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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Super man-eaters? Don’t make us super-laugh

Nancy Jo Tubbs
Posted 5/28/14

Cue the dramatic music. Cue the deep, portentous, monster-movie voiceover. It’s showtime for the “MAN-EATING SUPER WOLVES” presentation from Animal Planet.

Television took a turn for the …

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Super man-eaters? Don’t make us super-laugh

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Cue the dramatic music. Cue the deep, portentous, monster-movie voiceover. It’s showtime for the “MAN-EATING SUPER WOLVES” presentation from Animal Planet.

Television took a turn for the laughably melodramatic last week as Animal Planet’s scriptwriters, guests and host Eric Young found eight ways in one hour to say some version of, “With 50,000 wolves in North America, alone, this growing population must uncover new prey—animal…or man.”

In case you hadn’t changed the channel by then, you would hear over an ominous drumbeat, “Can anything stop this horde of hungry beasts before it’s too late?” Or how about, “Once livestock are low in numbers, yes, they will target us.” And, punctuated by snarling, “Even a lone wolf seeing an opportunity to take down prey (film of a man walking) won’t hesitate.”

While I’m laughing, I also know that the program isn’t universally funny, because it will seem believable to the uninitiated. No one should buy into this sensationalist fiction, and one hopes it won’t inspire unnecessary fear or hatred of wolves. The show dramatically reenacts the deaths of the two people by wolves in North America since 2005, and despite the faked screams, blood, gore and snarling, there was nothing funny about those documented killings by wolves.

In contrast, Ely’s International Wolf Center takes an honest and realistic approach to these issues. “Although there are two documented cases of healthy, wild wolves killing humans in North America (one in Alaska, one in Canada) during the past several decades, wolves very rarely attack humans,” says Research Scientist Dr. L. David Mech, the center’s founder, who has been studying wolves for nearly 50 years. “During all the many millions of visitor days in the Superior National Forest of Minnesota, for example, where wolves have never been extinct, there have been no known killings of humans.  In some less developed countries such as India there are records of wolves killing unsupervised rural children living under primitive conditions.”

The reality about wolves is interesting, but significantly less goosebump-inducing. Paging through the Center’s latest “International Wolf” magazine, instead one finds news about “Denali Wolves Decimated Along Park Boundaries.” How do they know that? Because Gordon Haber, who has researched wolves there for 43 years, has the data. “The news that wolf sightings by visitors to Denali National Park last summer were the lowest on record is disheartening,” the article says. “ This is what scientists in 2010 warned would happen when the Alaska Board of Game eliminated the small no-take wolf buffer on state lands east of the national park.”

Are wolves responsible for the decrease in deer taken by hunters in Wisconsin? Could a sonic “net” create a zone of high-volume sound that would keep wolves away from livestock? Whatever happened to the animal known as the “Malberg Wolf,” that disappeared in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness after its radio collar was chewed off in 2011? The magazine regularly features personal encounters with wolves from folks that are vastly more inspiring than frightening.

Animal Planet’s program refers to a 400-wolf “superpack”, allegedly found in Siberia, where wolves, “kill and kill and kill until there is nothing left to kill.” Then it shows an aerial view of an urban subdivision as the narrator intones with seeming dread, “This horrifying scenario on Siberia raises a frightening question: Could there be the same epic-sized super packs here in North America?”

“These claims are so absurd that it is hard to believe that even Animal Planet would air them,” says Mech.

The program repeatedly shows snarling wolves, teeth bared, bloody from…well, most likely from a deer they’ve been fed by humans. It makes one wonder when was the last time that anyone ever walked in the woods, to say nothing of a subdivision, without being attacked and eaten.

It is of concern to dog owners when wolves are nearby, and dogs are sometimes taken by wolves that view the pets as trespassers in their territory. Yet, folks around our area see wolves regularly without risk to human life. The Ely Field Naturalists listserve this month was buzzing with emails about nearby wolves that were neither aggressive to nor fearful of humans, and acted quite calm. We would actually like wolves to be more cautious around people and human dwellings.

In one comment about wolves, retired teacher and local writer and photographer Steve Voiles noted, “We have had several generations of wolves that had no reason to fear humans. To make it worse some have fed them directly from cars or left food available to them near cabins or homes, further decreasing their caution. It may be why the new hunting seasons have been so quickly successful. We are in a bind wanting to see them or photograph them and yet help them preserve a more natural caution.  I, personally, feel that if a wolf is too incautious, it is best to shout and make sudden aggressive movements to ‘haze’ them once you have gotten a good look. Talking calmly only habituates them and makes them curious. Avoid ‘shooing’ kind of motions (hand flicking away from chest) since this may be confused with the kind of motions someone might make by throwing them food; if they have gotten food this way in the past, such a motion could bring them closer instead of encouraging them to move away.”

The center provides information to callers and in writing about how to thoughtfully respond to wolf sightings. Incidents in which wolves act aggressively are referred to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers.

MAN-EATING SUPER WOLVES offers no authentic help to people who might be concerned about wolves nearby. And, if anything, the program raised the hackles of wolf allies. Hundreds of angry comments to Animal Planet range from “At one time I used to love the animal planet channel!! NO LONGER,” to “I request..no I DEMAND.. that you pull the sensationalist, lying piece about wolves off the air.” And from the other corner comes, “Just wait till u have a pack hunting u…See how u feel.”

The program concludes, “Creatures of myth and legend, they’re apex predators, an essential part of nature for millions of years. But the world has changed. And as human population expands we could become abundant prey for man-eating super wolves.” I am inclined to say that if television airs more of these hyperbolic rants about wolves and other animals, it should name them more accurately, something like FACT-BENDING SUPER-SILLY SCARE TACTICS on ANIMAL PLANET.

 

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  • bonfire

    The magazine articles sound very interesting.

    Thanks for the Animal Planet Wolf show review. I won't bother to watch it not that I watch much of AP or History Channel, TLC and National Geographic. Once upon a time, those channels used to focus on real education and information. Now they are predominately fact-bending, super-silly sensationalism. When I do sit down to watch cable tv, I can flip through all the channels and most of the time not find anything to watch that's not infotainment.

    PBS still produces some good work. Sometime last winter we watched a Nature program , Meet The Coywolf which was fascinating. If it can be found online, it's worth watching.

    Thursday, May 29, 2014 Report this

  • bonfire

    I just read that Animal Planet decided not to air further episodes this week.

    Thursday, May 29, 2014 Report this

  • The FOX News Network, FOX Business Network and FOX Sports provides the most accurate and factual reporting available in this day and age. Fair and balanced. They report, you decide.

    Thursday, May 29, 2014 Report this