Gordon Buchanan is the heir apparent to David Attenborough - as long as he doesn’t end up on a polar bear’s plate
Photo: Max Hug Williams
The wolf is still an outsider. From Red Riding Hood to Jack London, it has symbolised wilderness and raw, bloody survival. So if you want to try your hand at proper wildlife filming, up close and wolf-breath personal, it has to be Canis lupus arctos. Snow Wolf Family and Me (BBC Two) was a new outing for heavily insured cameraman Gordon Buchanan, the third strand in a series that’s done black bears in Minnesota and hungry polar bears. The latter memorably showed Buchanan coming close to being a bear lunch.
Buchanan chose Ellesmere Island in Canada for its remoteness. You can’t even get a Domino’s Pizza delivery there and the local wolves have never met a human, although they obviously have a decent media agent and PR.
His method was hands-on, or possibly paws-on. Getting to know the wolf family and winning their trust, though, proved slow. Empathy was expressed in usual ways: wolves love licking cameras and apparently weeing on binoculars is a sign of friendliness. The beasts also demonstrated that they were worryingly clever, pulling at the insulated parts of the electric fence Buchanan had erected round his camp.
The cutest sequence showed three pups practising howling. Each would hesitatingly raise its snout skywards before essaying a mournful cry, a baby Wolf of Wail Street.
Wildlife shows constantly seek new thrills, greater authenticity and deeper understanding. Buchanan succeeded on all these fronts. This wasn’t reality TV play-acting. Wolves don’t misbehave for the camera, they just misbehave full-time. Buchanan was in unconfected danger, visibly unnerved by the presence of a fully grown killing machine circling him with its tummy rumbling.The great curiosity of Buchanan, despite his abilities with wolf-talk and whining, is his normality. He doesn’t risk his life to exorcise some appalling demon. He doesn’t talk to the animals because he can’t talk to people. Of all the people cited as David Attenborough’s successor, he’s out front. Just as long as he doesn’t end up on a polar bear’s plate.