Wolves have some of the worst PR in the animal world. That’s just one reason why the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives enacted legislation late last month lifting sanctions on the hunting of wolves in Alaska and other states where the predators still remain in the wild.
The legislation also allows the killing of wolves and grizzly bears while they’re hibernating — the North American equivalent basically, of South Africa’s controversial — and widely condemned — canned hunting industry, in which lions and other trophy animals are bred in wire enclosures specifically for wealthy visitors to “hunt” once they reach adulthood.
Natural history films and even big-budget Hollywood movies have done their part over the years to counter the prevailing notion that wolves are wanton killers that, left to their own devices, would wipe all livestock off the face of western Canada and the U.S.
Never Cry Wolf, filmmaker Carroll Ballard’s graceful 1983 adaptation of the first-hand account of living among wild wolves by the late Canadian author and environmentalist Farley Mowat, and Dances with Wolves, Kevin Costner’s period western about a disaffected Civil War vet who chooses to live what remains of his life among the Lakota Sioux of South Dakota — the film went on to win seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture for 1991 — while influential at the time, have done little to counter the time-worn view of wolves as nature’s marauders. Even in the 21st century, the prevailing public impression of the wolf is the Big Bad Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood fame and infamy, the villain of outdoor tales — fanciful or otherwise — stretching all the way back to the time when early humans gathered around the fire to complain about life in the great outdoors.
Wolves’ bad PR has made it possible for ranchers, big-game hunters and other self-interested parties to do away with pesky regulations, even when previous administrations — under former U.S. President Barack Obama, for example — enacted legislation enshrining the survival of the world’s rapidly shrinking wild spaces, and the animals that live there.
Recent weeks have shown that there’s no legislation, particularly anything governing environmental protections, that can’t be dismissed with the stroke of a pen.
And yet, for all the criticism leveled against nature documentaries and how they can be crafted to manipulate or even deceive their audience into believing that what they’re seeing is real, films and TV programs can and occasionally do a lot to counter fear and ignorance.
A 2010 video of wolves cavorting with a worker at an animal refuge in Norway went viral on YouTube, and has since racked up more than 10 million views. A more recent video — from February of last year — of a wildlife-refuge worker in Colorado reunited with a timber wolf after a two-month absence, has racked up more than 800,000 views.
It’s a safe bet that few, if any, of those viewers believe shooting wolves from helicopters qualifies as ethical hunting, let alone choose to do that in their spare time.
And then there is The Fable of the Wolf, an animated short from the environmental group Earthjustice, that gives an abbreviated history of the relationship between wolves and people, dating back some 33,000 years, when, recent research shows, early humans and wolves often worked together after a fashion, by tracking, isolating and running down large prey animals.
This early symbiotic relationship led to the domestication of some wolves, who would one day become “man’s best friend” — dogs.
Wild wolves and domesticated sheep, calves and goats don’t get along, though, and American government legislation sanctioning the extermination of wild wolves goes back to the 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite the occasional respite, during the Clinton and Obama years for example, wolves make an easy scapegoat, especially during hard economic times in the farming states.
Facts are unfashionable these days, but The Fable of the Wolf — which makes no secret of its agenda — is especially poignant for the fact that it happens to be true.
It’s not a wildlife film, in the traditional sense. It’s animated, so it can’t be. It has an interesting tale to tell, though. And only the most cold-hearted can watch it and then dismiss it as so much propaganda.
The PR war is heavily weighted the other way, in any event. Wolves will forever be the Big Bad Wolf in the public imagination. In its own small way — just 70,000 views on YouTube so far and counting — The Fable of the Wolf is an effort to counter centuries-old misconceptions. For that reason alone, it’s worth seeing.