SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Wolves are intelligent, social animals
that often are misunderstood.
For more than 20 years, Jim and Jamie Dutcher have focused
on documenting the behavior of wolves and providing information to dispel the
myths surrounding this keystone species.
“I’m a wildlife filmmaker, and I’ve produced films about
mountain lions, beavers and undersea subjects,” explained Jim Dutcher. “I saw
the wolf as being an animal that is misunderstood and secretive, and that
attracted me. But little did I know 20 years later I’d still be involved with
The couple lived with a pack of wolves for six years near
Idaho’s Sawtooth Wilderness.
“A woman in Montana saw the mountain lion film I’d made and
thought we could do some good for wolves,” Dutcher recalled. “There was a pack
of wolves that was about to be euthanized, so she gave us pups.”
To gain trust with the wolves, the couple set up a tented
camp and bottle-fed the pups from the moment they opened their eyes.
“If we went out to the wild to observe a pack of wolves,
they are so alert and wary of people they would change what they naturally do
and watch the filmmakers,” Dutcher said. “They would watch us observing them,
and we wouldn’t really capture the relationships.”
By the end of the project, the pack had grown to 11 wolves.
“All behavior studies done on wolves have to be done in
captivity because you can’t get close enough in the wild,” Jamie Dutcher noted.
“Most studies are done in enclosures of one to three acres, but we had the
largest enclosure in the world of 25 acres.”
However, she stressed, these wolves in no way were pets.
“They wouldn’t come to you if you called them,” she said.
“But this was a way for them to be comfortable with us and our camera gear so
they would go about their lives.”
The Sawtooth Pack taught the Dutchers many things during the
time they spent with these family animals.
“They taught us about being a family and working together,”
Dutcher explained. “One thing wolves do — that humans forget a lot of times — is
they forgive each other.
“You’ll see two wolves have an argument and you can tell one
is miffed with the other,” she added. “A few hours later, they’re friends
And, Dutcher said, the wolves have a lot of heart and soul.
“I think a lot more people need to see and understand this,”
she said. “It’s hard to watch wolves and not see your family dog and know we
have wolves to thank for so much.”
Wolves will educate their young, protect the injured and
nurse them back to health, Jim Dutcher said.
“We had a wolf that was killed by a mountain lion in our
project,” he recalled. “The pack played every day, but they stopped playing for
six weeks after that wolf died. The pack stopped howling as a group and howled
separately. They really seemed to be mourning.”
After they completed three films about the wolves, the
Dutchers thought about moving on to other subjects.
“But we kept coming back to wolves because they really need
our help due to so much misunderstanding,” Jamie Dutcher said. “So our way to
say thank you is now we’re working for wolves until there is a better
“We put down our camera gear and formed a nonprofit group —
Living with Wolves,” Jim Dutcher added. “On our advisory board we have
scientists, biologists, ranchers, ethical hunters and tour operators. We’re
pro-ranching, we work with ranchers on solutions to conflict.”
“It means having ranchers going back to methods they were
doing 100 years ago when we were living with predators,” he said. “Our advisers
on our board have had huge success with ranchers that have had issues with
wolves predating on their livestock.”
As a keystone species, wolves are important to keep the
“A keystone species is the dominant predator whose removal
allows prey populations to explode, often decreasing the overall diversity,”
Jamie Dutcher explained. “By keeping the ungulates moving, that keeps the land
healthier which allows for other animals to thrive.”
For example, Jim Dutcher said, by reintroducing wolves into
the West, elk have a predator to chase them around.
“Now the elks are up on the ridges and more alert,” he
noted. “Along the rivers and streams, the vegetation has come back, and this had
done many different things. It shades the water and makes it cooler and better
habitat for trout, so now there are more trout, beavers and song birds, which
make a more balanced ecosystem.”
In addition to the three films about wolves, the couple also
wrote a book The Hidden Life of Wolves.
“We’re really proud of the book,” Jamie Dutcher said. “With
all the information in the book, we hope we can bring about a better
understanding of wolves.”
From March 22 to July 7, the “Living With Wolves” exhibit
will be displayed at Chicago’s Field Museum.
“The exhibit includes our images and captions that describe
the behavior of wolves, how they get along as a family and the hierarchy of the
alphas,” Jim Dutcher said.
“The alphas are the only ones that mate, and that only
happens once a year.”
The exhibit also features information about ranching
solutions, myths about wolves and how hunting wolves makes it worse for the
“This is the second time we’ve displayed ‘Living With
Wolves.’ The first time was at rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building in
Wash ington, D.C.,” Dutcher said.
“After Chicago, the National Geographic Society will take
the exhibit on the road, and it will become part of their stable of exhibits
they distribute across the country in natural history museums.”
For more information about Living With Wolves organization,
More details about the Field Museum exhibit are available at