Among Wolves is a captivating account of the late Gordon Haber's close observations, sense of wonder and personal stories about Alaska's wolves and what he referred to as their distinct culture.
Author Marybeth Holleman has written a unique, compelling book, compiling photographs, insights, political events and stories from friends that captures the passion, curiosity and brilliance his wolf studies reflected over 43 years in Denali National Park and interior Alaska.
Gordon defended wolves with tenacity, and also used science to bolster Friends of Animals' various legal challenges against Alaska's nefarious wolf control programs. In 1997, he freed a snared wolf, baited illegally outside the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. A jury in Tok, Alaska, made up of the trappers' allies found Gordon's actions illegal; since he was under contract with Friends of Animals, we paid his preposterous $190,000 fine.
"Wolves are fascinating as individuals," Gordon said, "but what I fine unique is the beautiful, interesting and advanced social structure of an intact family group." Fragmentation of a wolf family through hunting disrupts the animals' most prominent characteristic, he argued.
On Oct. 14, 2009, Gordon's research plane crashed in Denali National Park while he was monitoring the wolf groups he had long studied -- research Friends of Animals had sponsored for 17 years since I met him at the 1993 Wolf Summit in Alaska convened by then-Gov. Walter Hickel. Gordon had complete control over his research priorities, and FoA benefited from using his fieldwork to educate and influence the practices and policies of how wolves were treated.
Gordon's photographs and writings about wolves' cooperative traditions, along with their interactions with moose, caribou, sheep and bears, make this a remarkably interesting book. Gordon changed his views over the years on what constitutes "habituated" wolf behavior. "Free-ranging adult wolves generally show little fear of other nonhuman species," he said, and similarly little fear or wariness of humans at initial contact. Gordon said they're generally indifferent of people in Denali, a behavior he saw as natural rather than a product of habituation.
While riding through Denali with Gordon on one occasion, I left his truck to jog down the road while a two-year-old wolf searched for ground squirrels just 20 feet or so away. She regarded me as no more interesting than a piece of vegetation, yet I had the experience of a lifetime.
"Being fearful, not fearless, is the aberration for this species," he said. He warned against food conditioning, saying it was the most likely way that habituation could become a problem.
In answer to the age-old question about how many wolves humans should tolerate anywhere, he advised: "The optimum number of wolves is best reached and maintained by the wolves and prey themselves. Claims that wolves destroy the very food source upon which they depend are absurd...There is no reason for us to think we must control a wolf population."
A mutual friend, Barbara Brease, mentioned the story Gordon told her about a wolf whose mate was killed in Alaska's predator control program. "That wolf took his mate's carcass and buried it, then lay down on top of it for ten days. (Gordon) was upset about it but also more moved than ever to help others understand the unique social relationships these wolves had, and what made them such a complex species," she said.
"Just like wolves," the author concluded, "we humans accomplish things only in community."
Among Wolves: Gordon Haber's Insights into Alaska's Most Misunderstood Animal
by Dr. Gordon Haber and Marybeth Holleman: 284 pages
October 2013, University of Alaska Press Paper $29.95
Available through Amazon.com