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Like most young children, I grew up with an innate fear of wolves. It wasn’t until I was a bit older and saw a wolf in a zoo that I realised how far away this animal was from the mythological creature I’d learned about in books and films.

I grew up in a small village in Norfolk and was always interested in the natural world and wild animals. I knew I wanted to work with them in some way when I was older. In my 20s, I read about an American naturalist, Levi Holt, who ran a wolf research centre in Idaho and I thought, “That’s where I want to go.” I sold everything I had and raised enough money for my plane fare. When I met up with biologists working on the reservation, they took me on as a basic field biologist, teaching me how to track wolves and collect data for them.

Even though the other biologists and scientists thought it was dangerous, I soon wanted to get closer to the wolves really to understand their behaviour. I couldn’t help wondering, “Could a human become part of their family?” If I could, I thought, imagine what information I could share.

After a year or two of working for the centre and getting to know the area – a rugged, mountainous landscape covered in forest – I moved to the wild. The first time I got up close to a wolf, within around 30 metres, any fear I had quickly turned to respect. I stayed in a den area, a remote spot where wolves look after their young, and very soon one pack began to trust me. I lived with them day and night, and from the start they accepted me into their group. I ate what they ate, mostly raw deer and elk, which they would often bring back for me, or fruit and berries. I never fell ill and my body adapted quickly to its new diet. It’s easy to look back and think, “What horrible food”, but when you haven’t eaten for a week, it looks appetising.

I couldn’t hunt, but I soon became useful looking after the younger ones. I would spend days sitting outside the den, observing their behaviour and trying to make sure they kept out of danger. I stayed with the same pack for over a year, watching pups grow to adulthood. I never missed human contact during that time.

I felt a tremendous sense of belonging with the wolves. Whenever I began to think about my old life, I would quickly switch my thoughts back; in terms of survival, I had constantly to focus on my new habitat. Although I didn’t see anyone, there were people back at the reservation and I had a rendezvous point where I could leave messages if I felt I was in danger. I was only ever truly scared on two occasions: once, when all the wolves were feeding, I ate the wrong piece of meat – there is a strict hierarchy of who eats what part of an animal – and one of the wolves leapt on me in seconds because of my mistake. He took my entire face in his mouth and started to squeeze hard. I could feel the bones in my jaw begin to bend, and in that split-second I realised how vulnerable I was and how restrained they were most of the time.

The other time, I wanted to get a drink from the stream and one of the wolves stopped me dead in my tracks, growling, snarling and nipping me. I thought, “This is the end, he’s going to finish me off.” An hour or so later, he started to lick my face and we both went to the stream for a drink. There I saw evidence of recent bear tracks and droppings, and I realised this was why he guarded me. I would almost certainly have been killed but, more importantly, my tracks would have led back to their young, so it was for their protection.

Eventually I had to leave; I had lost so much weight and looked gaunt and worn after a year . Life expectancy in that sort of environment was short and I felt it was time to come back to society. Returning to the world was a tremendous culture shock, but I knew I could do a lot with the knowledge I’d acquired. I now run a centre in Devon that helps wild and captive wolves, and offers educational courses. I want to show people that wolves aren’t savage and ruthless – they are balanced and trustworthy creatures that place their family above all else. ~ Shaun Ellis

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Thích Quảng Đức was a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection on 11 June 1963. He was protesting against the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam’s Ngô Đình Diệm administration.

“I was to see that sight again, but once was enough. Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think… As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.”

Phillip Adams interviews John Pilger about the latest WikiLeaks. Taken from the latest episode of Late Night Live. Listen below…

 

Bengal TigerI was reading The Guardian this morning and came across some portraits of Bengal Tigers which made them look as if they had almost human expressions on their faces. I immediately thought of Werner Herzog’s doco Grizzly Man about a man who becomes obsessed with Grizzly Bears in Alaska and sees them as some sort of misunderstood gentle giants and not the wild beasts that they really are. These portraits, as beautiful as they are, left a bad taste in my mouth (they reminded me of people who dress up small dogs to look like pirates or their favourite superhero). With this in mind I decided to investigate further and found that the photos were taken in Florida at T.I.G.E.R.S. (The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species) I wonder how long it took someone to come up with that acronym! It seems at T.I.G.E.R.S. they have a number of these rare and majestic beasts which they use as “ambassadors” in a sort of travelling circus / stage show to educate people and raise money for conservation projects. From the pictures on the site the show appears to feature actors dressed up like extras from Xena: Warrior Princess!
I dug deeper and things got even stranger when I came across… The Liger. That’s right! It’s not just Napoleon Dynamite’s favourite animal – they actually exist! (see photo below) As quoted on the site “The liger is the world’s largest big cat. An average male liger weighs over 900 pounds and standing almost 12 feet tall. The reason that they are called a liger is because the father was a lion and the mother was a tiger. If the situation was reversed and the mother was a lion and the father was a tiger, he would be called a tigon, and would be a dwarf instead of a giant. A fully grown tigon is usually less that 350lbs. Ligers are not sterile, and they can reproduce. If a liger were to reproduce with a tiger, it would be called a titi, and if it were to reproduce with a lion, it would be call a lili. Ligers are not something we planned on having. We have lions and tigers living together in large enclosures. We had no idea how well one of the lion boys was getting along with a tiger girl. Low and behold, she had giant brown babies, and we knew we had ourselves some ligers.” Somewhere in Florida, truth really is stranger than fiction!liger

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