Farley Mowat

Never Cry Wolf

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Never Cry Wolf Summary

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Never Cry Wolf is a 1963 memoir by Canadian author and environmentalist Farley Mowat. Known as one of the foremost early works on the field biology of wolf ecosystems, Mowat investigates the predator-prey relationships that take place between wolves and caribou in North America. Mowat relates his experience as a young man navigating, for the first time, the Canadian wilderness and crossing paths with Ottawan forest officials. As one of the first works to advocate for the active study and preservation of natural relationships to a popular audience, Never Cry Wolf was met with harsh criticism at the time of its publication. Nevertheless, the book had a hugely successful print release, selling more than a quarter million copies. Mowat’s wilderness memoir made him one of the most well-respected environmentalists of the mid-twentieth century.

Mowat narrates the story, which begins while he is a young man. As he makes his first foray into his career as a forest ranger, he experiences a slew of missteps and misfortunes. First, he is given a mobile radio generally meant for use by seasoned forest rangers. Knowing that the radio only has a short range, Mowat alters the device to broadcast much further, trying out a distress signal using his codename, “Daisy Mae.” The call makes it all the way from Ottawa to Peru, where it frightens and confuses a man who only speaks Spanish.

While the memoir is punctuated by episodes that provide comic relief, it mainly consists of a sober recollection of the author’s job working for the Dominion Wildlife Service from 1948 to 1949. The company first hires Mowat to figure out why the population of caribou in the region has sharply declined. Even before he begins, Mowat notices that his bosses anticipate that he will return with evidence that the decline was caused by an influx of wolves. Mowat sets up camp next to a quarry by Nueltin Lake, an Eskimo territory in Northeastern Canada. There, he observes that the wolves are not, in fact, rampantly killing off the caribou. Rather, he finds that they prefer to prey on rabbits and small rodents.

Mowat continues to study the wolves’ behavior while he works on his caribou assignment. He develops a fond, though distant and symbolic, relationship with three wolves. They include a mating pair, George and Angeline, and an older lone wolf, Uncle Albert. Thinking that adopting some of the wolves’ behavior might help him draw insights into their ecosystem, Mowat begins subsisting on the same diet of small rodents. He befriends an Eskimo man and local wildlife expert, Ootek, who helps him interpret the wolves’ cries. Together, they track Angeline, George, and Uncle Albert to the dens where they shelter during the summer. Mowat’s experiences directly contradict many common beliefs about wolves’ temperament, intelligence, and behavior. Most significant of all is his finding that wolves are rarely hostile to humans without provocation. Ootek teaches Mowat that caribou have long evolved adaptations to outrun wolves, and so effectively occupy an independent ecological niche. If a wolf does kill a caribou, it is almost always one that is injured or dying.

At the end of the book, Mowat prepares to return to the city. Just before he concludes his two-year field study, he picks up the distinct howl of the wolf George. Now trained in the interpretation of wolf cries, he recognizes that George is calling for his family, and experiences a spiritual epiphany that such cries represent one of many whole universes of meaning that preceded human civilizations. Mowat wonders whether modern humans have relinquished an invaluable membership in the greater biological world. Never Cry Wolf points to the wealth of knowledge in Eskimo history and culture, as Mowat demonstrates an imperative for modern societies to remember and nurture the interrelated natural world.