Jim and Jamie Dutcher ran with the wolves 

Don't Be Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf

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I'm charging Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs with defamation. For years their libelous fables have portrayed wolves in a false light. I'd also like to call to the stand Stephanie Meyer for propagating the myth of the werewolf in her Twilight series. Tweens nationwide are now convinced that a simple camping trip could lead to a romantic tryst with a chiseled wolf boy. Thanks Steph, I can't wait to see what questions that'll raise in health class.

The truth? Forget everything you thought you knew about wolves and go see Jim and Jamie Dutcher's SEWE presentation, Living With Wolves.

From 1990 to 1996, the Dutchers lived in Idaho in a yurt with a pack of wolves. I repeat — six years in a yurt.

As the story goes, Jim began producing documentary films in the 1960s. His subject matter has varied from cougars to beavers, but his interest in wolves was sparked in his youth when he happened upon one of the fluffy guys while working on a horse ranch. After some research Jim discovered little had been documented about the lives of wolf packs or their social habits. Wanting to learn more, he decided to attempt to build a wolf pack within an enclosure below the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. There he could film the natural habitat of the wolves and document their lifestyle. Meanwhile, Jim was corresponding with Jamie, an employee in the animal hospital of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The two had met on a flight out of Africa and stayed in touch. Letters turned to love. Jamie left her D.C. abode and traded it in for Jim's yurt where they co-habitated for six years filming and photographing the wolves' every move.

Together, the duo made a few remarkable discoveries about wolves and walked away with two Emmys for their films. Far from the nightmarish depictions Hollywood has given us, the Dutchers uncovered the fact that wolves are extremely social creatures.

"When one of the pack members was killed," Jim says in a phone call from his home in Idaho, "the rest of the pack were despondent for a month. They were mourning."

As Living With Wolves shows, the relationship between wolves and their packs are strikingly similar to the relationships people have with their family members. In fact, it's their tight familial bonds that help them survive. Every member of the family has their role.

"There's a hierarchy," Jamie explains. "There's an alpha male who leads the pack and an omega who is there to encourage play and diffuse tension."

The documentary also shows how similar wolves can be to domesticated dogs. They love their puppies, they're affectionate to each other, and they have a strong sense of fear and friendship. Unfortunately, man has long misunderstood the wolf, and in the American West, wolves had once been hunted nearly to extinction.

But thanks in part to the Dutchers' research, that seems to be changing. "Wolf populations are being reintroduced into the wild in areas like Yellowstone," Jim says. And the reintroduction of the wolf population has actually been shown to improve the ecosystems in which they live. However, public misconception about wolves — not to mention flawed legislation — continues to threaten the species.

Ultimately, Jim says the couple's goal is for the American public to see wolves as "an intelligent social animal just like gorillas, elephants, and whales, and as a critical ecosystem manager, bringing balance to the natural world." Hopefully, their presentation at SEWE will be a step toward doing just that.

Now if we could only get the Three Little Pigs to quit spreading their lies about the igbay adbay olfway, we'd be set.

Related Locations

2011 Southeastern Wildlife Exposition

  • ACE of Basin

    When you're at SEWE this weekend, make sure that you catch an exclusive screening of Common Ground: The Story of the ACE Basin by documentarian Bill Bailey. The film tells the story of how various individuals and organizations helped protect the ACE river basin, which stretches from Charleston to Beaufort, S.C. ACE is an acronym that stands for the defining rivers of the St. Helena Sound: the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto. "These rivers were protected under a heroic conservation effort," Bailey says.
  • Dana Beach flocks to East Africa to photograph flamingos

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  • Wildlife of the Party

    Watching a bald eagle snatch a defenseless bunny with its talons on the boob tube can't compare to watching a bird of prey up close and personal. At least that's what David Hitzig, executive director of the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, believes.
  • Take Flight

    It's not that often that you see falcon ride a thermal above Marion Square and dive toward the ground at 150 miles per hour (and no, we're not exaggerating). If that was a regular occurrence — and quite frankly, we're not even sure if there's ever been a single instance of that happening — we seriously doubt you'd see that many bikini-wearing sunbathers and their tiny dogs lounging about. The falcon is a bird of prey, after all.
  • Get in the pit with barbecue badass Jimmy Hagood

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  • The Ultimate SEWE Guide

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  • It's Ducks Unlimited Season

    If you didn't make it to the Lowcountry Oyster Festival a few weeks back, have no fear. On Feb. 18, you'll have another chance to get your oyster fix at SEWE's Ducks Unlimited Oyster Roast. All-you-can-eat oysters will be the star of the event, but if you're not a mollusk lover, there will also be a down-home Lowcountry cookout from 6 to 8 p.m., featuring pulled-pork barbecue, shrimp and grits, venison chili, and Southern fried catfish.
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  • Game On

    For the second year in a row at SEWE, local chefs will show attendees how to cook with game, as well as Certified South Carolina Grown products. Jimmy Huggins, SEWE president and CEO, thinks the demonstrations will be popular again this year. "We like to offer a variety of interesting things for our guests. Showing off some of the Lowcountry's great chefs preparing food with delicious South Carolina products seemed like a great idea," he says.
  • Give It Up for the Pups

    I don't know about you but for months I've had that one peppy, smile-inducing song, "Dog Days are Over," permanently on repeat in my head. Florence and the Machine's rock/pop hit is catchy and energizing, but its title is completely off the mark — at least in Charleston. Here, the dog days are just beginning.

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