With several books and many films under the Dutchers’ belts, including Discovery Channel’s successful documentary “Wolves at Our Door” (which garnered an Emmy for Jim’s cinematography and one for his wife Jamie’s sound mixing), the couple has produced an enthralling addition to their body of work. Their latest effort, a book called “The Wisdom of Wolves: Lessons From the Sawtooth Pack,” reveals a surprisingly human face under wolves’ furry hides.
Chronicling the period from 1990 to 1996 when Jim Dutcher was given captive pups and allowed a permit to set up a 25-acre wolf observation camp in the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, the book documents how the couple raised the wolves that have become known as the Sawtooth Pack.
The Dutchers established an environment for the wolves that was as natural as possible, while still keeping them near enough to film on a daily basis. They even bottle-fed some wolf pups from birth and later released them into the huge enclosure.
The wolves were not pets, although the Dutchers never feared that they would be hurt. The wolves were “warm, fluffy tornadoes with fangs.”
The Dutchers wrote “The Wisdom of Wolves” to educate and change public opinion about wolves. Wolves have a terrible reputation, but this is not based on reality; they are certainly not like their portrayals in fairy tales.
In fact, the book, an easy read, offers thought-provoking chapters on the values shared between the human and animal worlds.
Wolves organize themselves in the way many human cultures have for eons. They live in packs, with nuclear families living within extended families. Like people, they are predisposed against inbreeding, so welcoming new blood is necessary for pack survival over multiple generations.
When wolves encounter pups—related or not—they frequently adopt them. The Dutchers say this is an instinctive behavior. Wolves are not afraid to show affection to one another, as caring for the young and each other is the central mission of their lives.
The alpha wolf, or pack leader, is respected by all pack members. However, every wolf has an important place on the team. Each finds a spot within the pack, and that niche becomes the purpose of its life.
One chapter is devoted to the alpha male Kamots and his leadership qualities. Kamots was responsible for keeping order and protecting the entire pack. The Dutchers mention their concern that when wolves are hunted without restrictions, it most likely would be an alpha male like Kamots that would be shot, in its efforts to protect the clan.
If an alpha is killed, the pack goes into shock and they grieve: They have literally lost their mother or father, their gravitational center. Such a pack may have a much more difficult time surviving.
Another chapter is devoted to play. As pups, Wahots, Wyakin, and Chemukh performed a comedy routine every time they were fed. For all the wolves, the Dutchers explain, play is an opportunity to be light and relaxed and to forget the hierarchy. Play is also a way to smooth over tense social relations.
The most poignant chapter tells of the death of the omega wolf, Motaki. The omega wolf sits at the very bottom of the totem pole and is very submissive. However, proving that every member of the pack is valuable, Jim Dutcher describes how the pack experienced grief at Motaki’s death and only began moving past it when they welcomed a new litter of pups. Truly, what was playing out was the saying, “All for one and one for all.”
After the six-year observation period was up, the wolves became the ambassadors of the Wolf Education and Research Center, a nonprofit organization that Jim Dutcher helped to found.
In his foreword, Marc Bekoff talks about the human connection with wolves and with nature as a whole: “The more we know about wolves, the more we know about ourselves.” So true. I recommend this book highly.
‘The Wisdom of Wolves: Lessons From the Sawtooth Pack’
Jim & Jamie Dutcher
National Geographic Partners
224 pages; hardcover, $26
Linda Wiegenfeld is a retired teacher. Send any comments or suggestions to [email protected]