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Lupinity and Humanity

A Novel Review of Never Cry Wolf


by Daymon Krotez
18/06/2012

But for me it was a voice which spoke for the lost world which was once ours before we
chose an alien role; a world which I had glimpsed and almost entered...only to be excluded,
at the end, by my own self. Farley Mowat

Never Cry Wolf is a humorous and thought-provoking autobiography written by biologist and
naturalist Farley Mowat. In the book, Farley Mowat is sent on a mission to discover why northern
caribou populations are dropping severely. He must survive in a wild, unknown, and hostile
environment while overcoming his own fundamental fears. He soon discovers that what is
commonly known about wolves is a fallacy and works to discover more about the unique and
interesting creatures that they are. In the process he discovers the power of fear and ignorance as
well as the possibility of learning and changing. In these ways Never Cry Wolf raises fundamental
questions about the nature of humanity.

In chapter 18, Mowat tells a story of an entire military base being roused to action and fear by a
single rabid wolf. The fervour began when a Canadian army corporal leaving the beer hall was
allegedly attacked by a gigantic wolf with murderous intent. There was no physical evidence of
the attack but his warning sent the army camp into a panic. Squads of soldiers, both Canadian and
American, armed with rifles and spotlights were mobilized. For two days women and children
stayed indoors. Trips to distant buildings were either made in jeeps, heavily armed, or not at all.
During the ordeal eleven huskies, an American PFC, and a Chippewayan man were killed. The
irrational panic and chaos only ended when the wolf was struck and killed by an army truck. The
rabid wolf had been lying on the road and was by then so sick that it was unable to move.

After hearing much about the supposed evils of wolves from locals and reading what little was
known of them, Mowat was himself subject to the irrational fear of wolves. After landing on a
frozen lake and attempting to communicate with his superiors, Farley realizes that he is alone in
wolf country. After hearing the distant howls of what he believes to be wolves, he convinces himself
that there must be a large pack coming in his direction. He hides himself beneath his canoe and
awaits their arrival. Only after hearing a human voice, does he realize that the ravenous pack of
wolves he believed to be in his camp was actually a team of huskies led by a local resident.

As the book progresses, Mike, the man whose house Mowat lives in for the majority of the book,
grows in ever-increasing fear of Farley. At first, he simply thinks that Mowat is strange, but after
Farley attempts to share what he is doing and explains some of his equipment Mike becomes more
and more distrustful and afraid. Mike becomes particularly distraught after Farley shows him his
collection of autopsy tools and, when he has trouble explaining what an autopsy is, shows him a
diagram of the dissection of a human abdomen. Eventually, Mike becomes so uncomfortable and
afraid that he leaves his own home.

During his time studying wolves, Farley Mowat reveals that wolves were not responsible for the
decline of caribou populations, as believed. In fact, Mowat discovered that the wolves actually help
the caribou by culling the weak and diseased which helps the herds stay strong. He places the blame
on governmental policy and irresponsible hunting practices. Farley believes the government gives
permits to hunters knowing full well that they are going to use illegitimate methods of hunting. In
Brochet, a small settlement in northern Manitoba, wolves were being blamed for the disappearance
of caribou. The fact is local hunters had been killing 50,000 caribou a year for decades. They were
lucky to kill more than a few thousand after decimating the local population so greatly.
Mowat also tells a story of a local hunter who brought him to view a massacred herd of caribou,
claiming wolves were responsible. The dead caribou had been left untouched but for three of the
animals, whose heads had been taken as trophies. In reality, the caribou had been killed by hunters.
The hunters would cruise around in an aircraft searching for caribou. When they would find a group
they would circle around the animals to round them up and fire their weapons until every last one
was dead. They would then land nearby and take trophies from a few of the largest animals and
depart from the scene.

The government encourages the war against wolves by offering considerable bounty for killing
wolves. Hunters often would use illegal or inhuman methods to kill the wolves which the
government does not stop. One such method was to spread strychnine over a large portion of the
landscape, killing much of the local population of foxes, wolverines, and other small carnivores as
well as the wolves themselves. Farley claims that the bounty also becomes a subsidy for trappers
and traders in times when the value of foxes and other furs is reduced.

Farley Mowat grows and evolves throughout the book. Initially, he is as ignorant and scared of
wolves as many of the people he meets. As he begins to settle in and becomes comfortable with his
surroundings, Mowat begins to learn from the wolves as well as some of the people he meets. He
quickly discovers that much of what he knows about wolves is false or incomplete and although he
is sceptical at first he changes his views. During his stay, Mowat befriends an Inuit shaman by the
name of Ootek. After a while, they learn to communicate with each other without the help of a
translator. Mowat learns a great deal about wolves and the local environment from the shaman.
Ootek shares with Farley that the caribou and wolves have a symbiotic relationship; The caribou
feeds the wolf, and the wolf keeps the caribou strong. At first, Mowat is very sceptical of Ootek's
information, but after seeing the evidence for himself he comes to trust Ootek and opens his eyes to
the unseen word of wolves.

Farley learned about the wolves from his own experiences and observations of them and came to
respect them greatly. But in the end, he still had his own fear and ego to wrestle with. In the final
chapter of the book, Mowat decides to investigate the wolves' den, believing it to be empty. Shortly
before he enters, an airplane roars overhead, skimming the esker where the den is. After crawling
several feet into the den and turning a corner, Farley realizes that the den is not in fact empty. He
sees the dim glow of two pairs of eyes and freezes in terror as deeply ingrained prejudices override
his experiences and familiarity with the family. The two wolves, who he identifies as Angeline (the
mother) and one of the pups, are also frozen, either in fear of the aircraft or Mowat's invasion of
their home. Mowat later confesses that his fear and anger was so great that had he been in
possession of his rifle he probably would have tried to shoot both of them. In the final page of the
book he writes that mine had been the fury of resentment born of fear: resentment born against the
beasts who had engendered naked terror in me and who, by doing so, had intolerably affronted my
human ego.

After the release of the book, many readers brought into question their views regarding wolves. The
book was even turned into a major motion picture in later years. It is safe to say that Mowat helped
a great deal to save the wolves from extinction by raising awareness of their plight and impending
extinction. He refuted many of the negative characteristics commonly accepted by people, revealing
wolves not to be savage beasts, but kind, familial animals.
Throughout his book, Farley highlights many human characteristics and emotions, both positive and
negative. He encounters people who are fearful and ignorant and allow their egos to control them.
He encounters people who are kind and generous. He encounters people who live only for
themselves regardless of the effect it may have on others. Throughout his journey, he observes these
characteristics in himself and, in some cases, is ashamed. He evolves and grows from these self-
observations, though not without difficulty. The book is eye-opening to the world of wolves, as well
as the world of humans. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys humorous writing, has an interest in
wildlife/biology, or finds the varied and often irrational actions of human beings intriguing. I think
that any person can benefit and learn from the stories and lessons that Farley shares in Never Cry
Wolf.