Thursday, June 7, 2018

Review: Never Cry Wolf

One of the books that I wanted to read this year was Never Cry Wolf - The Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves by Farley Mowat.

Back in the 1960s, the author accepted an assignment to investigate why wolves were killing Artic caribou. He was flown into a remote area where he set up a base camp among the wolves. By studying the wolves and observing their behaviors and eating pattern, he realized that the wolves were no threat to the caribou or people.

The book was a bit difficult to get into initially due to Mowat's writing style. However, by the third chapter, I thoroughly enjoyed how he wrote and his sense of humor. I have ordered additional books by him from the library because of his interest in and ability to share information about wildlife and the natural world. He is a well-versed and insightful naturalist.

Some things I learned about arctic wolves and the issue in the 1960s with the loss of caribou include:

- [they] weighed one hundred and seventy pounds; which measured eight feet seven inches from tip of nose to tip of tail; and which stood forty-two inches high at the shoulders.
- an adult of the arctic race could eat (and presumably did on favorable occasions) thirty ponds of raw meat at a sitting.
- one of the facts which emerged was that they were not nomadic roamers, as is almost universally believed, but were settled beasts and the possessors of a large permanent estate with very definite boundaries.
- the territory owned by my wolf family comprised more than a hundred square miles.
- once a week, more or less, the clan made the rounds of the family lands and freshened up the boundary markers.
- during a normal hunt they covered thirty or forty miles before dawn.
- no food was ever stored or left close to the den; and only enough was brought in at one time for immediate consumption.
- the wolves of Wolf House Bay, and, by inference at least, all the Barren Land wolves who were raising families outside the summer caribou range, were living largely, if not almost entirely, on mice.
- 112,000 [caribou were] killed by trappers in this area every year.
- the tourist bureau of the Provincial Government...had decided that Barren Land caribou would make an irresistible bait with which to lure rich trophy hunters up from the United States. Accordingly a scheme was developed for the provision of fully organized "safaris" in which parties of sportsmen would be flown into the subarctic, sometimes in Government-owned planes, and for a thousand dollars each, would be guaranteed a first-rate set of caribou antlers
      The pilot of the safari aircraft...had only to choose a lake with a large band of caribou on it and, by circling for a  while at low altitude, bunch all the deer into one tight and milling mob. Then the aircraft landed, but kept under way, taxiing around and around the panic-stricken herd to prevent it from breaking up. Through open doors and windows of the aircraft the hunters could maintain a steady fire until they had killed enough deer to ensure a number of good trophies from which the finest might be selected.
       When the shooting was over the  carcasses were examine and the best available head taken by each hunter, whose permit entitled him to "the possession of" only a single caribou. If the hunters were also fond of venison a few quarters would be cut off and thrown aboard the plane, which would then depart southward. Two days later the sports would be home again, victorious.

So, in the end it wasn't the wolves who were killing the was humans. Greedy humans who were killing simply to show the biggest "trophy."

The last chapter, in addition to realizing that humans were destroying herds of caribou, was that the author - who had made such great progress with the wolves - ended up being an outsider once again.

As he heard the male wolf, who he had affectionately named "George," howl in the distance, he said, "I knew the voice, for I had heard it many times before. It was George, sounding the wasteland for an echo from the missing members of his family. But for me it was a voice which spoke of the lost world which once was ours before we chose the alien role; a world which I had glimpsed and almost entered...only to be excluded, at the end, by my own self."


Rita said...

OMGosh! That sounds like a fascinating read. Here it was the human trophy-hunters. Honestly--just makes me sick. I hope he got word to the authorities who made decisions about the wolves.

JEN Garrett said...

Wow, interesting premise! I usually don't read nonfiction unless it's really engaging, though. Can I skip to the third chapter, or do I need chapters one and two to get used to the writing style?

Harvest Moon by Hand said...

Yes, he did let the authorities know, Rita. I don't think they were ready to hear - or believe - what he discovered.

Jen - yes, I would read the first couple of chapters. It is important to understand the mission he was on, the obstacles he was dealing with from his supervisors, and the remoteness of the location where the wolves and he lived.