On January 30, 2022 60 Minutes did an excellent segment on the wolves of Yellowstone National Park.
In short, the story goes like this:
- Wolves have had a terrible image in storytelling and media
- We humans wiped out wolves from Yellowstone and surrounding areas
- There was an incredible reintroduction of wolves back in 1995
- This caused a “trophic cascade” of ecological changes in the Park
- There is little depredation by wolves on livestock but still lots of enmity for them
- Yellowstone, especially in the winter, has become the number one place in the world to view wolves in the wild
All of this has been explained countless times in articles and magazines. And 60 minutes does a pretty good job of it. But what is rarely explained is why we humans have become so enamored with watching wolves in the wild. Doug Smith, Project Leader for the Wolf Restoration Project, does a pretty good job of this in the 60 minute segment, making it worth watching. But we’d like to take it a bit further here.
In essence, we believe humans love watching the wolves of Yellowstone because the wolves remind us of ourselves.
- Wolves have an incredible sense of family bonding. They are pack animals who hunt together, sleep together, eat together, and play together.
- Wolves seem to express emotions similar to ours. They seem via their actions and even facial expressions to be lonely, scared, excited, and playful.
- Wolves are fiercely protective of their own property. They mark their territory (similar to us putting up fences) and will defend their territory to the death.
- The lives of wolves are rich yet not easy. They play joyfully yet have battles. They sleep leisurely on a hot summer day yet trudge through the snow in a blowing winter blizzard.
Biologists caution us not to anthropomorphize, or to attribute human characteristics to animals. On our wolf tours, we have a wolf biologist with us and we make sure to present the science of wolf reintroduction, including all sides of the story.
But at the same time, we say – why not engage in a little emotional bonding with the wolves we watch? We spend our time in Yellowstone because we love watching wolves. And if you have ever owned a dog, you know that many of the anthropomorphizing we do is real.
60 Minutes does a great job providing a summary of the reintroduction and Doug Smith does a pretty good job talking about the emotional content of watching wolves. In our experience, however, there is nothing like watching a wolf in the wild, in person.