Book Review: The Hidden Life of Wolves

Hidden Life of Wolves

Jim and Jamie Dutcher
National Geographic Press
$25, 210 pages

For six years they shared a 25-acre enclosure at the base of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains with a pack of wolves. Their office was a Mongolian yurt; their sleeping quarters a canvas tent. The path to the outhouse required frequent snow-shoveling for below-zero excursions.This was the life of Jim and Jamie Dutcher, award-winning documentary filmmakers. Their new book, “The Hidden Life of Wolves,” is the culminating portrayal of their experiences.

Although “The Hidden Life of Wolves” is an oversized book and contains hundreds of the Dutchers’ compelling photographs, as well as maps and illustrations, it is not a coffee-table book. The text contains an extensive study of wolves, both those inside and out of the enclosure, comparable in depth to Barry Lopez’s “Of Wolves and Men.”

“The Hidden Life of Wolves” details all aspects of wolf life, their social structure, hunting techniques and body language, as well as human-influenced issues, including the Yellowstone and central Idaho wolf reintroductions of the mid-1990s. Readers explore the similarities between the eradication of wolves in the 1800s and the current profusion of hunting and trapping, made legal when wolves were dropped from the Endangered Species List in 2011. Solutions to wolf problems, including livestock depredation, are explored. The Little Red Riding Hood myth is thoroughly debunked. There are references to many authorities, including Aldo Leopold, Gordon Haber, L. David Mech and Carter Niemeyer. The Dutchers suggest the wolf “may be the greatest shape-shifter in the animal kingdom,” acknowledging the vast disparity in our opinions of Canis lupus. Through intensive observation of their hand-raised pack, the Dutchers gained intimate knowledge of the inner workings of wolves. Their conclusion was that their subjects were extremely social and complex animals that were “neither demon, nor deity, nor data. “Readers come to know the Sawtooth wolves personally. Kamots is the benevolent leader. Without undue force, this striking gray wolf maintains order among his peers. Littermate Lakota is larger than Kamots yet remains at the bottom of the pecking order, often harassed by the other wolves. Younger brother Matsi comes to Lakota’s rescue, blocking blows from offending wolves. Amani, the adoring uncle to all pups in the pack, endures onslaughts of sharp puppy teeth.

These and other wolves are brought to life as they interact with each other and with the Dutchers, who record the wolves with camera and sound device, their hearts never quite out of the picture but at a distance that allows for an objective view.

Published by National Geographic and with a foreword by Robert Redford, “The Hidden Life of Wolves” is a richly layered work that speaks to the intricate and controversial relationship between wolves and humans.

While some see the wolf as a scapegoat for a litany of evils, the Dutchers maintain, “More than wolves themselves, it is our relationship with them that needs to be managed.” Their aptly titled book is a valuable guide for this process.

— Beckie Elgin

This review appeared in The Oregonian on April 27, 2013

photo from Living with Wolves
photo from Living with Wolves
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