JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

Wolves have been cast as villains in stories almost since there've been stories. Jesus warned against them in the Bible. Little Red Riding Hood was tormented by one. They've been favored symbols of evil from Aesop to Prokofiev. A new documentary shatters many lupine myths and shows just how much like people wolves can be. Jim and Jamie Dutcher are the husband and wife team behind "Living With Wolves." It premieres tonight on the Discovery Channel, and the Dutchers join us from Ketchum, Idaho.

Welcome.

Mrs. JAMIE DUTCHER ("Living With Wolves"): Thanks for having us, Jennifer.

Mr. JIM DUTCHER ("Living With Wolves"): Thank you, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: Jim, let's start with you because that's where this story does begin. It's in 1990. You got a permit to set up a wolf observation camp in the Sawtooth Mountains there in Idaho, where you--and then later Jamie came to live with you. You were there until 1996. Why did you first want to study wolf behavior?

Mr. DUTCHER: Well, I've always been interested in animals that are elusive, shy. And telling a story about an animal that's been misunderstood I found to be very intriguing.

LUDDEN: And, Jamie, you were in Washington, DC, before you joined Jim. What...

Mrs. DUTCHER: I was.

LUDDEN: He was writing you letters telling you what he was doing. What did you think?

Mrs. DUTCHER: I really hadn't experienced mountains like this before or snow and cold like this before, but it was so breathtakingly beautiful. And then to finally meet the wolves was an incredibly special moment. I was a little bit concerned that--what were they going to think of me, but I had been working at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, and knew a lot about animals and animal behavior and just kind of let it all unfold and let them come to me. And it was fine. I was accepted quite well.

LUDDEN: So as you both are watching these wolves, you're trying to stay on the sidelines and observe them. And you describe a very intricate social structure. I mean, tell me about this social structure that you see.

Mr. DUTCHER: Well, at the top of the pack of wolves is an alpha pair, male and female. Now they're the ones that make all the decisions: where to cross the rivers, which animal to prey upon. And they're the only two that mate. If there's lots of game, the beta wolf, which is just under the alpha, will get a chance to mate. Then there are midranking wolves in the middle of the pack, and they jostle back and forth to be on top of one another. And there's always a lot of squabbling during the feeding on carcasses that we would bring them, roadkills of deer, elk and antelope. And at the bottom of the pack is the omega, and we've always sort of had a warm spot in our hearts for the omega because they're so picked on. It's really sad. But they have a very important position in the pack. They instigate play--kind of diffuses pack tension. And they get a game of tag going, they pull tail and things like that.

And it was during one occasion when we had a wolf that was the omega that--she went missing, and we found her, and she had been killed. What happened next was what surprised us--is the pack, they mourned the loss of this wolf. They stopped playing for six weeks. They would sort of mope around and howl, as if they were trying to call her back.

LUDDEN: Jamie, you became a sound engineer for wolf camp. We have some of your recordings here. Let's listen to a bit.

(Soundbite of wolf recordings)

Mr. DUTCHER: Sometimes the wolves would howl at night when we were sleeping, and they would kind of talk back and forth to each other, like, `Are you there?' `I'm here.' `How are things?'--whatever they're saying. We have no idea.

LUDDEN: Now these wolves were in an enclosed space, a very large one, but it was closed off. You brought them meat. And given that they were provided for in that way, how honest do you think your observations of their life were?

Mrs. DUTCHER: Well, I think they very accurately mimicked wolves in the wild. And what Jim and I wanted to do was really delve into this social life of wolves and this hierarchy and this camaraderie that they had. And, really, what we learned is that you can watch wolves, and even though wolves are completely unrelated to us humans, our social lives, our family lives are so similar.

LUDDEN: What do you think the effect of your project is, if any, on the wolf population?

Mrs. DUTCHER: I think it really has actually helped quite a bit. A perfect example is we've had people come up to us, hunters, and have said, `Gee, you know, I've always wanted to bag a wolf, and I can't do it now. I didn't know they were family animals; I didn't know they were so social.' And to have that come from a hunter, you know, is huge.

Mr. DUTCHER: At the end of the project, we had to move the wolves; our permits with the US Forest Service had expired. And from the beginning I had a foundation that would take care of them, and we had a deal with the Nez Perce tribe. When we had to say goodbye and move them up there, it was really, really sad because we had a bond with these animals. And we did say goodbye, and they all came up to us and licked our faces and said--and, you know, we went our separate ways. And after about a year, we went back to see if the wolves would remember us and--this is in the film. And it was so special because they did remember us. It was just like, `Oh, my, they're back again.' They jumped up on us, licked our faces, whined and whined. They just were so excited. That probably was the most special part of the whole project for me.

LUDDEN: Jim and Jamie Dutcher are the husband and wife team behind "Living With Wolves." It premieres tonight on The Discovery Channel, and a companion book comes out later this month.

Thank you both so much.

Mrs. DUTCHER: Well, thank you, Jennifer.

Mr. DUTCHER: Well, thank you.

Mrs. DUTCHER: Thanks so much.

LUDDEN: To see photos of the Dutchers and their wolves, you can go to our Web site, npr.org.

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