The Hidden Life of Wolves, by Jim and Jamie Dutcher

In this beautifully-photographed National Geographic book, documentary film makers Jim and Jamie Dutcher tell their story of living near a pack of gray wolves in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, observing and filming their behavior. They gained the wolves’ trust by raising and bottle-feeding them from the time they were pups. What they learned is that instead of being vicious animals, wolves have elaborate social structures within the pack and display clear signs of friendship, pity, altruism, and even grief.

Kamots was the undisputed alpha male and leader of the Sawtooth Pack, but he often took pity on his brother Lakota, who was the pack’s omega or lowest-ranking member. When the pack had to be moved, the wolves were tranquilized and placed in boxes for transport. Lakota emerged trembling, and Kamots walked shoulder to shoulder beside him until he overcame his fear.

Matsi was the pack’s beta or second-ranking member, who had an enormous capacity for friendship. When the other wolves were being too rough with Lakota, Matsi would shoulder them away. He and Lakota often played as equals, allowing the omega a break from his submissive role.

Amani was another brother of Kamots and Lakota. Kamots, as alpha, was the only member of the pack who was allowed to mate and breed, but Amani was a devoted uncle of the pups who loved to play with them and allowed them to climb all over him.

When one of the pack was killed by a mountain lion, Jim and Jamie noted that the whole pack seemed to grieve. Normally, the pack engaged in daily games of tag, but for six weeks after the cougar attack the couple saw no play. Whereas group howling was the norm, for these six weeks they tended to howl alone.

The Dutchers were so moved by their experiences that they founded Living With Wolves, a nonprofit organization that seeks to help people understand how wolves fit into the natural order, such as how they keep elk populations low enough to prevent overgrazing. As Henry Beston wrote, referring not just to wolves but all wildlife: “They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.”

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