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Book Review: Wolves

by Nancy Gibson

      Taking an entire world of information on a given subject and distilling it into a useful introduction takes both a thorough knowledge of that subject, and great skill as a writer. In Wolves, Nancy Gibson provides an excellent example of how it should be done.

      Gibson's work as naturalist for the Emmy-award-winning PBS show Newton's Apple, and co-founder of the International Wolf Center in Minnesota have apparently shown her both what people want to know, and what they need to know about wolves to understand the much-maligned species.

      The book includes 52 beautiful colour photos of wolves around the world, from Africa to Siberia, from a domesticated wolf-dog hybrid to the dominance stances used in establishing a wolf pack's power hierarchy. Many of the photos are by Lynn and Donna Rogers, but images from people such as renowned wolf expert L. David Mech are also included.

      Wolves are no longer commonly seen in the wild, and "Wolves" begins by taking the reader into the world of a wolf researcher to show the thrill that such a sighting can produce: "Suddenly the branches cracked and seemingly out of nowhere two wolves appeared and began to run toward me. For me - and my pulsing heart - this was the glimpse of wild wolves that had eluded me for years."

      Gibson discusses some basic features of the life of wolves, from pack size to the social development of pups. This is followed by an excellent section on the 2 species of wolves (Red and Gray), and 7 of the 14 subspecies of gray wolf around the world.

      Possibly the most useful features of this book, however, are the sections on "Lupine Lore," in which the author debunks some of the common wolf myths (including some advanced by well-known authors such as Farley Mowat), and the state of international wolf conservation efforts. This is where Gibson's comprehensive knowledge of the wolf becomes most apparent. Although she makes it clear that Minnesota has been the source of a great deal of what we know about wolves, a broad perspective is successfully maintained.

      Given Gibson's background, it must have been very difficult to keep a professional voice in the section "War on Wolves," which describes attempts to eliminate wolves through the ages. The examples provided, however, are informative rather than sensationalist.

      Wolves provides a well-rounded introduction to Canis lupus, as well as being entertaining reading and a visual treat, and will be a valuable addition to school libraries in particular.

by Nancy Gibson
ISBN 089658299X
Publisher: Voyageur Press, 1996
Available at Amazon