Liam Neeson's new movie, "The Grey" is definitely worth seeing. It is one of the best action- packed thrillers in years. Does it over dramatize the viciousness of wolves? You bet it does - but it is a movie that makes absolutely no claim about depicting a true event or situation.
How many of you remember the 1983 film, "Never Cry Wolf"? This Walt Disney Productions release was based on the supposedly 1963 autobiography by Farley Mowat, published under the same title. The cover of that book proclaims to be "The Amazing True Story of Life Among Arctic Wolves". In the book and in the movie, Mowat lives close to a wolf pack, which accepts him as a member. He even runs naked with the wolves on a hunt. During an interview more than 20 years after the Disney film was a box office sensation, Mowat confessed to sensationalism, and his papers from the expedition that took him into northern Canada to study wolves tell a different story than the book and the movie. In reality, the book which is still being sold by major book sellers such as Barnes & Noble as a work of non-fiction is all fiction, from cover to cover. Many now refer to "Never Cry Wolf" as the first of the big wolf lies.
Still, Mowat's book has sold close to 15-million copies, and has done much to shape the image Americans and others around the world have of the gray wolf. And that is of a secretive animal that fears man. That is exactly the image portrayed at the International Wolf Center, of Ely, Minnesota. As for the reality of wolves attacking people, Nancy Gibson, co-founder of the Center has been quoted saying about "The Grey", "I give them the scat award."
One environmental group, Wild Earth Guardians, has even asked its members to boycott the film. Another, the Defenders of Wildlife, has even started a petition against the movie. Among those who are now calling for more stringent wolf control in the Lower 48, such efforts by these groups are likely pushing more people to the box office to see "The Grey".
I caught the matinee first showing of the movie in Missoula, Montana yesterday afternoon (January 27), and for a work day there was a strong audience - and it was very clear that few, if any, of the people that were spellbound at that showing were members of any organization such as Wild Earth Guardians or the Defenders of Wildlife. Before the movie started, I overheard several conversations among movie goers, about how wolves have destroyed their favorite hunting spots, or how wolves have wiped out wildlife where they used to take their families to see elk, moose, deer and other big game animals.
If you've witnessed the same, "The Grey" should be on your "Must See" list, whether you catch it on the big screen, or wait until it comes out on DVD.
One word best describes the movie...intense! During the showing I attended, during one of those intense moments a woman in the audience screamed - and that brought a laugh from most of the darkened room. The only laugh heard during the entire showing. At the end, as the credits were rolling, a very quiet audience filed out of the theater.
Perhaps the wolf attacks on cast members of this movie were a bit overboard, but the viciousness of the attacks were likely very credible. During several of the past hunting seasons, I've walked upon where wolves have brought down a deer or elk, and the scene left behind is pure carnage. I remember one in particular, while I was bowhunting river-bottom whitetails during a snowy December. As I was coming out in the last light of day, a movement a hundred or so yards away caught my attention...and I eased closer for a look. What I found sent chills up and down my spine.
There lay a whitetail doe, with light steam still rising from where most of a rear quarter had been ripped from the deer, along with some of the intestines and internal organs. Blood sill dripped into the snow, which was covered with five to six inch long wolf tracks. Slight differences in the tracks told me that there had been three or four different wolves in on the kill, and I began to feel as if I was being watched. The compound bow I carried suddenly did not seem adequate, so I carefully backtracked my way out of there, constantly keeping an eye behind me. The next morning, I returned, and with my Browning 12-gauge semi-auto shotgun stuffed with "00" buckshot loads. I wanted to get a better look during good daylight. Unfortunately it had snowed lightly during the pre-dawn hours, lightly covering the tracks. But what I found was literally horrifying - it looked as if someone had stuck a stick of dynamite inside the carcass. Deer parts, mostly bones and hide, covered the area for 15 to 20 yards in every direction...and the snow looked like one great big cherry snow cone.
The wolf attacks in "The Grey" were every bit as vicious. If you have a weak stomach, maybe this is one movie you shouldn't watch. After the first several attacks in the movie, I wondered if that was how it had been when the wolves pulled down a young school teacher in Alaska a couple of years ago, apparently eating on her while she was still alive, or if that was how the college student killed by wolves in Canada also died.
(Photo - Introduced Canadian wolves in the Northern Rockies are larger, more aggressive, wider ranging - and form larger packs than the native wolf.)
Too many people are now too quick to claim that wolves do not attack and kill humans. Before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brought in larger and more aggressive Canadian wolves to replace the native wolves of the northern U.S. Rocky Mountains, there may have been some truth to that. Wolves have been in Minnesota ever since man arrived there, and there are no documented accounts of wolf attacks on people. But, like the native wolf of the Northern Rockies, the wolf of the Great Lakes region is a medium sized wolf, with a much smaller home range than the wolves now running freely in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, and which are now moving into Oregon and Washington. In their native Canadian range, these wolves often have home territories of more than 300 square miles. The transplants are also nearly a third larger than the Lower 48 wolves, and will often form packs of 20 or more.
During the past three or four fall big game seasons in Idaho and Montana, successful hunters who have shot an elk or deer have had wolves move in and take over the kill. Even gunshots into the air or near the wolves have failed to run them off - and a couple of hunters have killed wolves that attacked or stalked them. The wolves in this region of the country are basically the same wolves depicted in "The Grey". These are wolves that can top 150 pounds in weight, not the 90 to 95 pound wolves that were native to the Northern Rockies before the Canadian imports were dumped into this ecosystem.
As big game herds continue to rapidly decline, due to wolf depredation, wolves have moved down out of the mountains, and into the human inhabited valleys. Where game has moved right into town, in an attempt to escape never ending pressure from growing wolf numbers, the wolves have followed. The wolf killed doe I mentioned earlier was found less than 75 yards from the backyards of a Missoula residential neighborhood - and in sight of a snowman made by children just a few days earlier. The fear among many rural residents is that children waiting for a school bus at the end of a long lane may soon be in real danger, when the wolves can no longer find any elk, any moose, or any deer. One thing is for certain, parents no longer allow their kids to enjoy the outdoors as they did before those non-native wolves were introduced into the intermountain U.S.
(Photo show rural student in a wolf-proof school bus stop. Will it become necessary for all kids in the West live in fear of wolves?)
Many residents and sportsmen of the Upper Midwest now suspect that USFWS may have done a little of their "Playing God" in that country as well, releasing even more of those larger Canadian wolves. Some residents who have lived near wolves in Minnesota their entire life claim that the wolves are now getting larger than in the past. Likewise, they are getting more aggressive, and wider ranging. All traits are that of the Canadian wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis), and that would also explain why, all of a sudden, many of the Minnesota wolves are moving into northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan - with some wolves now making their way down into Illinois and Missouri. They are expanding their range, the same as the native Canadian wolves have always done in their true home range.
"The Grey" may not be a true depiction of anything related to wolves, but then neither was "Never Cry Wolf". However, what the recent release is doing is to present the wolf as people see it in their minds. And those beliefs come from our ancestors having to live with wolves, and fighting their way to the top of the food chain. Maybe there's more truth to it than some claim, and why groups like Wild Earth Guardians and the Defenders of Wildlife don't want you to see it. - Toby Bridges, LOBO WATCH
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