Life After…Go figure

A Narrative of Life Outside The Box

Wolves: The book I drooled over for seven years…

Wolves:Behavior, Ecology and Conservation Editors David Mech and Luigi Boitani. University of Chicago Press: 2003.

So I saw this book seven or eight years ago and immediately started drooling over it. All this time later, thanks to the paperback edition and (which, despite its potential to attract the wrong sort of buyers, I still think should be called ‘clearance and discount’) I have my own copy.

This book is a compendium of essays on Wolves from a scientist’s perspective. As a history geek, I have found it slow going but very, very worthwhile. This review focuses on the two works I have made it through so far; Chapter one, “Wolf Social Ecology” (Mech and Boitani) and Chapter two: “Wolf Behavior: Reproductive, Social, and Intelligent” (Jane M. Packard). Luigi Boitani is a professor at the Department of Human and Animal Biology at the University of Rome and has served as department head. L. David Mech works with the US Geological Survey, specifically the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center of Jamestown, ND and Jane Packard is an Associate Professor at Texas A&M University in their department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences.

What stands out immediately for me as a lay reader is the wonderful contrast between the work I’ve encountered by historians meant to be distributed ‘among the masses’ and these essays. Nobody assumes the reader’s familiarity with seminal works in their field, important theories or terminology. In a work by most PhD’s in History, I would have had to resort to the dictionary to learn terms like ‘Biophilic’. There is no arrogance in these essays and no condescension. I have no idea if the writers took such care with clarity and education because these essays were never meant for the academic community, but it is a refreshing change from some of the pompous drivel I encountered as a graduate student in History.

Having said this I must freely own that the highly technical discussions of the chemical breakdown in a wolf’s breeding hormones and the specific notes on DNA were beyond me. What I appreciated was the wealth of information in both essays as a point of reference that I can return to again and again.

I found many of the observations about wolf society and breeding fascinating. As usual, it was very helpful to get a scientific view to balance the more metaphysical absolutes. It’s all very well for meditation exercises that emphasise wolf’s mating for life and care of their pups. And I find a lot of spiritual inspiration from wolves–I just like to be inspired for the right reasons. For instance, the essays by Mech, Biotani and Packard show that despite the protective nature of Wolf packs, some pups are old enough to strike out independently at five months. Others remain in their parents’ pack for two years. The pack leader and his mate usually stay together for life but this is not an utterly consistent behavior.

I also found it very interesting that more wolves have communities in Europe than I was ever aware, particularly the Italian Alps. I was also completely taken aback to read about packs in Israel.

More updates as I read through the different essays but I enjoy how much I’m learning from this book.


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