As a good companion piece to PBS’ recent “In the Company of Wolves,” the animals howl again on ABC as they lope around an enormous, enclosed wilderness in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains in an hour families can appreciate.
Wolf biologists and a film crew release a male wolf into the wilderness where he encounters a lone female. Everything’s jake until the same folks send in five wolf pups, who adhere to the male while the adult female mysteriously wanders off into exile. Program shows the pups growing up with the adult male; the solo female is observed occasionally staring warily toward the camera.
Myths, legends and superstitions about wolves are presented to show why man’s afraid of wolves, but they’re too neatly explained. Docu does try to explain why wolves can’t become pets — they have their own strict social structure, they don’t come when called and couldn’t live in a house. It might be added that they also devour livestock.
They’re playful, will eat out of a human hand without taking the hand, and recognize benefactors. But they’re “ambassadors to wilderness,” as writer David R. O’Dell so aptly puts it, and subject to only their own code. Producer Jim Dutcher gets some good if sometimes routine shots of the Sawtooth Pack, as this bunch is called, and includes the discovery that the lone female’s problem is that she’s suffering from cataracts. Eye operations are performed on camera, but her immediate recovery is passed over. Two months later she’s back alone in the wilds, unable to join that Sawtooth bunch for some unexplained reason, but joined by a happy pup.
Watching round-eyed youngsters meet a wolf in a classroom is OK stuff, but the dispute between ranchers and conservationists is loosely handled. And what happens to the Sawtooth Pack if it were to move into the real wilderness is a mystery.
A good visual experience because wolves are photogenic as all get-out, the docu does hold attention with what it says and shows. A reprise of b&w clips of wolves being trapped years ago and the glum reminder that the U.S. government ordered all wolves exterminated in 1907 only underscore the difficulty facing conservationists as well as ranchers, whose cattle, sheep and horses will be dead ducks if the wolves are allowed to roam the South 48.
There’s supposed to be a compromise, but no one’s singing that tune from “The Three Little Pigs” yet.