Wolf Related Headlines
March 8, 2012
Tom Myrick, Communications Director
(763) 560-7374 (ext. 225)
Lone Wolf more "bull" than wolf, say experts
Having recently nominated the movie The Grey for its new Scat Award, the International
Wolf Center is adding famed author Jodi Picoult's new book, Lone Wolf, to the 2012
nominations for its ridiculously romantic treatment of wolf/human interaction.
"I am incredulous at the degree of inaccuracy and the amount of absurd misinformation
about wolves in Lone Wolf," says wolf educator Cornelia Hutt. "The recent editorial
review of her book references 'Picoult's impressive research into wolf biology, hierarchy
and pack mentality.' Wrong. Picoult didn't do her homework properly this time, and
her reputation for getting the facts in order just plummeted into the abyss. She has
crossed the line from fiction, based on reality, to fantasy."
International Wolf Center Information Services Director Jess Edberg agrees. "While
the movie The Grey depicted wolves as vengeful nightmares of relentless evil, Picoult's
book portrays wolves in an opposite, but equally ridiculous fashion-the romance of man
and nature. Both portrayals distort the true nature of wolves, and make a fact-based
discussion about wolf management and wolf/human interaction much more difficult."
Hutt continues, "As a wolf educator and writer of wolf curricula for teachers and
non-formal educators, I am frankly infuriated by the sheer nonsense in the 'Luke'
segments of the book. In an effort to debunk the myths about the wolf as 'the beast
of waste and desolation,' Picoult has created an equally unscientific, inaccurate and
ultimately harmful portrayal of wolves and of wolf packs. Why did she not go to the
books and articles written by renowned researchers and scientists like L. David Mech-a
man who has spent more than 50 years studying wolves and sharing his knowledge with
the general public? The wolf is one of the most extensively researched mammals.
What about the other science-based wolf education organizations that have Web sites
crammed with solid information about the biology and ecology of wolves? These sites
include the International Wolf Center, the Wolf Conservation Center, the California
Wolf Center and the Red Wolf Coalition."
"Honey, I'm home. I brought take-out."
In the book, the character Luke describes his experience living with a wolf pack
by posing a question without any basis in fact.
"I have been asked repeatedly why a pack of wild wolves would accept a human into
their ranks. Why bother with a creature that follows too slowly, stumbles in the dark,
can't speak their language fluently, and inadvertently disrespects their leaders?
The only answer I can come up with is that they realized they needed to study a human
as much as I needed to study them."
Scientist L. David Mech reviewed the book and was floored by the descriptions of
wolf behavior. "It is beyond ridiculous that wolves need to study a human or that
they are capable of it."
Hutt proclaims that the above passage "is the stuff of ancient legend and baseless
boasting by a few self-promoting individuals who think that a human can 'become' a
wild creature and who dishonor animals by ascribing to them human characteristics.
Anyone who believes a person who claims to have been accepted as a member of a wild
wolf pack is naive in the extreme."
Another laughable paragraph portrays wolves as a cross between nannies and waiters:
"From then on, every time the pack went hunting, they brought me back food.
Sometimes it was rolled in droppings or urinated upon."
It is a well-known fact that wolves hunt throughout their range, which can cover
more than 1,000 square miles (2,590 square kilometers). They eat where they kill.
They do not "bring food back" to some home base location with the exception of food
brought to the breeding female when the pups need her constant presence after birth
and tidbits later brought to the youngsters as they transition to solid food. There's
no, "Honey, I'm home and here's the bacon," states Edberg, "nor do wolves spice their
kill with feces. They may mark it with scat or urine, but to imply that the wolves
prepare a meal as such is ridiculous."
The book continues down this culinary path with one of the most bizarre descriptions
of feeding behavior:
"I would come to learn that an alpha female can read every single bit of
food you put into your body. Make a choice that's going to keep you strong and fit
for the pack…when six wolves are feeding on a single carcass the alpha will go to the
internal organs the beta will get the muscle-packed rump and thigh movement meat, and
the omega gets the intestinal contents and non-movement meat, like the neck, spine,
and rib cage. The tester wolf will get about 75% non-movement meat and 25% vegetable
Says Dr. Mech of this mathematically precise dietary management, "This is totally
outrageous. No animal divides up prey by percent or allocates different parts of the
kill to different group members. To the contrary, each competes to get the best each
is able to. Furthermore, stomach contents of prey is all half digested vegetation and
it is the only part of the prey animal that wolves do not eat."
I can hear your heartbeat
If counting calories wasn't strange enough, Picoult's Luke also claims wolves can
divine all sorts of things about prey from mere trace evidence:
"She can sniff at the tufts of grass the moose has fed upon and know,
from the scent of its teeth, how old the animal is."
"Unbelievable," states Mech. "The scent of teeth has no relationship with age. It's
pure baloney, as is the assertion that during a hunt, an alpha will direct two wolves
in front of the moose's shoulder listen for its heart rate in order to terrorize it.
Next thing you know they will leap tall buildings with a single bound and produce a
cure for cancer. Oh wait, if you go to page 181 it looks like they've already done that."
"Of all the injuries I had in those years, not a single one became infected.
If I'd been able to bottle the medicinal properties of wolf saliva, I'd be a rich man."
"This is just another old wives tale," says Edberg. "The saliva of wolves has just
as much harmful bacteria as any other carnivore. I don't know anyone who would recommend
it as a treatment for an open wound."
Wanted: One experienced alpha male. Must be willing to relocate.
Losing a loved one is always a tragedy, but according to Picoult's character Luke,
it's simply unacceptable, as is the idea of "hiring" from within:
"The level of experience and knowledge in a wolf is irreplaceable, which
is why the alpha will stay in the den near the young most of the time, sending other
pack members out to do patrols, to hunt, to safeguard. This is also why, when an alpha
gets taken down, so many packs fall apart. It is as if the central nervous system has
suddenly lost its brain. You might think that there is a promoting from within-that
maybe the beta, the number two man, will fill his former boss's shoes. But in the wolf
world, that's not how it happens."
The idea that one wolf controls the rest of the pack members, ordering them around
like soldiers is perhaps the most disturbing bit of hokum in this book. Mech, who is
also a senior research scientist for the U.S. Department of the Interior, (USGS), was
recently asked this same question about control. "No. One wolf cannot tell another
wolf what to do. The offspring take their cues from what the adults do, but the adults
do not direct the offspring to do anything," states Mech. (To hear his full interview
visit the podcast section at www.wolf.org.)
According to Edberg, should one or both of the breeding pair die, the structure of
a pack would not necessarily fall apart. Another wolf within the pack may fill that
role, or an unrelated wolf may join the pack. It might stimulate the adult offspring
to disperse and search for unrelated wolves with which to mate and begin their own packs.
"It is beyond unlikely that a lone wolf would be literally asked to fill that part,
as if to comply with some equal opportunity employment law. This assertion of wolves
being born with different skill sets has never been observed by researchers," said Edberg.
The doctor is in, but his bite is actually worse than his bark
Finally, perhaps the most serious breach of fact occurs when Luke reminisces about
his father's apparent tribal knowledge about wolves:
"My father taught me wolves can read emotion and illnesses the way humans
Really? "This comment may seem innocuous, rubbing up against the fabric of folklore
as it does, but because this book is so well written, it is likely to taint people's
perception of wolves," concludes Edberg. "Wolves react to posture and movement, not
emotions or psoriasis. To assign them such human qualities is irresponsible and dangerous."
While Lone Wolf seems well on its way to becoming another Picoult best seller, the
International Wolf Center advises readers to treat this novel with judicial caution-the
jury should disregard nearly everything written here about wolves.
Listen to interviews with actual non-fiction wolf experts.
The International Wolf Center advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching
about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future.