In Retrospect, Ferrets Probably Would Have Been Better.
The old alpha wolf hid in the flattened moss depression of a moose's bed in the midst of an alder thicket, invisible less than three-dozen strides from the campfire. Hours earlier, he sent the rest of his pack stalking a migrating reindeer herd, with firm orders not to hunt anywhere near the human camp until he returned. While their men were off hunting that same herd, the women and children bustled around, doing obscure chores or playing, respectively: wasting their energy, as far as he was concerned. Young cubs played freely among the children, while a mature female wolf watched over all. He watched her.
The melting of the ice and the return of great herds brought plentiful game, making life better year after year for all predators, but each year a few young wolves crept off to find small bands of humans, somehow forming them into surrogate packs. Improbably, they seemed to thrive, and finally he came to the only who would tell him why.
He sat quietly, watching, waiting for dark. Her body language all that afternoon told him that she had already sensed him. If she still acknowledged she owed dged she owed him any small bit of respect she would come out to meet him after dark. Or he supposed he would go take her. But once it was full night and the humans were crowded close around their fire, she limped on her three remaining good legs out of the dark to meet him. She had lost the leg in a rock fall when the pack had left her for dead. But she lived, and, grayed now like him, she was his last surviving litter-mate: indeed, the last he knew lived from their generation. She bent her neck to him, showing only the slightest submissiveness.
"So you are still the Alpha. I'd thought you'd been replaced two seasons ago."
"Not yet. Soon, I'm sure. We are both old, sister. He who defeats me will not be so tolerant of what you are doing here, if you still live by then."
"I'll outlive you. And I'm no longer with the pack, now."
"That's why I've come. You keep the humans with your 'pack': Why?"
"I've had good fortune with them. When the pack left me, I was crippled and pregnant, I could not even hunt. But I found a small band of humans-it was easy to steal food from their camp. They catch more food than they can eat. So I decided, why not keep them for my own? It hasn't been easy to tame these. It took several weeks of circling just outside their camp, not running unless they attacked. Their ancestors were wild, after all: More likely to attack than to let me stay. Gr stay. Gradually, sticking closer each time, I tamed them. They learned to appreciate the advantages of teaming up with a wolf.
Once I was able to move in with them, I discovered they can be trained if you catch them young enough. I raise their young alongside my own litter. The females make tending a litter easy: they have so few small ones of their own; and will always care for an extra cub or two. Now, with my sons' help driving game towards the males, this pack is even easier to feed. And humans store food for leaner times just like squirrels."
"You couldn't hunt back then: Why did young pack members keep leaving to join you?"
"There are benefits. Once they are tamed, even a lazy wolf can keep humans if he is willing to put up with their clumsy affection. They can be made to groom your fur, throw sticks to chase, and even bring food. All you have to do is make noise if a predator comes while they sleep, for they can barely hear."
"I don't understand. Could I come in and see them for myself?"
"It might be possible. They have trouble telling one wolf from another. You must move slowly and keep very still. Can you do that, brother?"
"I'll try." She led him out of the thicket. He watched the thick fur on her well-fed flanks ripple in the glow of the fire as she returned to camp. He was lean and wiry while she was plump. Another difference. One of her sons, f her sons, an immature-looking subordinate male (though powerfully built), met her as he patrolled the perimeter. He stood ready to challenge the old wolf, but backed down as she bared her teeth. They walked slowly toward the fire. His mouth watered at the smell of a reindeer haunch roasting over it. Laying on a piece of reindeer hide, a man and a woman fed each other pieces of meat, laughing. She led him up behind them.
The male quieted when he saw them, looking steadily into the old wolf's eyes, picking up a rib bone as if he might attack. But the she-wolf stepped right past him, thrusting her head into the woman's lap. The woman giggled and placed both her hands on her ears, rubbing them. She spoke to the man. He looked hard at the wolf once again, and then reached out with the hand not holding the bone. The old wolf stood very still, stretching his neck as far as he could forward. His teeth bared slightly as the hand continued past his muzzle, beyond the limit of his sight. He tensed, waiting for the grip on his throat.
Instead, he felt a soft touch beneath his ear. The human rubbed his cheek fur, causing a sensation of pleasure the wolf had not felt since he was a cub. This was the temptation that would make a wolf stay. He snarled and turned, running. He disappeared into the night while he could. Now he knew.
Her strange pack was doing well; just like the others he'd seen. It wasIt was undeniable: wolves did better when then had humans around them. The old alpha male was afraid of how simple it was. He wondered how many more generations of wolves would hunt without using humans. He was afraid, once the rest knew; all would creep toward the campfires.
But not him: He was too old to try to tame such large, fierce animals: But she had discovered something: he couldn't reject the entire concept. Maybe if he tried something smaller, like ferrets. Sure, that was it. Catch one or two alive, teach them to flush rabbits or mice from their burrows. That would work well enough, and would avoid the temptation.
"Return to Index"