Watch CBS News

Life Inside A Wolf Pack

Wolves are often perceived as man's mortal enemies. But are they? CBS News Correspondent Alison Stewart gets a rare look inside pack of wild wolves.

For six years, in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, husband and wife filmmakers Jim and Jamie Dutcher lived with animals most people will never even see (since they were nearly hunted to extinction in this country): gray wolves.

The pair uprooted their lives for the project. "To film the wolves, I needed to live with them and that meant all the different seasons," Jim Dutcher says. "That meant a tented camp where we could be there and observe the behavior." The behavior ranged from the fierce to the playful.

The Dutchers wanted to make their film from inside a wolf pack, so they formed their own with two adult wolves and four pups, who bonded with Jim Dutcher the moment they opened their eyes.

Six years later when filming was complete, the couple faced a problem perhaps never encountered before: what to do with a pack of wolves. The Dutchers felt responsible for their welfare, because the wolves had lost their fear of humans. After the Nez Perce tribe offered 25 acres of fenced-in reservation land, the Dutchers transferred the pack to the reservation.

Now six months later, they're about to rejoin the pack - for a brief time. Stewart went along to witness the reunion. Will the wolves even remember the Dutchers? "I don't know what it means to them," says Jim Dutcher.

"It would be [in] the same vein of having kids and sending them off to college," says Jamie Dutcher. "I know they're in good hands, but it's still hard. I still can't help worrying about them."

After going over mountains and rivers and crossing the 45th parallel, the trio arrives in Winchester, Idaho, a town named for the brand of rifle toted by most citizens at the first town meeting.

Seeing the wolves again is special - and scary - for the Dutchers. When they see the wolves, the couple is mobbed. The cubs have gotten much bigger.

"And they're heavy," Jim Dutcher says. "They weigh over 100 pounds and they can knock you over. If they did bite you, the pressure that they have in their jaws is twice that of a dog."

After the reunion, the Dutchers tell Stewart to join them. The wolves seem to like her. They lick her face. She kneels down and lets them greet her. They are bigger than she thought. They surround her. She is nervous, but she realizes they are not going to attack her.

A wolf pack is like a family, Jim Dutcher says. It conjures up the idea of a gang - and really is a family. And at the top of the pack is the alpha wolf who's in charge of everything.

The alpha male in this family is Skuma. He holds himself higher and is much more alert than the other wolves. At the bottom is the omega, the underdog. He holds his ears back, his posture low. His tail is always between his legs.

Larely out of fear, Americans hunted wolves until the mid-1960s. There was a huge program to get rid of wolves. They were poisoned, trapped and shot. Today fewer than 200 wolves remain in the wild in the West.

It will take time and tolerance to restore the wolf population. Humans are too fearful of wolves, says Jim Dutcher. Wolves are very humanlike, though, his wife adds. They show affection and joy and care about each other.

Even so, Jim Dutcher says he has been scared. "Over the years I learned how close I could come to the wolves. And if I didn't stand up over them and try to dominate over them, they accepted me."

The wolves will be safe in this refuge. They'll be cared for and fed for the rest of their lives.

The Dutchers remember their time with the wolves as special years. "It was an experience that we'll never get over," Jim Dutcher says. "I don't think there will ever be an animal that will welcome us into their lives like this pack of wolves."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.