You do WHAT?
By Jeanne du Plessis
There's a reason why game reserves, zoos and animal sanctuaries are so popular - people
love looking at wild animals. Even better is the experience of actually touching and
interacting with them. I've spent many happy hours at animal sanctuaries playing with
lion cubs, holding baby crocodiles and snakes, riding an elephant, stroking a cheetah and
feeling its rumbling purr. As much as I love all creatures great and small (sorry spiders,
not you), living with a wolf pack may be a little too interactive for me!
The Wolf Man
the fictional Mowgli lived quite happily
with wolves in The Jungle Book, this isn't
something most people would want to attempt
in real life. Shaun Ellis, aka Wolf Man, isn't
most people though. In a tale that really is stranger than
fiction, Shaun lived with a pack of wolves in the wild. As a boy
Shaun loved nature and animals, and always wanted to work
with animals in some way. In his twenties, he volunteered at a
wolf research centre and learnt a lot about wolf behaviour. He
wanted to get even closer, so he abandoned all human contact,
the comforts of modern living, home-cooked food and
personal hygiene to set off into the wild.
I want to live like animals...
So goes The Animal Song by Savage Garden. I've always had my
doubts about this song and its reference to animals living
"careless and free". We tend to romanticise the natural world,
but if you've ever watched a wildlife documentary or seen
lions munching on a carcass at the game reserve, you'll know
that it's pretty darn rough out there. Sure the concrete jungle
has its dangers, but at least we get indoor plumbing and don't
have to catch our own supper, or even worse, worry about
becoming another creature's supper. Shaun stuck it out in the
wild for several months before he crossed paths with a wolf,
and it took several more months before he got to know a pack.
Little by little he built up their trust until eventually he was
sleeping alongside them. They even started to bring him food
(try teaching your dog that trick!). He lived with the pack for
over a year, sleeping on the ground, drinking from streams and
eating raw deer. Eeuw...
18 SACF Vol. 7 No. 3
An expert in wolf and woof behaviour
Shaun has re-joined humanity, but his life still revolves
around wolves. He's currently a wolf behaviourist at the Wolf
Centre where he and his team study wolves and raise
awareness about wildlife and nature conservation.
Additionally, they offer dog psychology and training courses
to improve people's relationships with their dogs; wolves and
dogs have a very similar genetic make-up, and there's overlap
in their behaviour as well.
Before you bound off into the sunset...
Living or working with wolves sounds amazing (except the
raw deer part), but be warned: wild animals are, well, wild.
There are many cautionary tales about people who tried and
failed to befriend wild animals. There's Timothy Treadwell,
known as Grizzly Man, who attempted to bond with bears.
Result: eaten by bears. Locally, there was the
man with a pet hippo that he rode
around on. Result: death by hippo.
Another story that made headlines
is that of the American graduate
who ventured into a restricted
zone while studying chimp
behaviour at a Jo'burg chimp
sanctuary. Result: he's minus an
ear, several fingers and toes, and
a testicle. Attempting to cosy up
with a wild animal without expert
guidance is a bad idea, and could
harm both you and the animal. If you'd
like to try working hands-on with wild
animals, volunteer programmes are the
perfect opportunity to do so. Check
out our Gap Year article on the
wildlife sanctuary for more info! n
"Shaun lived with a wolf
pack for over a year,
sleeping on the ground,
drinking from streams
and eating raw deer."
© Simon Frazier, courtesy
of The Wolf Centre