Friday, October 27, 2017

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West

For National Wolf Awareness Week I read American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee. It is the story of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park and the battle between state and Federal agencies over wolf hunting. By telling the story of one wolf, O-6, Blakeslee engages the reader's heart and mind while revealing the complicated political process that determines American law that is too often independent of informed knowledge.

O-6 became a favorite of wolf watchers and her life is well documented. Blakeslee introduces readers to National Park Service employee Rick McIntyre who every day watched and recorded the activities of the wolves. And we meet those who rely on elk hunting for income or food or sport and who hate the wolves.

The hunters believe that wolves decimate elk herds and that banning any hunting leads to ending all hunting, therefore the end of any need for guns, therefore the banning of guns. In other words, they are fighting for their way of life. States arbitrarily determined how many wolves could be taken and how many were 'needed', totally unbased on any scientific understanding.

While one Federal agency reintroduced wolves into the Yellowstone ecosystem, another leased land contiguous to the park for ranchers to graze their livestock. Wolves don't understand imaginary boundaries and often their territory went into non-park land where they could be hunted. When packs are decimated and weak they take easy prey, which include the grazing livestock. The ranchers are then reimbursed for their losses. It is a vicious cycle that makes no logical sense.

I was appalled whle learning how Washington politics impacted the Yellowstone wolves. Congress overruled the court regarding the hunting of wolves. It had cost $117 million  to restore wolves to the ecosystem. The results were dramatic; flora and fauna flourished as the environment returned to its natural state. Fewer elk ended overgrazing and brought a flourishing of fauna that brought back the beaver and rodents and consquently raptors. Yet no fewer elk were taken in the hunt, it just was not easy to find them. Legalizing hunting adjacent to the park land was like throwing that money and environmental stability to the wind.

Toward the end of the book, Rick realizes that wolf 21 had returned to die where his pack had once ruled. It puzzled him until he recalled the story of Hachiko, the Japanese Akita who had always waited at the train station for his owner, and after the owner's death had continued to come every day for nine years. 21 was waiting for his mate.

"Can a wolf in the wild experience what we know as joy and happiness?  Rick said, his voice breaking noticeably. "And my answer is yes."

Blakeslee's book is a wonderful study both of the wolves and the complicated human reaction to wolves.

I received a free book through Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

See photos of O-6 at Shumway Photography at

Reading about the death of O-6 was sad because two days previous we let go of our last Shiba Inu. The Shiba is an ancient breed and according to DNA research is closest to the wolf.  Kamikaze had spent seven years as a puppy mill breeder before we adopted her through a rescue shelter. She was only 14 but had multiple health issues, some the results of bad breeding or early living condition. We lost our Suki, another puppy mill breeder rescue, at age 15 in June. Kamikaze had gone down hill significantly after Suki's loss. Both dogs were blind and spent their time cuddled together, drinking from the same bowl at the same time, and going in and out together.

As a girl I loved reading animal stories, especially Ernest Thompson Seton's Wild Animals I Have Known. Yes, I loved those Disney nature films. I was nine years old when my grandfather took me to see his hometown and the 'last of the Lobo wolves'. The creatures in their small pens looked like large, gentle dogs, not the killers that had been hunted into extinction. Here is my empehmera of the Last of the Lobo Wolves, Milroy, PA
The Last of the Lobo Wolves postcards circa 1963

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