Once a Wolf - for teachers
How Wildlife Biologists Fought to Bring Back the Gray Wolf
With Photographs by Jim Brandenburg
Published by Houghton Mifflin, March 1999
In the "Scientists in the Field" series,
Ages 7 - 12,
Once the most widely distributed mammal other than
man in the Northern Hemisphere, the wolf today roams
free in only a few states. Through deliberate killing
of wolves and altering of their habitat, our country
has come close to losing its greatest predator.
With powerful, rare photographs by Jim Brandenburg,
this book explores the troubled relationship between
man and wolf. But as it traces the persecution of
the wolf throughout history, it also reveals the role
scientists have played in preserving Canis lupus.
Since 1920, when biologists first began to rethink
the importance of predators, they have been out in
the field watching wolves – tracking them over
thousands of miles of rugged terrain, studying them
from the air in rickety airplanes, and more recently,
following them with sophisticated radio collars. Their
work has not only brought us to a deeper understanding
of wolves, but it has helped us to see them as an
integral part of our unspoiled wilderness and to try,
finally, to right a long-standing wrong.
The work of scientists can often seem mysterious
and intimidating to the nonscientist. In ONCE A WOLF
I wanted to show scientists at work, in the field,
immersed in their research and study. This book explores
the long, troubled relationship between humans and
wolves. The book traces the persecution of the wolf
throughout history and also reveals the role scientists
have played in wolf preservation.
How I was inspired
I was listening to my favorite radio station, National
Public Radio, one day when the commentator said a
plan had been approved to capture wolves in Canada
and reintroduce them into Yellowstone National Park
in the U.S. I knew there were lots of books for kids
about wolves, but I was sure I could make my book
different and fresh. I knew children would be fascinated
about the history of wolf hatred and how biologists
were trying to save an endangered species and reintroduce
it into a National Park. By the way, ONCE A WOLF,
holds the dubious record for my most rejected book
– 37 times!
- Color photographs of wild wolves by National
Geographic Photographer, Jim Brandenburg
- Famous story of female wolf number 9 and male
wolf number 10
- History of wolf hatred in United States
History and Social Studies
- Did the American Colonists have a positive or
negative view of wolves? Where did they get this viewpoint?
- Imagine you’re a pioneer in 1840 heading
out West; write a letter to your family back East
describing your feelings about wolves.
- You are a Native American; write a myth describing
your feelings about wolves.
- Pretend you are a sheep rancher just outside
Yellowstone Park. Describe your viewpoint of the reintroduction
of wolves into Yellowstone National Park.
- Create a timeline of historic events that depict
wolf hatred and the preservation of the wolf.
Science and Math
- What key scientific research began to change
the thinking about wolves?
- Read THE WOLVES OF MOUNT McKINLEY by Adolph
Murie. Describe his scientific method. How did he
collect data? How did he analyze what he found? How
did he arrive at his conclusions?
- Mathematical concepts play a very important
role in scientific discovery. What role did it play
in wolf biologist’s Dave Mech’s work?
- Read Aldo Leopold’s essay “Thinking
Like a Mountain” from his book SAND COUNTY ALMANAC.
Write a poem about wolves.
- Write a persuasive letter to a rancher about
why wolves are valuable and worth protecting. Write
a persuasive letter to an environmentalist about why
sheep farming is more important than wolves.
- Write a story from the viewpoint of female wolf
- Compare the behavior of a fictional wolf to
a non-fictional wolf.
- List all of the “Wolf” stories you
know. How are they similar? How are they different?
- In many fairy tales, the wolf is always “bad.”
Why do you think this is so?
- Create a series of links that include both pro-wolf
and pro-ranching web sites.
- Communicate with an expert. Use the Internet
to locate a wolf biologist. Compose a letter and e-mail
it to your wolf expert.
- Conduct an Internet search for articles about
- Hold a class debate about the reintroduction
- Listen to a tape or CD of wolves howling. Conduct
a group howl. Write a poem about your feelings listening
- Discuss the possibility of wolves returning
to your state. How would you feel? Should they come
- Create a song using wolf howling in the background.
- Draw mural depicting the history of wolves in
the United States.
- Create a map of the United States showing the current
ranges of gray, red and Mexican wolves.
- Doug Smith’s love of wolves began when
he was 12 years old. He is now one of the top wolf
biologists in the country. His role model when he
was 12 was David Mech. Do you have a role model? Write
an essay about what you want to be when you grow up.