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Wolf Haven: Sanctuary and the Future of Wolves in North America

After finishing Wolf Haven I went straight to the Internet and looked up Wolf Haven International.

I had been aware of the California Wolf Center, located outside San Diego, but was not aware of Wolf Haven, located just south of Mt. Rainier. And now I can’t wait to visit.

But make no mistake; this is no petting zoo. In fact, the sanctuary goes to great lengths to keep many of the wolves far away from people so they stand a better chance of survival when they are introduced back into the wild. Just last month a number of Mexican gray wolves were reintroduced into northern Mexico after having spent time at Wolf Haven.

Approximately 200 of the Wolf Haven residents are forever residents; either captive bred or simply unable to survive on their own, Wolf Haven gives these animals some much-deserved peace. I wish I could say that the underlying message of this book will bring the reader peace, but the sad truth is that there is war on wolves, one that began a long time ago.

It’s estimated that when European settlers first made their way across North America that there were more than two million wolves here. But when settlers imported cows and sheep and steadily moved west, wolves soon focused their energies on these animals. Before long, the war on wolves had begun.

In about a hundred years wolves declined to as few as 1,500 animals. The eastern Red Wolf is still on the edge of regional extinction, along with the Mexican gray wolf in the United States.

Here in Oregon, few issues agitate animal lovers more than the plight of wolves. As Wolf Haven notes, our governor Kate Brown (despite the fact that she claims to care about the environment) allowed the wolf to be removed from the protected list. Apparently the government believes that a few dozen wolves constitutes “enough” wolves in this state. And now, tragically, their numbers will dwindle again as hunters and ranchers go after them.

With this in mind, the book Wolf Haven is a fitting tribute to a wolf sanctuary that is doing its part to protect these species.

If the measurement of a successful book is inciting someone to action, then Wolf Haven certainly qualifies. It has inspired me to give to this organization and one day make the trip up north to visit.

And to also remind our governor that wolves do matter to many residents of Oregon.

Wolf Haven: Sanctuary and the Future of Wolves in North America

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Beyond Words: The more we study animals, the smarter they get


In Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, Carl Safina sets out on a global journey to listen to and understand animals on their terms and not ours. By the end of this book, I can guarantee that readers will come away with a greater appreciation for the self-awareness, intelligence, and empathy of the animals we share this planet with.

The bulk of the book is devoted to studying African elephants, North American wolves, and Pacific Northwest orcas (killer whales). Safina does an excellent job of describing what he sees and learns as he travels with naturalists who have dedicated their lives to understanding these species.

We watch elephants caring for their young, playing, and mourning (something that happens all too often due to poachers). The elephants are named, and researchers can identify them them by sight — and we get a sense of the life histories of many of these elephants, histories that are no less complex and challenging than any human animal. We follow wolf watchers in Yellowstone, and while the wolves may be given numbers and not names, we learn their life histories in similar detail — histories that sadly include equally tragic encounters with humans.

I was struck by the similarities of risks both wolves and elephants face when they venture beyond human-drawn boundaries. In Africa, so long as elephants stay within national parks, they enjoy a greater degree of security; when they wander out of the parks, they run a gantlet of dangers. So too do the wolves who step outside the boundaries of Yellowstone. Hunters have gone so far as to use radio devices to track the electronic collars placed on wolves by researchers to know when wolves have crossed outside park boundaries (you can read Beckie Elgin’s many reviews of  wolf literature to grasp the full scope of the war being waged on wolves).

And then we meet the orcas in the waters surrounding the San Juan Islands. While I was aware that orcas have widely divergent diets — the residents of the San Juan Islands prefer salmon, while the transients who pass through prefer seals — I did not know that are eight distinct species of orca around the world, which scientists have not yet made official. We know so little yet about these animals. We do know that there is no documented case of an orca in the wild killing a human (only examples of orcas in captivity doing so). Orcas are members of the dolphin family, and the stories of kindness that this family have exhibited towards humans over the years are remarkable — leading lost swimmers and boaters  to safety, protecting humans from sharks, rescuing a drowning woman. One may argue that these actions are merely instinctual, but as the evidence mounts I’m not sure that argument holds any weight.

Safina does not limit himself to a few species of animal. He digresses into stories about dogs, bonobos, ravens, tortoises, even worms. Stories that illustrate again and again that the animal world is far more intelligent and communicative that we have been led to believe (and perhaps want to believe). Darwin made the case long ago for the intelligence of non-human animals.

Safina does not hesitate to take scientists to task for the great efforts they have exerted to avoid the scientific “third rail” of anthropomorphism. Safina points out that scientists often try to apply measures of intelligence that simply don’t make sense. The “mirror test” is one such measurement. (I’d like to think my cat has self awareness, even though he has yet to show any signs of recognizing himself in a mirror.)

As an aside, a hundred years ago scientists argued that vivisection on live animals was perfectly reasonable because animals were “machine-like” and felt no pain. I know we’ve come a long way since then, but we still have a long ways to go.

Safina writes that just because an animal can’t talk doesn’t mean it can’t communicate. And if we judge animals by the standards we set, we miss the point. Animals don’t need to measure up to our standards of intelligence — only their standards.

This is an important book and one that raises tough questions about not only how society views animals but how we treat animals — all animals. I would have liked to see Safina include a “what you can do” chapter to the book with actions we all can take. It’s hard to walk away from this book and not wonder why we still eat animals. Safina does not draw this connection — and I’m clearly biased in this regard — but this is really the only conclusion we can draw. Animals evolve. Humans evolve. It’s time humans evolve to a more equitable and respectful relationship with all animals. They’ve suffered us long enough.

I’ll leave you with this quote:

If cruelty and destructiveness are bad, humans are by a wide margin the worst species ever to infest this planet. If compassion and creativity are good, humans are by a wide margin the finest. But we are neither simply good nor bad; we are all these things together, and imperfectly so. The question for all is: Which way is our balance trending?

If more people read this book — and, more important, take action — we will begin trending in the right direction.

Beyond Words
By Carl Safina
Henry Holt & Co.


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Book Review: In the Temple of Wolves by Rick Lamplugh

In the Temple of Wolves

Imagine. Three months in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, the place known as America’s Serengeti, lush with bison, elk, bear, coyotes, wolves and other wild beasts. This is where writer Rick Lamplugh and his wife Mary Strickroth choose to spend their winters, serving as volunteers at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, where seminars on the flora and fauna of Yellowstone draw visitors from across the globe.

They don’t have much time off from work (as Lamplugh writes, volunteers receive “a stipend of twelve dollars per day–even on our days off”), yet Lamplugh takes advantage of every moment, both on the job and off, to enmesh himself in our first National Park. Determined to know Yellowstone intimately, he spends one morning sitting in front of a cottonwood tree, exploring the intricacies of its trunk and the beauty of its branches. This observation expands into an absorbing natural history lesson about trees, sagebrush, and the theory of trophic cascades, which in a nutshell proposes that when natural predators (i.e., wolves) are removed from an ecosystem there is a significant, and often deleterious, effect on the plant and animal species left behind.

Lamplugh teaches his readers in a friendly, understated way. Most of what he shares is what he learns himself — from the land, the animals, as well as from the instructors he comes to know at Buffalo Camp. His curiosity is youth-like and contagious, drawing us into his stories as well as his moments of realization.

While viewing a dying bison calf through the lens of a spotting scope, Lamplugh feels conflicted. The animal will soon expire and he feels for it, yet he knows that its flesh will feed many. But is it voyeuristic to watch the tortuous process of the bison’s death, he wonders? Finally, Lamplugh comes to the conclusion that he will adopt a naturalist’s viewpoint and learn all he can from the grisly scenario. A hungry coyote appears, determines there is no threat, and grabs a mouth full of brown bison fur. The calf raises its head. The mother continues grazing. The coyote jumps on top of the calf and its efforts become more earnest. Lamplugh looks away. To our relief as well as the writer’s, the suffering finally ends and the carcass becomes a feast for coyotes, ravens, magpies, and an eagle.

The chapter entitled, “Vanity at Trout Lake” is one us middle-agers can relate to. Lamplugh embarks on a long hike, assisted by snowshoes. He’s stopped in his tracks by a huge bull bison, lying across the trail, staring “…with old brown eyes that deliver a clear message: I’m not moving.” Rather than take this as a sign that he should return to his cabin, Lamplugh takes a detour. Need I say more?  A detour in the frozen vastness of Yellowstone National Park? Alone?  Naturally, he gets lost, and a snowshoe goes missing as well. Struggling through the deep snow, clothes soaked, exhausted, Lamplugh admits that he went on this ambitious endeavor in an effort to emulate a much younger instructor, someone he “would love to be more like…” By the time Lamplugh finds his way back to Buffalo Ranch, he has earned our confidence and empathy with his honest and amusing appraisal of his very relatable shortcomings.

As the title suggests, this book talks a lot about wolves. We follow Lamplugh and other wolf fans as they search the Lamar Valley for a sight of Canis lupus. We meet Rick McIntyre, Yellowstone’s tireless wolf watcher, whose vast knowledge of wolves is generously shared in this book. And we meet ‘06, the courageous and much loved alpha female of the Lamar Canyon Pack. On December 6, 2012, ’06 was shot (legally, as wolves had recently been removed from the Endangered Species List) when she stepped out of the park. Her death was followed by that of several others, helping to reduce the number of wolves in Yellowstone from ninety-eight in 2011 to only seventy-one in 2013.

There’s a fresh quality to this book, a sincere sense of wonder at both the harshness and the beauty that Yellowstone has to offer. Lamplugh is passionate without being sentimental. And his writing is descriptive and clear, with a balanced blend of interesting facts and personal impressions.  Reading In the Temple of Wolves is like watching a well-done PBS special, only more intimate and a lot more amusing. 

In the Temple of Wolves: A Winter’s Immersion in Wild Yellowstone

By Rick Lamplugh

CreateSpace, December 2013

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Book Review: The Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight To Save North America’s Other Wolf

The Secret World of Red Wolves
Considered functionally extinct in 1980, the much-misunderstood red wolf (Canis rufus) has made a tenuous but promising comeback. In The Secret World of Red Wolves, T. Delene Beeland relates the fascinating saga of the red wolf. In researching her book, Beeland followed Fish and Wildlife biologists into the field, crawling through blackberry thorns and dense stands of myrtle while swatting at mosquitoes and gnats in the hot, humid environment of North Carolina’s Albemarle Peninsula. Her interest and firsthand involvement in the project makes The Secret World of Red Wolves the wonderful book that it is. Beeland’s presence is on every page, and in a pleasantly personal yet scientific manner. We come to know the red wolf through the eyes of an objective writer, one who has the ability to deliver the details in both a factual and enthralling way.

The red wolf, a smaller version of the better-known grey wolf, once inhabited much of the northeastern part of this country, including Louisiana, Texas, the Carolinas, Florida, and Alabama. Devastation of its environment, as well as the wolf-loathing mentality brought to this country by early settlers, caused a drastic reduction in their population. Once the red wolf population was depleted, coyotes moved in from the west, taking over the niche of their larger cousins. The two canids began to interbreed, and the resultant hybridization has become a serious threat to the integrity of the red wolf species.

Coyotes and red wolves are often mistaken for each other, and the hybrids are even more difficult to identify. Because of the morphological similarities between Canis rufus and coyotes, there remains much controversy over the genealogical origin of the red wolf. Is it a subspecies of the grey wolf or a species of its own? Is Canis rufus derived from its liaisons with Canis latrans? Or is the red wolf perhaps part of a lineage that led to the coyote of today?

The Secret World of Red Wolves pursues these questions in depth, as well as many others pertinent to Canis rufus. The text is divided into three sections: the current red wolf situation, the animal’s difficult past, and, finally, its guarded but hopeful future. By beginning with close-ups of today, including Beeland’s forage into the brush to locate litters of whimpering, month-old pups, readers become invested in both the four-legged and the two-legged characters, as well as in the red wolf recovery project. When we play catch up with the history of the story, we’re already aware of the trajectory the Fish and Wildlife Service must take to reverse the damage done to this fragile species. And when we read of the future, we understand what challenges will be faced, including the continued struggle to prevent hybridization, the loss of wolves due to hunting and trapping, the continued degradation of habitat due to climate change, as well as the ever-important goal of garnering public acceptance for the maligned red wolf.

Beeland lays it all out there, the struggles and successes of what continues to be an innovative and determined effort to save an endangered species, and we finish her book feeling something of an expert ourselves. Beeland’s hope in writing this thorough and relatable text is, in her words, “…that future scientists and citizens will see fit to conserve what we have left of Canis rufus as a living reminder of both what was and what still can be.”

The Secret World of Red Wolves holds much potential in helping Beeland’s vision come true. The work tells a tale most of us, even those who consider ourselves environmental enthusiasts, know little about. For the first time, we have at hand a comprehensive and up-to-date resource that serves to enlighten the world on the precarious status of the red wolf. And once enlightened, we can do our part to ensure the continued protection of this rare and unique species.

The Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight to Save North America’s Other Wolf
By T. Delene Beeland
The University of North Carolina Press, June 2013

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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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