Jim and Jamie Dutcher uncover the personalities of the pack
Jim and Jamie Dutcher are a long way from home this week. Far from the 25-acre enclosure in the Sawtooth Mountains where they spent six years living with the Sawtooth wolf pack and conducting social studies in the 1990s, the pair is in New York City this week promoting their latest book, “The Hidden Life of Wolves,” published by National Geographic and released Tuesday.
“It makes you dizzy,” Jim said with a laugh as Jamie recounted their press schedule this week: the two had interviews with NPR, Morning Joe, The Osgood File, The Washington Post and the BBC before a presentation of the book with the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.
The book, illustrated with photos of the 12-member wolf pack, is a treatise on the history between humans and wolves and the myths that have developed ever since. The history of the Sawtooth pack—a pack created by Jim and Jamie from three different wolf pup litters for the purpose of studying and filming the wolves’ pack structure and social dynamic—makes up the first chapter and sets the tone for the rest of the 215-page book.
Writing the book itself took nine months, but the Dutchers have been “living with wolves” since 1991, when a woman in Montana managed to obtain two wolf pups that had been part of a pack that the Navy had been experimenting on in Alaska. The woman had seen Jim’s film “Cougar: Ghost of the Rockies” and suspected he could do a similar film on wolves.
Jim and Jamie received two more litters of pups in 1992 and 1994, before the Sawtooth pack began breeding on its own. In 1996, the pack produced three pups, the first wolf pups to have been born in the Rocky Mountains in nearly 50 years.
“What some people think is if you kill all the wolves, it makes things better. It doesn’t.”
Living With Wolves
Jaime and Jim said the wolves were habituated to the couple’s cameras, and therefore they were able to capture the wolves in their natural states.
“When a wolf in the wild sees you, they stop and stare,” Jim said. “They stop demonstrating their wild behavior.”
But Jamie said the two were essentially accepted as members of the Sawtooth pack, and therefore the wolves behaved “normally,” or more normally than they would have had they been a wild pack being observed from a distance.
“If you’re lucky enough to get close enough to a pack of wolves and habituate them to your cameras, they’re comfortable,” she said, but added that the pack needed to remain in captivity after the study was over. “Next time someone points something at them, it could be a gun [and not a camera].”
The pack was eventually moved to the Wolf Education and Research Center in Winchester, Idaho, but not before the Dutchers were able to thoroughly study the bonds between wolf pack members. As a result, the couple learned about the impacts that wolf hunting could have on wolf packs, as well as what can happen to packs when more experienced adult wolves are killed.
“What some people think is if you kill all the wolves, it makes things better,” Jim said. “It doesn’t.”
“It makes things worse,” Jamie said. “When you start destroying their families, things fall apart.”
She said alpha wolves, the most experienced, are typically the first to investigate danger—and to be killed by hunters as a result. Once the pack leader is gone, younger wolves have difficulty working together as a team, and resort to hunting easier prey such as livestock.
The Dutchers present several solutions in their book for ways that livestock producers and wolves can live together, and they said they hoped the book would help bring a new understanding of wolves to the general public.
“There is so much anger,” Jamie said. “People have these preconceived notions and myths. We are trying to dispel those myths.”
“The Hidden Life of Wolves” was released Tuesday, Feb. 5. It is available in local bookstores and online.
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org