Wolves have a special place in the origin story of Jacques Marie Mage. As an avid visitor of Yellowstone Park, founder Jerome Mage drew particular inspiration from his time watching and learning about the park’s wolf packs. Highly social and cooperative animals with distinct roles, their success depended on a working as a team.
Of course, twenty years earlier, observing the wolves would not have been possible. They’d been hunted out of existence throughout the United States by the early 20th century, demonized by ranchers and farmers until fully eradicated. It was only in the ‘90s that conservation efforts escalated, leading to the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho by the Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan, a program that helped to establish a slowly recovering but fragile population across the northwest.
The shift in public perception, and the subsequent stoking of political motivation, was in large part due to the efforts of documentarians Jim and Jamie Dutcher. They’d been living in the north Idaho wilderness among the now famous Sawtooth Wolf Pack, consisting of wolves they had raised themselves, in the hopes that what they observed could provide insight into the true nature of these complicated pack animals who operated within social structures so similar to our own.
The experience changed the Dutchers’ lives forever, and influenced the course of wolf conservation around the world. Their groundbreaking documentary film, Wolf: Return of A Legend, captivated an audience of 17 million television viewers and garnered a Primetime Emmy Award in 1994. Eventually, they’d establish the non-profit Living With Wolves, an organization dedicated to supporting actions that can effectively lead to peaceful coexistence between people and wolves sharing the same land.
Meaningful lessons garnered from their time with the wolves fill the stories they tell through their numerous films, books, exhibits, guides, and lectures. In their book The Wisdom of Wolves, Jim and Jamie share insights gained by observing the wolves’ rich inner lives and how that’s expressed in complex yet familiar ways. Take for example the pack’s alpha, Kamots, featured prominently in the chapter entitled “Lead With Kindness.”
“Unfortunately, the word ‘alpha’ has come to be used to describe aggressive, hypercompetitive human males,” writes Jim. “After spending years in Kamots’s company, we have concluded that being an alpha has almost nothing to do with aggression and everything to do with responsibility. Alphas are driven from within to shoulder the well-being of the entire pack... [they] are assured, alert, and compassionate.”
Though it might be easy to dismiss such observations as wishful anthropomorphizing, the Dutchers are backed by years of personal and peer research. Though it should come as no surprise that these magnificent animals with the capacity to be both vicious and compassionate remind us of our better angels as well our lesser demons. “Every wolf feels itself pulled by opposing forces,” explains Jaime in the The Wisdom of Wolves chapter entitled “Find Compassion.”
“On one side there is ambition, self-interest, and fear; on the other there is forgiveness, compassion and empathy,” she continues. “That’s what makes wolves so endlessly fascinating. When you think about it, that’s what makes human life interesting too, but wolves are less prone, or less able, to blur and counterfeit emotions… In the end there is no contest. It must follow the path of compassion, of cooperation, of togetherness above all. Survival offers no other choice.”
Despite their intelligence, despite the mirror they hold up to our own psyche, despite the integral role they play as apex predators, the value of the wolf as a keystone species is still questioned. As the Dutchers told JMM in an email correspondence, “The wolves survival in the wild is still not a given. After a period of recovery and protection in the US, the recent nationwide delisting of gray wolves as an endangered species means the war against the wolf is going to ramp up once again.”
Using a rationale that is more political than scientific, ranchers, farmers, and the politicians that appease these special interest groups continue to spread misinformation, claiming without evidence that wolves severely affect livestock operations, though fewer livestock animals die as a result of wolf predation than from storms, injury, or disease. In fact, studies have shown that less than 1% of sheep deaths reported by ranchers in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho can actually be attributed to wolves, while 22% can be attributed to weather.
It’s for these reasons and so many more that Jacques Marie Mage is dedicated to contributing to the awareness and protection of America’s wolf population and the wilderness they inhabit. By donating a percentage of every spectacle to Living With Wolves, we hope to encourage a deeper understanding of the values we share with all living beings, and inspire the compassion and respect that wolves deserve.
Written by Andrew Pogany
Hi there. We are currently away from the computer at the moment. Leave a message & we will promptly reply.
An error occured, please make sure you entered a valid email and message.