The Arctic Wolf: Living with the Pack. A Book Review

The Arctic Wolf: Living with the PackThe Arctic Wolf: Living with the Pack by L. David Mech
My rating: 5 of 5 stars ★★★★★

The Arctic Wolf chronicles a couple of summers in the life of a pack of wild arctic wolves observed by wolf biologist David Mech, who during that time lived with the pack together with wildlife photographer Jim Brandenburg (who later wrote the book White Wolf about the same pack).

To find and be accepted by this pack was the highlight of Mech’s career, and he describes through several chapters in the book how he had dreamt of a chance like this through much of his 30 year long career as a wolf researcher and “obsessed student of wolves”. Wolves are rare and extremely wary creatures, so studies of wolves in the wild are typically undertaken indirectly or via observations from small aircraft; and most (especially older) studies of wolf packs’ social behaviour and group dynamics draw conclusions from studies of captive wolf packs composed of brought-together unrelated individuals. Such captive packs differ in fundamental ways from natural wolf packs, which are essentially nuclear families comprising a pair of parents (naturally in charge), and some of their offspring from previous years.

Mech’s dream was to study a litter of wild wolf pups being raised by a wolf pack in the wild. The book documents his dream coming true as he finds the wolf pack on Ellesmere island in the high arctic where humans are so rare and hunting to sporadic that wolves don’t have the same extreme fear and avoidance of humans that wolves do almost everywhere else.

Mech and Jim succeed in befriending the wolves, and then Mech finds their den (which he later finds out has been in use for 700+ years). Since dens are extremely scarce and far between in the barren landscape and new dens can’t easily be dug due to the permafrost, the wolf pack can’t easily move their pups somewhere else. He gets to observe their rearing of their litter of pups close up, along with many other aspects of wolf pack life, hunts and social relations. Every day provides new unique and intimate insights into a wild wolf family’s everyday life, and many of these are shared with the reader through Mech’s captivating writing and Brandenburg’s stunningly raw photographs of the scruffy, bloody, calm and affectionate real life of wild wolves.

This is my favourite amongst Mech’s wolf books. Mech’s passion and excitement lifts the book way over and beyond informative and rigourous science (which it is too); it is deeply insightful and touching. Some of the information in it is outdated… after all it is written in 1988, and more is known about wolves today. However, its strong personal “firstness” quality of a life dream coming true makes it the most captivating and memorable of Mech’s books out of the ones I’ve read so far.

View all my reviews

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