During his field research for Of Wolves and Men, BL spent several weeks with Bob Stephenson (walking behind BL), a wolf biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. This heavily-sedated female wolf was six or seven years old and weighed about 85 pounds. See story below.
BL with Desmond Tutu in Indonesia, May 2006. Wilford Welch, who invited both of them to work with him in Ubud, Bali, at Quest for Global Healing, is at center. The gathering brought together 500 people from 40 countries for presentations and workshops.
In May 1987 I was traveling with six other people across southern Africa. Here, on the Boro River in northern Botswana, we encountered a wounded male hippo. Hippos are highly territorial, and this one was very agitated. See story below.
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I was midway in my research for Of Wolves and Men when Bob Stephenson—walking behind us here—invited me to join him in the field, to learn about this kind of scientific research. I was initially drawn to Stephenson’s work because, in order to learn about these animals, he’d apprenticed himself to a group of Nunamiut Eskimo living at Anaktuvuk Pass in the Brooks Range. He had identified the wolf in the photo from the survey helicopter as “a female, an older one.” I kidded him at the time, saying nobody could be that discerning about a wild wolf, not from a distance. “Well,” he said, unassumingly, “it’s one of the things the Nunamiut taught me to do.” Indeed, during the week we spent radio collaring and tracking wolves in Nelchina Basin, Bob's ability to age and sex wolves like this one from a distance was unerringly correct.
One thing the wolf in this photo taught me was what it means to be a sustaining – and sustained – member of a community. Despite her age (apparent from the condition of her teeth), she had impressive fat reserves for late winter. She might not have been physically able to help in the later stages of a successful moose or caribou hunt, but she knew where to point the other wolves in her pack in pursuit of food, into which of the many valleys in this mountainous country she should direct them.
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There being little chance that he would move on, we had to devise a plan to get each of our mokoros (a narrow, shallow-draft, dugout canoe) around him. Our plan was, first, to have my tentmate Ben (in the red shorts) and I keep the hippo distracted on the cutbank side of the river by slashing at the water with ngashis (slender, wooden boat poles). Once we drew the hippo to that side of the river, the others could pull the mokoros out on the point-bar side of the river—where there was no high bank to deal with—drag them downriver, relaunch, and pick up Ben and me.
The scene here looks more dangerous than it actually was. The hippo was unlikely to move away from the water, where he felt safe. To get to the top of the cutbank, the hippo, using its short legs, would need time to make two strides; and Ben and I had a lot of unobstructed country behind us to retreat into. The chance he would pursue us away from the river was virtually nil. At the moment the photo was taken, the hippo, until then standing on the bottom of the river and invisible to us through the muddy water, burst through the surface but, for the second time, broke off his charge.
We got around him and a while later arrived at a village where we learned that this hippo had been wounded earlier in the day by another hippo and that it had attacked another mokoro just a few minutes before we arrived at this spot. That boatman had been severely injured and had to be medevaced to a hospital in Maun.
Hippos kill more people in Africa each year than any other wild animal.
Updated 5 February 2016
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Barry Holstun Lopez. All Rights Reserved.