knows better than to touch something that has the beta's scent on it.
Wolves had got under my skin and my mind was in turmoil. I felt nothing but contempt for my fellow man and nothing but admiration for these creatures that had admitted me into their world. Theirs was the world I wanted to stay in. It was safer than mine, more disciplined, and I had a greater sense of belonging.
I have raised far more captive wolves than the "Man Among Wolves," Shaun Ellis... Rearing 10-day-old pups into adulthood takes a trained group of individuals, just like a pack. When humans take a break from the wolves, others need to be present for consistent care that includes feeding, immunizations and critical handling to limit time under the care of a veterinarian. Ellis did a disservice to the longtime experience of wolf caregivers, if, in fact, he was the sole caregiver, as implied.
Ellis's goal is to release these captive-raised wolves in the wild, and then he wants to live with a wild pack! This should have been a Disney cartoon paired with Jungle Book. Snarling Ellis forgets wolves howl and hunt just fine without human intervention.
Mr. Ellis is neither a scientist nor an expert on the natural behavior of wolves.
L. David Mech, as quoted by B.J. King, (April 19, 2012). "Why Are Wolf Scientists Howling At Jodi Picoult?" NPR.
In Western societies, we probably know more about the wolf today than we’ve ever known. And there is still so much more to learn. But because we do now have a growing body of scientific evidence about wolf behaviours, that is supporting the conservation of the species as a whole, it is disheartening when National Geographic, a high profile and highly respected organisation, broadcasts a programme that has the potential to undermine a lot of this work by listening to the psycho-babble of someone who appears to be primarily interested in being a self-publicist rather than a wolf advocate. Anyone who has spent any time at all with wild animals will know that a lot of their behaviours are instinctive and innate. Thus self-proclaimed "Wolf Man" Shaun Ellis’s attempts at teaching wolves how to howl and hunt gives one the impression of an arrogant and colonial attitude that really ought to have been left behind in the enlightened times we now live in in wildlife conservation circles. Furthermore, to try and assert that you are accepted as a "wolf" in the pack is not just laughable, but also extremely dangerous, not just for the person making this assertion, but for the wolves too. In the programme, Ellis demonstrated that he was alpha male in his "pack", and indeed the wolves accepted him as being dominant. The end sequence, however, showed Ellis having been demoted to omega status. There are two issues here. One is that broadcasting this kind of interaction and behaviour with wolves gives totally the wrong impression. It is going down the same route as the macho-driven pursuits of the seemingly burgeoning number of TV presenters who think it is acceptable to drag what are perceived to be scary and highly dangerous creatures from their habitats, and wrestle with them and dominate them. Quite how this can be called conservation, I’m not entirely sure, and it certainly doesn’t contribute anything to our knowledge of these creatures. The other issue is that there is a very real risk that one or several of the wolves within the pack could turn on Ellis, and badly injure him. We may still have a lot to learn about wolves, but one thing we do know is that you cannot generalise about wolf behaviour. The complexities involved make this virtually impossible. An attack on Ellis would potentially undo decades of work undertaken by thousands of people who work with and for wolves. The wolves themselves would very likely have to be destroyed, and through one man’s misguided or foolish attempts at demonstrating the dynamics of wolf behaviour in this way, he would simply be achieving quite the opposite.
Denise Taylor (summer 2007), "Humans are not wolves!", WolfPrint, issue 31