The Big, but not so Bad, Wolf

Snow Wolf Family and Me with Gordon Buchanan is another BBC documentary on one of the most controversial animals – the wolf. Specifically, these are Arctic wolves (Canis lupus arctos) on Ellesmere Island. It is extremely remote and so the wolves have had very limited contact with humans. This is highlighted by their minimal fear and bounds of curiosity when human visitors arrive in their territory . This curiosity of wolves on Ellesmere Island is even reported way back in 1952 by a geological researcher: “The wolves were fearless and on a few occasions even visited my camp” (Troelsen J.C, 1952).  The cinematography is stunning, as is expected when Gordon Buchanan is involved.

Freya - our loyal companion

Freya – our loyal companion

I almost felt indulgent watching this – following the life of a wild wolf without the constant reminders the conflict between humans and wolves. I enjoyed immensely watching the pups in the den, and the notorious yearling “Scruffy”.

The narrative echoed with humans’ ancient relationship with wolves; starting as a curiosity and developing into a working partnership, to now having domestic dogs to fill all sorts of needs – from companionship, to search and rescue.  This feeling of ancient connection was similar to that when I read The Last Wild Wolves by Ian McAllister – highly recommended by myself.

However, there were a few “big bad wolf” references, which I thought were made slightly carelessly. Particularly when talking about wolves attacking humans but not elaborating on circumstances or causes of this – no mention that there could have been many factors causing the attacks. For example wolf-dog hybrids are more aggressive,  or when individual wolves are shot this causes pack dissolution, meaning that young wolves are not taught how to hunt and become desperate for food.
The people can also behave in a way that causes more harm; for example not hanging their food up away from camp, or (even worse) feeding the wolves. This, as Gordon briefly mentioned, is one of the most dangerous situations; wolves become habituated (more tame) as they are fed, so wolves then relate humans to food, and this can lead to situations where all parties feel threatened, sometimes escalating to attacks.
Wolves are so contentious that the multiple causes of attacks should have been mentioned. Whether this decision was down to the BBC’s politics or Gordon Buchanan I do not know.

The closest most people ever get to a wolf - through the fence at a zoo (taken by me at Seattle Woodland Park Zoo)

The closest most people ever get to a wolf – looking through the fence at a zoo (taken by me at Seattle Woodland Park Zoo)

It was interesting to watch Gordon develop a strong bond with and attachment to “his” wolf pack. I, and I’m sure many other people, already feel an affinity with wolves without ever having seen a wild wolf, and to me his bonding was an obvious outcome. But, I can imagine, it came as a surprise to many people that the wolves were not interested in attacking the film crew, even when they were starving. Although I did find myself holding my breath when the wolves approached him as soon as the helicopter landed. That was an astonishing surprise.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed watching Snow Wolf Family and Me and I recommend it to everyone. I was stuck to the screen the entire time, feeling a connection with Gordon and his experience.
However, I wish I could trust people not to take what is said at face value and find out the key facts before they judge a species and its relationship to people. This is a very complex topic, but it was wonderful to see such amazing footage of these wild wolves.

The documentary showed such natural wolf behaviour (caution, curiosity, and family values), as they have not experienced human conflict, making it very uplifting to watch.
My yearning to be a part of this amazing experience was palpable – especially after reading biologist Cheyenne Burnett’s blog about the experience. Gordon Buchanan also wrote a blog on one of ” the most incredible connections [he’s] ever made with wildlife.”


The closest I’ve ever been to a wolf, and I still felt connected



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