The first book I ever read about wolves was Farley Mowat's best seller, Never Cry Wolf. It was the Fall of 1985, and I was on a self-guided combination mule deer and pronghorn hunt, just south of Buffalo, Wyoming. I had gotten into camp three days before the hunt, in order to do some glassing and scouting. But, that never happened. I awoke the morning after arriving in camp to the sound of 50 to 60 m.p.h. winds ripping at the old wood sided ranch house an outfitter friend had been using to house his clients. Temperatures were still in the mid 40's, but as the morning wore on, the mercury in the outside thermometer dropped quickly - and the snow began to fly past horizontally. That's the way it was for three solid days and nights.
Fortunately, early the second day, I spied the well worn first edition copy of Never Cry Wolf laying on a shelf in the kitchen. And once I picked up the book and started reading it, I couldn't put the book down. It was extremely well written, and the flow in Mowat's recount of his wolf and caribou studies in the north-central Canadian sub-arctic was exceptionally well done. Even though I did take a few breaks from reading to chat with others in camp, I finished reading the 246-page book in about 5 or 6 hours. It was easy to see why more than a million copies of that edition were sold, and why Walt Disney Pictures turned the basis of Mowat's story into a popular 1983 movie of the same title.
Farley Mowat was not a wildlife biologist at the time when he conducted "his" study of Canada's northern caribou herds, and the impact that arctic wolves were or were not having on the vast herds of wild ungulates. That study was conducted in 1948 and 1949, while the author worked for the country's Dominion Wildlife Services. Caribou numbers were in a significant decline, so he was sent into the wilds some 400 miles north of Churchill, Manitoba to observe and determine the abundance of wolves, and whether wolf depredation was a major reason for the loss of caribou.
While I have read chapters or parts of chapters from a half-dozen other wolf-related books, it was not until 2008 that I picked up another wolf book that compelled me to read it from cover to cover over a weekend. That book was the 224-page Wolves in Russia - Anxiety Through the Ages, written by Will Graves, and published in 2007. Unlike Mowat's book, which is written as a first person experience, the Graves book is a wondrous compilation of data, wolf facts, government research, scientific studies, official observations, and the experiences of people who have lived with wolves for the past 150 years. Will Graves spent two decades accumulating all of these materials, much of it written in Russian. However, translating those writings did not present a problem for him, since he was a Russian linguist for the U.S. Government.
He made several lengthy trips to Russia, where he managed to spend time with rural citizens who were directly impacted by wolves, and Graves became personally acquainted with some of the country's top wildlife professionals, including Dr. Dmitry I. Bibikov - who is considered to be Russia's leading expert on wolves. And much of Bibikov's and other Russian wildlife managers' studies and research make up a big part of Wolves in Russia.
For much of the past year, Will Graves and I have become extremely good friends, spending an hour or more just about every week on the phone. And, of course, our No. 1 topic of discussion centers on wolves. After many of those lenghty conversations, I came up with the idea of comparing these two books. So, over the course of two weeks this past October, I sat down and read both. I would read a chapter in Never Cry Wolf...then I would read a chapter in Wolves in Russia - and I repeated that process until I finished both books.
Even though both books are about Canis lupus, the gray wolf, what I discovered was that I felt as if I was reading about two entirely different animals. The wolves that Farley Mowat wrote about, and the wolves that Will Graves presented in his book, were not the same wolf - not in the eyes of the two authors...or based on the evidence given in these two books.
In reality, Mowat's book is purely fiction. Since it's first printing in 1963, somewhere between 14 and 15 million copies of Never Cry Wolf, printed in several different languages, have been sold...as "The Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves." And while very little of what Mowat writes about in the book is based on fact, or for that matter, which actually happened, the book became something of "The Handbook" for pro-wolf advocates who thought then, and still think today, presents real life facts about wolves - and their extremely low impact on other wildlife populations.
The author devotes easily 75-percent of this book to detail his experiences with the native people of the North Country, his problems with the Canadian wildlife service for which he worked, how rough life was on the arctic tundra, how he mastered the native language, and the terrain of the land. Never Cry Wolf is more about living with the Eskimo people than it is about living with and observing wolves. Most of the 25 or so percent of the book where Farley Mowat shares his observations, experiences, realizations and conclusions about the wolves he did encounter and studied adversely conflicts with the research that has been conducted by some of the most respected wildlife scientists of the world.
One foot note in the book, on page 183, reads, "The Canadian caribou population has dropped from about 4,000,000 in 1930 to less than 170,000 animals in 1963."
Dr. Charles Kay, a Phd. of wildlife ecology at Utah State University, pretty much summed up the book when he shared with me, "It's all one big lie!"
Dr. Valerius Geist, of the University of Calgary (Alberta), who is considered one of Canada's leading wildlife experts, has called the book, "A brilliant literary prank."
Keep in mind, Mowat supposedly conducted his study on the caribou-wolf relationship during a short span of the late 1940s, claiming to have spent two summers and one winter on the Arctic tundra. He did not write his book and have it published until 1963. And in that book he did his best to convince readers that wolves were not the cause for the precipitous crash of Canada's caribou populations. He repeatedly insisted that the primary food source for the wolves of the region were lemmings, arctic hares, and various small rodents, and that they rarely killed caribou, and when they did, they only targeted the sick and weak, and only killed what was needed for immediate consumption. He also blamed the drop in caribou numbers on unregulated hunting by humans, where hunters would fly in, shoot dozens of caribou, and select only the best trophy heads - then leave everything else to rot.
One statement in the book revealed his disdain for human hunters, "The wolf never kills for fun, which is probably one of the main differences distinguishing him from man."
Mowat points out in Never Cry Wolf that a very large number of caribou are infested with parasites and diseases, and that wolves are the sanitarians of nature - weeding the herds of their sick and weak. What he failed to share was that it was his beloved wolves that were the carriers of those parasites and diseases, spreading them across the southern Arctic. From what we have learned about wolves, by being forced to live with them through the past decade, it is easy to see that Farley Mowat was indeed ahead of his time. He was a frontrunner of the far left pro- wolf extremists to come - and like they, he had absolutely no problem using lies and deceit to present an entirely false image of wolves to millions of readers who knew nothing of wolves. But, in the Preface, he warned readers that it was his "...own practice to never allow facts to interfere with the truth...". Never Cry Wolf is an excellent example of that practice, it is far more fictional than fact. Mowat's supervisor with the Canadian wildlife service, who sent him to study wolves and caribou, has likened the book to the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, saying that both share about the same factual content.
During an interview for an article by John Goddard, "A Real Whopper" which appeared in the May 1996 edition of the Canadian general interest magazine Saturday Night, Farley Mowat's deception was revealed. Documented by papers that Mowat sold to McMaster University, Goddard points out that the writer of this tall wolf tale actually spent far less time in the study area than he says in the book. In all, he spent maybe 6 months. And unlike his claims of being flown in and dropped off all alone in the middle of nowhere, Mowat was actually part of a well-planned expedition - as the junior member. Not once during his two short summer sessions did he even set foot in an Inuit camp...nor did he learn the native dialect of the North during those trips. Likewise, as for the life he lived with the wolf family portrayed in the book, Mowat abandoned his wolf-den observations after less than four weeks.
It is extremely evident that Farley Mowat does not let facts get in the way of telling a good story. And Never Cry Wolf is nothing more than a story - a fictional tale told by an early anti-hunting, anti-society environmentalist.
In stark contrast, Will Graves' Wolves in Russia - Anxiety Through the Ages is so jam- packed with facts and figures, some may find the reading a bit on the dry side - but still extremely enlightening. Unlike Mowat's book, which details the fictional observations and findings of a single person over a very short period, the topic of the Graves book spans more than 150 years of the Russian people living with wolves, and the impact of those wolves - and what a wild roller coaster ride it has been to try gaining control of wolf numbers and wolf depredation through that period.
Due to ever changing political, social and economic situations, Russia never did gain near total control of wolf populations, as we did here in the Continental U.S. during the late 1800s and early 1900s. At any given time during that 150 year span, the land mass that has made up what has, at one time or another, been Czarist Russia, the U.S.S.R., and today's mosaic of smaller independent countries has been home to at least 100,000 wolves - with wolf populations surging significantly higher during periods of minimal wolf management - or, more appropriately, wolf control. And during those periods of high wolf numbers, wolf problems also escalated. Using official government studies, research and reports, Will Graves shares how Russian livestock producers have suffered as many as 1,000,000 head of cattle and sheep lost to wolves - annually! Likewise, based on the research and study of Russia's leading wildlife managers, Wolves in Russia shares how wolf depredation , when wolf numbers have been allowed to grow unchecked, have often nearly destroyed the reindeer, moose and other big game populations throughout much of the country.
Over and over again, the only relief from such devastation has been to step up efforts to seriously cull wolf numbers. One of the more severe wolf problem periods detailed in this book was during the latter years of World War II. Through the war, nearly every armed Russian was at the western front, to fight the Germans. There was little time or resource for controlling wolf populations, and by the end of the war, wolf numbers in Russia exceeded 250,000 - making it even harder for a starving human population to keep itself adequately fed. At the end of the war, wolf hunting brigades, mostly made up of members of the military or former soldiers, were formed to drastically reduce wolf numbers, and to reduce the degree of wolf predation on livestock and wildlife. In 1946 alone, those efforts resulted in the killing of 62,600+ wolves. In fact, during the ten years following the war, more than 500,000 wolves were killed in what was then the U.S.S.R. And wolves still continued to flourish. As late as 1987 and 1988, the Russians were still trying to gain control of the wolf problem - killing 38,000 to 40,000 wolves each and every year.
Contrary to Mowat's claims, the wolf Will Graves shares in his book is definitely the cause for severe losses of wildlife. And by looking at five periods of high wolf numbers in Russia, and the corresponding periods of accelerated wolf control, the book establishes a definite pattern - that when wolf numbers are at their highest, so is the degree of wolf depredation...and the greater the reduction of the wolf population, the quicker big game herds recover. Graves also details other dangers wolves pose humans, and which have been documented in Russia, and that is the physical threat of attack, and how a human population can also be affected by many of the parasites and diseases carried and spread widely by far ranging wolf packs.
Wolves in Russia - Anxiety Through the Ages should be mandatory reading for all students of wildlife ecology, especially here in the United States where they are often taught an entirely different view of wolves and the animal's role in a balanced ecosystem. Unfortunately, many of them are now being taught by staunch pro-wolf professors who come from the Farley Mowat school of enviro-socialism...where facts are not allowed to get in the way of a new agenda. And that agenda is to eliminate or dramatically reduce the human role in life on Earth.
Both of these books are great reads - for entirely different reasons. For a real look at real wolves, based on the research, studies, observations and findings of hundreds of acknowledged scientists and wildlife managers, your best bet is Wolves in Russia - Anxiety Through the Ages, by Will Graves. The book is like a look into the future of America, unless we maintain extremely tight control on a now growing and ever greater ranging wolf population. For pure entertainment and simple reading enjoyment, Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat is worth the time. The book has a wonderful flow to it, and does a great job of sharing Eskimo life in the Canadian Arctic, plus details one white man's fantasy of sharing that life with them. I have one warning though - in light of what you've now learned about wolves, don't let Mowat's opinions about and less than factual observations of wolves, and their relationship with prey animals, ruin the read. Just keep in mind that few of his claims, based on his miniscule role during that wolf-caribou study some 60 years ago, have proven to ever come true.
Will Graves' book is available at www.wolvesinrussia.com. Farley Mowat's book is still available through Barnes & Noble and a few other booksellers...wrongly being sold as a work of non- fiction.
Footnote: The loss of Canada's northern caribou herds was reversed when widespread wolf control was initiated through the 1950s and 1960s. The country's caribou numbers rebounded to more than 2,000,000 by the mid 1970s. As the Graves' book spotlights, during periods when wolf control has been greatly reduced, caribou numbers take a corresponding drop as well. When wolf control is increased, caribou numbers grow. Today, there are between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 caribou in Canada. However, some of the southernmost herds are now dangerously close to being lost. Sportsmen realize that it is due to wolf depredation and the loss of calf recruitment (to wolves) that is to blame. Environmentalist want to blame global warming.
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