'The Grey': Is film's portrayal of wolves as man-killers too dramatic?
Most North American wolves are exceedingly shy. But given starvation, territorial incursions and habituation with humans, attacks can – and do – happen. Wolf attack scenes in 'The Grey' nevertheless have drawn criticisms from animal rights groups.
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"I don't think the film will make people fear wolves, but I'd like to make them respect wolves and by extension, nature itself more,” writer/director Joe Carnahan tells the Greenspace blog at the Los Angeles Times. “I'd like the movie to remind people that we're just visitors here."Skip to next paragraph
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While thousands of Europeans were killed by wolves between the 1500s and 1800s, the number dwindled to 21 reported fatal wolf attacks since 2000. Most have been in rural Russia, but recent attacks also include one wolf-related death in Saskatchewan, Canada, and one in Alaska -- the 2010 mauling death of teacher Candice Berner, who was out jogging near Chignik Lake, Alaska.
Historically, North American wolves are more reluctant to approach humans than in Europe. The likely reason is that American settlers were usually armed, so wolves, as a group, learned to avoid them. In Europe, usually only the elites had guns, meaning wolves had less to fear.
Today, territorial threats and starvation are likely the two chief reasons for wolf attacks, but some researchers posit that wild wolves can, in fact, begin to explore humans as prey under certain other conditions.
“Wolves will explore humans as alternative prey, even if there's no food shortage, if they continually come in close contact with humans and habituate,” writes Valerius Geist, an environmental science professor at the University of Calgary, in a recent research paper.
Mr. Geist and others have posited that so-called “inefficient hunting,” essentially pestering, of wolf packs is the most surefire protection against wolves becoming interested in attacking humans. But drawing on his own experience in the field, Geist's advice seems to mirror the aggressive stance taken by Mr. Neeson's character as he marshals a group of plane crash victims in “The Grey.”
“It is not the act of hunting or shooting that makes wolves ... wary, but the confident, self-assured manners of armed persons,” he writes, adding, “What must be avoided in the presence of wolves is running away, stumbling, limping, as well as any sign of weakness. Making and keeping up eye contact is essential.”
It's not clear from the previews if all the crash survivors in "The Grey" got that memo.