On March 6th, Jim and Jamie Dutcher released their new book, The Wisdom of Wolves: Lessons from the Sawtooth Pack (published by National Geographic). This book could not be more welcome, both as inspiration and educational tool, at this time of great uncertainty for America’s wolves.

Credit National Geographic

The Dutchers achieved a previously-unimaginable level of access to, and understanding of, three generations of wolves over a six-year period. They shared a 25-acre enclosure on U.S. Forest Service land on the edge of the Idaho wilderness with what started as two litters of wolves and grew into the Sawtooth Pack.

While observing the Sawtooth Pack, the Dutchers grew to understand how they work together and how that pack forms a society very similar to our own. The Sawtooth Pack wolves collaborated in all facets of their existence. From pup rearing to “rallies” where the pack celebrated and bonded together, each of the wolves had a role.

From the vantage point of the yurt they slept and ate in, and out among the wolves as they went about their day to day experiences, the Dutchers were able to observe and capture the emotional lives of the members of the Sawtooth Pack and illustrate that great depth and complexity. The social order of the pack guided many of these interactions, but the Dutchers sometimes observed endearing and unexpected departures from that hierarchy.

Credit National Geographic

On one such occasion, the alpha, Kamots, allowed his brother Lakota (who was the pack’s lowest ranking member, or omega), to catch and claim victory over him in a game of tag. This ability to empathize and to act on that empathy to provide benefit to another is a theme that surfaces repeatedly in the book and one that makes wolves somewhat unique and a reflection of the best elements of humanity.

On another occasion, the Sawtooth Pack mourned the loss of Motaki, sister to Kamots and Lakota. She had died of wounds likely attained through an encounter with a mountain lion that had entered the camp. The wolves grieved her loss for weeks following her death culminating in a memorial when they came across the site of her death. The wolves reacted to this space by lowering their heads and generally displaying timidity in an apparent and amazing recognition of the loss that their pack had suffered there.

Credit National Geographic

The Wisdom of Wolves: Lessons from the Sawtooth Pack illustrates through the telling of tales like these and others the deep, intricate bonds that wolves form and the costs that we take upon them through our actions. The Sawtooth Pack, like wild wolf packs today, was a society. It was comprised of individual members that the rest of the pack relied on. Losing a member can have devastating impacts on the pack and alter its structure completely.  

We highly recommend The Wisdom of Wolves: Lessons from the Sawtooth Pack and hope that its message may foster a greater acceptance of wolves in the United States and policies that can advance that goal.

One of the most critical threats facing wolves today is the potential passage of legislation that would legislatively strip them of protections in the Great Lakes. Please speak out against this legislation here.

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