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Respecting the Wolf As a Predator

By Donald L. Gibbon and Linda C. Bazan / June 12, 1990

THE room was full of very excited people, including a lot of little children, and a wolf was just about to come to see us. ``Imagine this was a room full of wolves and you were being brought in to be looked at. How would you want the wolves to behave?'' Ken Weber, director of ``Mission Wolf,'' was trying to get the room calmed down so that big Shaman would be willing to stay with us for a few minutes. If we put out a bunch of nervous vibes, Shaman would feel unwelcome, he told us. Sure enough, everyone became very still and quiet ... and in a moment in came a huge dark gray 2-year-old Canadian timber wolf ... followed by a big red Malamute (Shaman's traveling companion) and tiny Dancing Bear, a two-month-old wolf puppy.

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This was the climax of a provocative evening - educational, saddening, heartwarming - and for me, a new phase in my lifelong struggle to better understand man's relationship to wolves. Mission Wolf is a one-family crusade: Weber some years ago had stopped a disgruntled owner of a growing wolf pup from putting it to death. One thing led to another, people across the country found out about Weber as a soft touch, and pretty soon he was taking care of 32 wolves.

Now Weber travels around the country from his Colorado base, educating the public - including eager crowds like ours at our local nature center - teaching them that wolves can never make satisfactory pets: They're inherently wild animals. When they reach maturity they'll start marking their territory ... and if that includes your sofa, there's nothing you can do about it!

His major message is that wolves are forever wolves, they'll never be dogs, inside the house or out. Shaman is not a pet. He's a most unusual wolf who can handle traveling with an unusual pack.

This was not our first encounter with wolves. We had also spent a ``wolf weekend'' last winter under the guidance of the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn. The weekend included, among many other exciting things, an aerial safari in a rebuilt Dehavilland Beaver aircraft, tracking a wolf pack in which one wolf was wearing a radio collar.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the weekend was skiing into the woods to the site of a recently abandoned deer kill. The snow was red with blood; a picked-clean skeleton lay scattered across a clearing. The air was thick with primitive feelings. Here was nature in the raw, an animal dying in mortal combat with its enemy. It was very moving, but why?

Fifteen people had gathered from across the country to spend this three-day weekend learning about wolves. We spent several hours learning about the complex process of raising wolves in captivity. Three pups were being raised in a large enclosure including the edge of the forest; they had been born in zoos or abandoned in the wild. Not having learned how to be wild wolves, they couldn't be released into the wild. We also visited a ``deer park,'' where deer gather during winter. Here we learned about deer habits, how they eat in the winter, how they relate to the wolves.