Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

I’ve been tempted to write about Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat and call it science fiction, because Mowat’s books, I am informed, mix fact (science) with a generous dose of fiction (or at least exaggeration), but whatever else his tales-cum-memoirs are, they are entertaining reading. And they are, at least in part, non-fiction.

Never Cry Wolf 1

Never Cry Wolf is the account of one summer, after Mowat’s university years, which he spent in the Canadian wilderness (central Keewatin, which is hard to pinpoint on a map, but is somewhere around northern Manitoba, northern Ontario, or what was the southern end of the Northwest Territories and is now Nunavut; Mowat was probably in the NWT portion), employed by the Dominion Wildlife Service to study wolves, or, more bluntly, to investigate “the carnage being wreaked upon the deer population by hordes of wolves” (p. 14/end of ch. 1). *Cough* which should tell you the government’s slant on the declining deer populations.

[And if I may be excused an impassioned aside, bears striking resemblance to the current BC government’s approach to declining caribou populations, and said government’s decision to cull the BC wolf population in lieu of addressing the real root of the problem by acting as responsible stewards of BC’s natural habitat. Shooting entire packs from helicopters is a cowardly and ineffective way of managing the caribou population because the real problem is humans mucking up the natural habitat that the caribou depend upon. I hope the petition against the cull will be enough; I can’t believe that anyone is so completely capable of ignoring decades of scientific research as to believe that this cull will work. But then, introducing the cane toad to Australia was seen as a good idea, once upon a time.]

Ahem. Back to the book. Mowat is amusingly irreverent toward the hierarchy of the Wildlife Service, the supplies an unnamed Somebody (perhaps a Committee?) deemed sufficient for his expedition, and very nearly everything and everyone else he encounters. (I suspect Mowat would have gotten along very well with Terry Pratchett, if they had happened to meet.)

Mowat’s adventures (he has some difficulty finding any wolves, for one thing, and when he does he tends to lose a great deal of dignity with each encounter) are laughter-inducing, particularly as he settles in and begins trying, as much as possible, to live like the family of wolves he studies, a resolution he carries to the point of marking his territory as the wolves do. One by one, Mowat’s assumptions about wolves are utterly demolished by the pack which he observes and begins to love.

Mowat’s encounters are not only with wolves, however. He is at times assisted by a half-Native guide, Mike, and several Inuit people, most notably Ootek, who is something of an expert on wolves. Whether the portrayal of Inuit and First Nations people is accurate and acceptable to members of those communities I do not know; I can say, however, that Mowat spoke strongly against the white treatment of First Nations peoples, and that in this book, as in others, he presents them in a much better light than he does most white characters.

I should, probably, reiterate that most of this tale is fiction (he studied wolves with a small team of biologists, not as a solo act; he spent much less time observing the wolf pack than the book claims; and his statement that these wolves supported themselves primarily on mice contradicts every other study); nevertheless, it is delightful fiction which is largely factual in its account of the relative impacts of a family of wolves, and a community of humans, upon the local ungulate population. Never Cry Wolf was instrumental in changing public attitudes towards the long-maligned wolf when the book was first released; let us hope it will have a similar influence today.