Monday, November 23, 2015

The "perfect wolf"

One of the profoundest statements about character that we’ve ever read comes from Rick McIntyre, the “alpha wolf watcher” of Yellowstone National Park. Every day for the last 15 years, McIntyre, a biological technician for the park foundation’s Yellowstone Wolf Project, has gone to Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley to train his telescope on the ridges where wolves down elk and raise their families. What he learned, he told Carl Safina, author of the new book Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, was that some wolves “were better at being a wolf than I’ve been at being a person.”

McIntyre, 61, justifies his provocative conclusion by telling the saga of a “perfect wolf” called Twenty-one, who was “like a fictional character, but he was real.” Fearless and huge, Twenty-one twice defended himself against six attacking wolves, routing them all. Watching those battles was “like watching Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan — a one-of-a-kind talent at the top of his game.” Twenty-one was just a 2-and-a-half-year-old when he took over the Druid pack after its alpha male was shot.

Over the years, McIntyre watched Twenty-one play-fight with his many pups, always pretending to lose, falling “on his back with his paws in the air.” Twenty-one also showed an unusual magnanimity, sparing the lives of any wolves that attacked him, and caring for a “sickly little pup” that the other wolves had been avoiding.

McIntyre especially loved how Twenty-one singled out a weak pup for special attention. “Strength impresses us. But what we remember is kindness,” points out Safina, whose book was excerpted in part in The Week magazine. Wolves rarely die of old age; humans, other wolves or starvation usually kills them. But when Twenty-one reached the ripe age of 9, he left his pack, climbed a high mountain ridge, curled up in the shade of a tree and died peacefully, alone.