SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Known as the Wolfman after living with packs of wolves, Shaun Ellis is the first to admit his controversial research is shunned by academic circles, but he remains undeterred from his message of conservation.
Like Steve “Crocodile Hunter” Irwin or Timothy “Grizzly Man” Treadwell, both of whom were killed by animals they worked to protect, Ellis lives closely with his subjects, ingratiating himself with wolf packs to live, eat, and sleep with them.
Ellis said for centuries wolves have been viewed as evil, a perception he wanted to change. He also wants to find ways to humanely manage wolf populations overlapping human worlds, rather than shooting the animals.
He has already been the subject of several documentaries including “Living With The Wolfman,” and hopes a new memoir out this month, “The Man Who Lives With Wolves,” on top of two previous books he has written about wolves, will help his cause.
Ellis, who is based at Combe Martin Wildlife Park in North Devon, England, where he works with 17 wolves and runs WolfPack Management, spoke to Reuters about his book and his work:
Q: Have you always had this interest in wolves?
A: “Like any young boy, I had been brought up with the fear of wolves but during my first encounter at a wildlife park I felt a kindred spirit with them rather than fear. I was about 14 or 15 at the time. There was something about the animal that did not seem to justify the bad reputation that it had.”
Q: You were a gamekeeper and in the Royal Marines before you started working with wolves in 1990. How did the shift happen?
A: “I was fascinated by wolves and went to spend about seven years living with Native Americans in northern Idaho to study wolves. That began a lifetime career.”
Q: What did you take away from that experience?
A: “They taught me that if you want to speak for an Indian, you have to live as an Indian. If you want to speak for a wolf, you have to live as a wolf. Not until we live as the creatures will we truly understand how they feel.”
Q: What is it that you admire about wolves?
A: “We have lost sight and track of the abilities we once had to look after and protect ourselves. Wolves have a loyal family bond and respect each others as rivals. They value community spirit, the extended family and knowledge of experience. I felt more in their world than in my own.”
Q: You spent 18 months living in captivity at Combe Martin Wildlife Park raising three abandoned wolf cubs and becoming the alpha male of the pack. How did you cope?
A: “I had to spend 24 hours a day with them 7 days a week to become their surrogate parent. In the wolf world, we think differently. The most amazing thing happened as rather than deteriorate, my body prepared me for that world and I was never healthier.”
Q: You didn’t get sick from lack of hygiene or eating raw meat with the wolves?
A: “Not really. If you get cuts the wolf will sit there and lick wounds which then heal in a fraction of the time. As humans we may be a bit too clean, living in too much of a cotton wool world. I got worms once or twice from the raw meat but took pills for that.”
Q: Do you still spend much time with them?
A: “I still go and spend time with them, maybe four to six hours a day depending on other commitments, but the wolves have indicated now, as I am getting older, that I am seen as a grandfather figure for teaching the young.”
Q: You’ve lived with wolves in the United States, Poland and England. Is this possible anywhere?
A: “I am not naive enough to think I could go and live with every pack of wolves. What we are talking about is where wolves have come into contact with people’s farms and there is a clear problem. We have found a way of entering these packs that are used to people. Let’s try to understand them.”
Q: You introduced your girlfriend Helen to the pack at Combe. What happened?
A: “She did so well coming from no background whatsoever and we proved that the wolf lifestyle is all about bluff ... but any relationship modern day will struggle and we are no longer together. I have found it hard to move from the wolf world where there is no emotion back to the human world where my loved ones can find me unapproachable.”
Q: You are an admirer of Steve Irwin and Timothy Treadwell?
A: Yes, the only thing that put them in danger was their passion to get these animals heard.”
Editing by Miral Fahmy