Jan 6, 2020

Secret Go the Wolves

by R.D. Lawrence

The author and his wife lived in a remote area of Canada on a farm (I don't know if they grew any crops but there is a description of them working to tap maple trees). One day he encountered a Native American on the river- drunk and about to capsize his boat. Lawrence saved the man, discovered he had recently killed a female wolf for the bounty on her pelt and was carrying two surviving cubs to Mattawa intending to sell them. Lawrence made an instant decision and bought the cubs on the spot, took them home to raise with his wife. He already had experiencing raising wild "foundlings" to release into the wild again- mentions a beaver and a deer fawn. And he had observed wolves in the wild a lot, understanding some of their behavior. I think he was just as eager to have the chance to study how the wolves grew up, as well as to save them and release into their natural home- he frequently mentions taking meticulous notes on their growth rate, emerging personalities, development of skills and so on. With the help of his malamute dog Tundra- who kept the cubs clean and warm, and disciplined them as they grew- Lawrence successfully raise the two wolves. He did as much as he could to mimic actual wolf parenting- feeding them raw meat as if he was regurgitating it, shaking them by the scruff when they misbehaved, taking them on long rambling walks in the woods and joining them on a kill when they finally pulled down deer on their own (he was inspecting the deer to find out if it was weak, ill or injured in some way that had given the wolves an advantage, but pretended to the wolves as if he was eating alongside them). This book reminded me a lot of Joy Adamson's work with Elsa the lioness- the work Lawrence did was during a time when wolves were still mainly feared and reviled- in fact Lawrence and his wife had to keep their project secret from any neighbors or visitors, shutting the wolves up when they were young if people came by, and when they were older successfully teaching them to be wary of strangers. Especially intriguing to see the difference in behavior between the malamute dog and the young wolves, how the dog adjusted his behavior with the wolves, and how the human couple likewise tried to act in ways that would keep them safe from the wolves' natural strength and sharp teeth, but hone their skills to live in the wild. Personally I can't judge how well they did at that (a few times in the narrative it seemed to me they made some risky decisions), but there's a very good review on Goodreads that explains why wolves should not be raised with the methods Lawrence used. But it's a fascinating account and very engaging to read, a well-told story. There's also a lot of wonderful description of the natural environment and seasons, and some contemplative passages where the author talks about the natural world, our impact on it, and his qualms about things like seeing the wolves kill their prey. His wife was particularly attached to the wolves and I didn't care for how condescending Lawrence sometimes sounded towards her- but he is also honest and points out when she was right in some regard he judged differently.

Rating: 4/5                       232 pages, 1980

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