Way Too Interested
Episode 4

WOLVES with Dani Fernandez and Garrick Dutcher

A photo of a woman with brown hair wearing a blue top.
Actor Dani Fernandez
Actor and writer Dani Fernandez joins Gavin Purcell to talk about the deep connection she feels with wolves, and how the symbol of the wolf has guided her through personal and mental health challenges. Then, they're joined by the research and program director of the non profit Living with Wolves, Garrick Dutcher, who talks about the inaccurate stereotypes about wolf conservation, harmful stereotypes that misrepresent the dangers posed by wolves, and what to do when camping in their territory.

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Also ...

Follow Gavin on Twitter @gavinpurcell

Follow Dani on Twitter and Instagram @msdanifernandez

Follow Living With Wolves on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Transcript - Part 1
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GAVIN PURCELL: On today's episode of Way Too Interested, actor, writer and all-around awesome person Dani Fernandez talk about wolves. Let's go!

[theme song]

GAVIN: Hey everybody, welcome to Way Too Interested. I'm Gavin Purcell, and this is my new podcast where I talk to interesting people and find out something that they're currently obsessed with outside of their everyday life. Then, the two of us talk to an expert in that subject matter and do a deep dive and learn a whole lot more.

It's a show about creativity, curiosity, discovery, and most importantly, pursuing those little things that get stuck in the back of our brain, that become way more interesting than we ever expected. As I said, my name is Gavin Purcell, and I'm learning a lot about this as I go along. Speaking into a microphone is not entirely new to me, but it is definitely still fairly foreign to do this with nobody else in the room, which is a fascinating thing.

This is my fifth episode, I think, at this point. Thank you so much for listening, this has been a super fun experience for me and I hope you're learning a lot along the way. So each week at the top of each show, before we get into the expert conversation, I talk a little with my guests about creativity, discovery, and a bunch of other things, trying to find out a little bit more about what makes them tick and where they go to find new things. As I've said before, I'm a big believer in pursuing and following our interests and learning that those are the things that will make us better.

And today's episode is really interesting because the subject matter for our guest came out of a pretty difficult situation, but really opened up a pretty big, awesome area for her. Our guest today is Dani Fernandez who if you're not familiar with is an actress, she’s a writer, a performer, a host. She knows a lot about nerd culture, she's done an amazing job of building this cool brand and has been in a bunch of things, and is a very awesome Twitter user. And before we go too far, here are three very interesting things about Dani to me.

Number one, for someone who lives so much of her life in public, Dani is remarkably open about issues around mental health. She's often been an advocate for mental health across all of the social media platforms she's on. It is something we talk a little bit about in this episode, and I'm often inspired by the Twitter work that she does. She does a lot of uplifting of people there, and I think that's a pretty incredible thing.

Number two, I do seem to mention Twitter a lot in this podcast overall, I'm a pretty heavy user of it, but I do want to shout out her Twitter feed, it is truly something special. She's one of the people that I point to when I say what the platform can be and what it should be, and you should all be following her there @msdanifernandez.

Number three, Dani got to play an animated version of herself in the movie Ralph Breaks the Internet. Which, if you haven't seen, is excellent, I highly recommend it. It's a kid's movie, but it's very, very good on internet culture. Especially viral video culture, does a great job of skewering viral video in general. Additional shout out to my friend Sarah Silverman for her solo princess song in the film, which is called A Place Called Slaughter Race. Which is incredibly moving for a song about a place where cars kill each other.

All right, let's get to it. Here's my interview with Dani Fernandez, and then stick around for the second part of the show where the two of us talk to an expert on wolves.

Welcome so much to Dani Fernandez, thank you for being here on Way Too Interested. I'm really, really excited to have you here.

DANI FERNANDEZ: I’m very excited to do this, I'm very interested in the thing that we’re talking about.

GAVIN: Fantastic. Well, I wanted to say I don't know you in person, but I've become a big fan of you on Twitter and we kind of are mutual follows there, so I am a fan of your work. One thing I've been talking to people about in this podcast a little bit is discovering new things and kind of figuring out how do you satiate curiosities or discover new things. So what do you do when you're discovering new things? How do you discover stuff?

DANI: Oh my gosh. I guess in some weird way, social media, which is how you and I met, but I think you really curate what you see, you really do. So I started to make the shift to really follow people and things that inspire me. And to be honest, we're on there — we get our weekly update; if you have an iPhone, like every Sunday, it tells you your screen time. I don't know if you can opt-out of that, but you're seeing that every single day for hours on end.

So for me, I follow a ton of art accounts, that is one of my things I follow. Of course I follow a lot of animals, animal rescue or cute animals, baby animals, all the babies. But I follow a ton of art and like filmmaking and short horror-like stuff because I find that just so fascinating. And so then you're discovering they repost other artists and that's like a different world that I think is so cool to get to see every day.

And/or, I also follow a lot of mental health advocates and people in the community, it's something that I need to see. There are quotes in there like not taking things personally sometimes, or practicing forgiveness, like all those things that take a lot of skill that are actually very difficult. Seeing those every single day is something that I need as opposed to just like trauma and horror constantly.

GAVIN: You know it’s funny, I’ve been thinking a lot about this with TikTok because TikTok is really based on this algorithm about what you like, and it really determines what it serves you up. And I kind of really believe that's the case in almost everything we have that comes into our lives, that you kind of really have to set up your filters. Because if you just get a blast filter, if you're getting a ton of stuff and you're not really aware of what's coming in at you, it can A, really affect your moods, but also B, it can really take you down paths you don't necessarily want to be on. I've tried to cultivate curiosity filters on both of those places, and it's actually the best use of social media in my mind. Because if you can do that, you're filling your brain up with interesting stimulation all the time, instead of the opposite, which I feel can sometimes be a distraction from your everyday creative life.

DANI: Yeah, people have talked about this so much, but we're really not meant to consume that much negativity and horrors and things that are going on constantly. This is so funny, I was watching A Quiet Place 2 last night, and all I could think of as someone that's like a trauma survivor and talks about trauma a lot, I was like they're so traumatized. They're not meant to be in fight or flight all the time, and that's what I just kept thinking of the children.

That's what I do when I watch, even though I write scary movies myself and I'm filming one that I wrote soon. And it's so funny because when I was watching it as someone that's lived through trauma, I'm like, you're not supposed to be triggered like this all the time. Their body, their adrenals must be drained, but that's us on a smaller way on social media

GAVIN: A hundred percent. And that's why I feel that for me, discovering new things is kind of a positive pathway through life, right? I always think no matter what it is, a small thing or a big thing, if it becomes a lifetime obsession or just an obsession for the week, it's part distraction, which is always good, but it's also feeding you in an interesting way. It kind of shows you a depth to things that I don't think are there if you don't find those.

DANI: Yeah, I also think it's so cool to be invested in something that you're not necessarily making money from. That's why when you hit me up, it was like it couldn't be something career-related, and I was like "well I do have one thing." Because I feel all my other obsessions I've monetized them in some way, whether it's being like an anime or Sci-fi, geek nerd or whatever. And then I went on to host a lot of those channels, and write on some of those shows and stuff, so I don't have anything to unwind. And you should, it shouldn't just be career-related, your passions should just not be things that make you money.

GAVIN: A hundred percent, and sometimes I do too much of this, it's a little bit of like how do you balance between an ADD kind of world and going deep on one thing. How do you determine that? We’re going to talk about what you're obsessed with for today in just a bit, but how do you know when you're getting into something in a real way, like when you feel like you want to go further in?

DANI: I guess it's just something that I would do regardless of if it made me money or not, and something that just brings me joy. Something that honestly when I need a distraction. It's so funny because I think people think that as television or film writers, we consume a lot of media, but sometimes I find it very triggering. Because I can just never just sit and watch something and I'm like, oh well, I know the producer, I know this actor, I also audition for this role, this writer is actually not such a great person. And so it's actually nice to disconnect from that and have passions that are outside of film and television. When I need to get away from film and television, what do I go to, I think is how I discovered that it's a passion.

GAVIN: Great, well let’s transition into what you're here to talk about. So, as the listeners of the show know, this show is about people's side obsessions outside of their regular everyday world. So Dani Fernandez, what are you way too interested in?

DANI: I am Dani Fernandez and I am way too interested in wolves.

GAVIN: Yes, this is a good one, I am also interested in wolves. So let's just jump into this right away. Wolves are a very, I want to say, a dominant image. When you say what a wolf is, people know what it is, and they're very aware of it, what is your backstory on this, where did this start?

DANI: Yeah, so speaking of trauma, I went to IOP, which is an intensive outpatient program. It was for people that are in crisis and it's outpatient, meaning that you don't spend the night there, that you're not hospitalized, you come and go. But we had to be in class, I call it a class, but like a group therapy where you're learning skills and you're talking about trauma and how to cope and get through them.

We were there for about three to four hours every single day for six weeks. And at the end of your treatment, they give you a little stone with a hand-painted animal that the group thinks that you represent. Some people get a bumblebee, some people get a rabbit or a swan, and I knew they were going to give me a wolf. I think I said it to someone, I was like I know they'll probably give me a wolf, and sure enough, I got this little hand-painted stone of a wolf.

And what happens is in group, they pass a stone around to each person and they say how you've impacted them in some way, and they read you the definition of a wolf that they believe represents you. And so I figured it would be that, or an owl, because I had just done so much therapy at that moment that I felt like I was one of the elders in class. I felt like I had such a life experience. I haven't even been on this Earth for too long, but I just felt like I had done a lot of therapy and for some people, this was their first introduction to it. And so I just felt like I knew a lot, and that must have come across. I felt like a lot of times I was the peacekeeper in the group as well, but I think that pack leader mentality from being wiser or whatever, must've been what they saw.

I was also pretty — I don't want to say vicious, but I'm very steadfast and like standing up for people. Like I can't talk too much personally about things that would happen in a group, but if someone was giving someone else a hard time, that would trigger me to immediately kind of be a protector. And you follow me on social media, I have very strong morals, I feel like, and when I feel someone attacks them or some of the things that I'm speaking out against, I have claws. So I would say I'm just like a wolf in that I'm furry, cute, and then I definitely have claws that come out.

GAVIN: Do you remember what the definition they gave you was?

DANI: Oh my gosh, you know what, it was like three pages. I have it, it would take up like part of this podcast, they read me the whole thing, but I have it in my binder that when you graduate, they give to you, but it was essentially those things. You know, being like a pack leader, I think like even the ability to kind of go out on your own, and take risks. That's another thing that fascinates me about wolves is that they can both be a "lone wolf," we hear that all the time, but they also travel in packs. So maybe that's something we discuss later because I'm super fascinated how both of those are seen as like pack animals, but you're also seen as being a lone wolf. Both exist in wolf culture.

GAVIN: What was the next step? When you got that, what did you do after that? Did you just dive right in or did you kind of have it at a distance for a little while?

DANI: So about a year later, and this was during the pandemic, I was having a really hard time, we all were. Projects of mine were getting canceled. My life, I thought, was about to transition into like a glorious moment, and all of a sudden all of that came crumbling down on top of me. And so in a moment of weakness, I was just spiraling so bad, and I asked the universe to show me a sign. "If you want me to hang in there, I have done so much work, I've done so much trauma therapy, I want to believe that I'm supposed to be here. So if you want to basically keep me alive, give me a sign. I want to see a wolf." It popped into my head, I was like, "I need my wolf, my sign."

I kid you not, and I'm like sobbing. I opened Twitter, which you do when you're crying, and the first thing on my page was Chase Mitchell, who is a writer, had quote-tweeted a wolf. A random person that had a pet wolf that he quote-tweeted, I forgot what he said, but it was in the middle of summer, y'all. No reason. It wasn't like some winter wonderland thing, and it was the first thing on my feed. And I was just like, OK, I hear you, but why do you put me through this then? So it became my go-to sign to hang in there.

After that, I started to collect more memorabilia of wolves, to remind me throughout my house. I sent you one. I have like a sculpture of a wolf on my wall, and I have wolf art. As I see it, I start to collect it because what that means is when I'm walking through my house it's like a reminder to hang in there. Every time I'm struggling, I look up and I see them; I have made my own signs to hang in.

GAVIN: I'm a huge fan of doing that. I had an experience where I've done a week-long silent retreat, a meditation retreat. That was something I did because I was going through a hard time and I wanted to be able to kind of figure a lot of stuff out. It's a similar sort of situation. And I had a moment there where — I know this sounds crazy — but like you have a moment with an animal in that experience and it just suddenly sits with you in a much different way. It becomes very special.

It was a hummingbird. I saw it stop which I had never seen before, like stop flying and sit on a branch and then take off again. But what's so interesting about that is the symbolism of it was huge at the time, and then you can bring more to it right? You can bring more of your own personal feeling to it, then it grows, and it becomes a really important thing. And whether or not it's like mystical or not, you know, you can believe what you feel, but bringing your own importance to it makes a big difference, I feel like.

DANI: Yeah, so I started to test it out, I was struggling with relationship stuff and trying to manifest that as well. And so I was doing this 21-day manifest challenge or whatever, and one of the things I wanted was a romantic partner and they told you to pick a sign. Like, to tell the universe that your partner is on the way, that they're right around the corner, whatever, and I was like I'm not going to do a wolf because now I have such an eye for them now, I see them everywhere. But I was like, I'll do a wolf and a heart, it has to be both of them together, that's what I want.

So I would see wolves that day, and I was like, that doesn't count, I don't care, not going to do it. I pull up Instagram as you do ... and by the way, I'm not following like wolf accounts, I unfollowed all of them because I was like, I don't want to accidentally see this. This actor that I follow posted a vintage comic, a Tex Avery comic of the howling wolf from Tex Avery. It said wolf and red, with a massive heart behind him, and he was like "Wow, I just found this in a comic book shop and it's like decades old." And I was like "What the heck?!" I screamed. I actually bought the comic, I went on eBay and bought it, and I have it framed because I was like this is such a sign. I was saying nope, not a wolf, I want a wolf and a heart, and within 24 hours, here is your glaring wolf heart that you wanted, Dani.

So I actually now also own a Tex Avery lamp of that wolf with a heart bursting out of his chest. But yeah, for me, take it as you will, but I think it's wild when that first thing happened when I was struggling really hard and thinking of possibly harming myself. Or the reasons why I was in treatment, I was just back in that spot, and I remembered when everyone said all these good things about me when they were holding this thing. So I need this wolf to appear and to just see it on Twitter as the first tweet was wild. Back then, I wasn't following any of those accounts.

GAVIN: Does Chase know that he did that?

DANI: No! I haven't told him.

GAVIN: Because I know Chase pretty well actually, that's really funny, maybe when this comes out, maybe he'll find out here, maybe he’ll find out before, but that's awesome, that’s a really interesting story.

Let's ask one more question before we jump in here. So obviously wolves are mythical animals right? They're in a lot of myths, they’re in a lot of places like that, let's talk about what you knew about wolves prior to your kind of like obsession. What's your first memory of learning about wolves, whether they're real wolves or stories?

DANI: I feel like it would have to be Red Riding Hood, that's obviously kind of showing a wolf as something that's vicious and scary. But growing up, I was so obsessed with animals, I actually wanted to be a vet until I learned that you also had to put animals down and being 11, I was like oh no, I just want to pet them.

I was always trying to bring animals home, I did bring a lot of animals home, and growing up in the Southwest and also in Colorado and California, you run into coyotes and wolves. Actually some people have wolves that they've rescued, I want to say, it's not like they've actively taken a wolf, but they've rescued them. I remember when I was in Texas, there was a wolf at the dog park named Wolfie, and it was a rescue wolf.

GAVIN: Was it an actual wolf?

DANI: Yes, an actual wolf, and you could tell. His owners had to be very on top of him because even though they might have dog-like tendencies, they are wolves, they are wild animals that could snap at any moment, so he had to be super trained. But it's so funny because when you see them, or you see Siberian Huskies, you're like "Oh they are so wolf-like." Then when you see an actual wolf, you're like oh no, they're nothing, they're very scraggly.

GAVIN: Have you seen one in person before?

DANI: I think I have at probably zoos and conservations around the places that I've lived. And so what I know of them, I remember I was watching a documentary about dogs and they said they only have ... I think it was like one percent separation, which is crazy. Because you can have a pug, you can have a greyhound, it's like so insane and they are only one, I think, percent different from wolves.

GAVIN: Yeah, what's fascinating to me because I have two big dogs and one dog has aggressive issues, and that's always like an interesting thing to learn about training dogs and trying to make sure that they feel protective, but you feel protective of them. I'm really interested to learn more about pack behavior stuff because it drives so much of wolf behavior. We'll find that from our expert a little bit.

Okay, before we go to break, I want to know what you want to know from Garrick, who is our expert that’s coming up in just a few minutes?

DANI: Oh my gosh, yeah, I guess where the lone wolf mentality started, if that is an actual thing? I also heard that the wolf that approaches you is actually the beta. Everyone thinks that's alpha, but the alpha stays back, and it's actually the beta that they send out as like, it's okay if you get eaten. Or if something happens to you, they're actually like… I don't want to say servant, but it's not the alpha male that goes out.

I think also gender dynamics in the pack, like can the women ever rule, or is it like I said an alpha male type scenario and do they have multiple mates? I'm very curious, and I guess also some of their mythical, like you said, being honored and their personality traits I think that wolves have.

GAVIN: I think there's going to be a lot to talk about. Okay, so we will be right back, we'll be joined by Garrick Dutcher, who is the research and program director for the non-profit Living with Wolves. And thanks a lot Dani, we'll be right back in a second.

All right, we'll be right back with the second part of the show. Before we do, I've been using this section in the middle of the show, where you might normally hear an ad, to shout out some of my favorite books that kind of lean into the subject matter here, and this time, I want to talk about a classic. Many people have different feelings about this book, I think it's one of the most transformative books that you can conceivably read. Some people feel it's a little bit too woo woo for them, but I don't believe it is. And I believe if you follow it, it can really open up all sorts of incredible, creative, and curious kinds of pathways in your brain.

And this book is called The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. It's like about a six to eight weeks program essentially when you read it, but it's very simple, and I've done it probably six times over the course of my life. And other big podcasters, authors, or screenwriters, or many other types of people, creative people, will also tell you the same thing. It's very simple. You get the book, you do two big things, you do morning pages, you write three pages longhand without really thinking about it, first thing in the morning, and you do a date with yourself to kind of stimulate your inner artist. Anyway, it's hard to explain it all in a ten-second read or whatever this is, but I highly recommend it. The book is The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, and there's a bunch of other spinoffs she's written as well, but that's got the main gist of it all. That's the book this week.

Again, thank you for listening, please tell people about this podcast if you like it, also rate it on iTunes. I keep being told that's a big thing, so please do it. And with that, let's get back to the second part of our show. I'm really happy that we have a pretty incredible expert here. His name is Garrick Dutcher, and he is the research and program director at livingwithwolves.org and has a long life history with wildlife, but with wolves specifically, and we get into that in just a second. Enjoy!
Transcript - Part 2
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GAVIN: All right everybody, welcome back to Way Too Interested. This episode, we're talking with Dani Fernandez and her semi-obsession with wolves. We're now joined by Garrick Dutcher, who is the research and program director at Living with Wolves. Garrick, welcome, thanks for joining us.

GARRICK DUTCHER: Thank you Gavin, hi Dani, nice to see you guys.

GAVIN: Before we jump in, I'm going to let Dani ask a bunch of questions because I know she's got a ton of them, but Garrick, can you kind of tell us your story? Like what's your background and how'd you get into this?

GARRICK: So we've been working with wildlife my entire life, since I was a child, it was a family endeavor. We were filmmakers with National Geographic and eventually Discovery Channel doing documentary films about wildlife. A lot of that in the later years were in the Rocky Mountains and that included beavers and mountain lions and then three films on wolves. So we became really familiar with wolves over those years; we lived with a pack of wolves for six years.

I was also going to college at the time, that was my family, my father, Jim Dutcher, and his wife Jamie, were there all six years. And I was there on and off for about a total of a year or so of that project. Since then, we've moved into conservation work and nonprofit work with Living with Wolves to educate the public about wolves and the threats that they face and dispel the myths that surround them.

GAVIN: Fantastic, all right. Dani, I'm turning you loose, what you got?

DANI: Well I guess I just wanted to go off of the last thing that you just said, some of those myths and misconceptions about wolves. What are the ones that you think that the general public or people that you're constantly like that is not correct, or they just have a misconception of them as a species?

GARRICK: Well there's quite a few, and a lot of them come from ancient folklore and myths and bedtime stories, and certainly we are made to fear wolves from those stories. And while wolves are wild animals and we shouldn't approach them and try to interact with them, feed them, things like that, they're really not presenting any significant danger to people whatsoever.

In the past 120 years — I said whatsoever, I guess there's the rare exception ... in 120 years in North America wolves have killed two people, and those were very wild wolves under very rare circumstances. Captive wolves have had a few other issues, as of hybrid wolves being had as pets. Then again, when it comes to the average 30 people that are killed by dogs in the United States every year, hybrids are very seldom even responsible for any of those, but wild wolves present very little danger to people.

The biggest danger is when rabies gets into an animal and in North America, we have virtually gotten rid of rabies, especially in the canine population of wild canines. So that myth, and not to villainize bears or mountain lions, because they're very important animals in the wilderness as well. But bears have killed about 60 people in the past 20 years in North America. Mountain lions have killed about 10 or 11 in the past 30 years. And again, with the millions of us out there every day, that really is inconsequential, even for the other carnivores and predators that do have a slightly greater impact than wolves. So the myth of the "big bad wolf" in regards to the threat to people is not very warranted.

DANI: Yeah, those are such low numbers. I didn't even realize that it was that low for all of those wild animals, to be honest. The way that you run across those "wild encounters" that they used to do on certain channels, and made it seem like it was happening all the time.

GARRICK: Right, and another myth is that wolves, especially when they were being re-introduced because we had exterminated wolves in the lower 48 during the 19th and even part of the 18th century and into the early part of the 20th century. The idea of bringing them back came with a lot of myths as well, that wolves would destroy our deer and elk herds. And that they would destroy the ranching economy, the ranching industry and would eat all the cows and sheep out there.

And none of that has happened either, even though the recent legislation in some of these states, Montana and Idaho specifically, is suggesting — the legislators are stating — that wolves are destroying ranching and destroying wildlife. But statistics from the USDA defeat that theory and also statistics from Idaho Fish and Game and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. The wildlife management agencies also show that we have very healthy deer and elk herds. In fact, in Idaho we're right at about an all-time record high for elk, which is the primary source of food for wolves.

GAVIN: Well I have a question real quick, Garrick, in the 18th and 19th centuries, why were they exterminated? Was it because people hunted them for their pelts, or was it just defending themselves? What was it?

GARRICK: It was a historical belief that ... it was manifest destiny, was the period of moving west and taming the landscape. The idea that there was really no ecological benefit in having something that also eats meat on the landscape. So we were sterilizing the landscape, we were getting rid of any potential threat. It wasn't until after we'd done that, that we began to see the ecological consequences and start to realize that those top-level predators, top-level carnivores have a really important role to play in the ecosystem.

So that's really where reintroduction came from, especially in Yellowstone, they had seen that the rivers and streamside areas had become greatly impacted by over-browsing from elk. So the restoration of wolves has restored a lot of biodiversity to the park, and wolves can have that effect if allowed to exist in significant numbers and have their natural role with their prey species. And that's kind of where the rub is today in these western states.

DANI: Can you talk about them as pack animals, because we were just talking about that term lone wolf, so is that an actual ... I'm so curious. I also heard that when I was, I can't remember where I saw this, but if a wolf is in a pack, it's actually the beta male that's being sent out and not the alpha. I may have this like completely wrong, but I’m just curious about them in a pack, what the hierarchy is. And if there is an actual lone wolf or that’s just a term that we use?

GARRICK: A lone wolf is a temporary situation. Wolves, by nature, are very social and that's one of the really special things about them. In fact, if you have a dog, you probably find your dog to be rather social and all dogs, every breed of dog, is descended from wolves, not from coyotes, not from foxes, not from any other wild canine. We domesticated wolves.

And so wolves, by nature, were very social. They live in packs, they live in families, and they each have an individual personality just like your dog would. And so a lone wolf, what happens is when wolves live in a family — and this might sound familiar — they grow up, they become mature and they start wanting to have their own relationship perhaps to have their own family. Some of them do that, most of them eventually do that, and they'll leave their natal birth family to go find another mate. And so for that period, they're a lone wolf, but they're looking for other wolves, like a pack to join. And it's a good biological function because if you just stayed in your own family, you would have inbreeding and genetic consequences from that.

So wolves disperse, and a lone wolf is called a disperser, and they may disperse thousands of miles. They can really travel broad landscapes, very long distances. We have a wolf right now, and I don't think he's been picked up since sometime in April with his collar, but he had traveled from Oregon all the way down the Sierras of California. Went across the Central Valley, near Fresno, crossed I-5 somewhere, and got into San Luis Obispo county, not too far north of Santa Barbara. He has a GPS collar, so we kind of had a pretty good idea what he was doing. But he was either following a scent trail marked by another wolf, or he was a pioneer that would be making his own scent markings, which would stay there and be detectable for many years by wolves that would follow. That's how wolves find each other and that's how dispersers would come together and create a pack or find another pack as individuals.

DANI: But I'm so curious because in San Luis Obispo, if he met another wolf and decided to mate, that would be a completely different kind, right?

GARRICK: You just touched on something and that's very intuitive of you to realize. It's our desire to label everything, everything needs to have a box to fit in, and that's what taxonomy is, you know, labeling every type of species. And so there's been this long debate about how many subspecies of wolves there are. There was once 20 something or 30 something, and that's been trimmed down to four or five now. And what wolves do is that, yes, they travel very long distances and breed with other wolves. An arctic wolf could breed with a Mexican wolf.

About 800,000 years ago, wolves migrated away from North America to Asia. They kind of disappeared in North America, lived in Asia for a while, then they came back across the various land bridges during the ice ages and came back to North America in three waves. The first wave became the Mexican wolves, and they pushed very far south all the way down to Mexico, New Mexico, Arizona, which is where they live now. And they're very rare, there's only about 170 in the wild.

Then the second wave was the middleman of wolves, which are the gray wolves that we see in much of North America. And the last migration was the Arctic wolf, which is a very white wolf, and these are all subspecies of gray wolves. The Arctic wolf lives in the Arctic, they're mostly white, they're the biggest, and they came the latest. However, they're all capable of breeding together, and at times they will, because they'll travel these great distances.

GAVIN: Can you talk a little about personality Garrick, because growing up with them, was there one in particular that kind of stood out as a personality that you remember? Or give us an example of how a personality can differentiate from other wolves? I think sometimes people think of wolves because they see them in packs and sometimes you'll see them in films or movies and they're just kind of moving in a pack, they often feel like part of a group. Tell us a little bit about how the personalities differ?

GARRICK: Well it's like you and I, it's like our dogs, they differ greatly. Some are more playful, some are stiffer and more rigid in their interactions, others are very caring and protective. It really is how they are predisposed.

You had mentioned alphas and betas, there is some push to not use the hierarchical terminology that has been assigned to wolves. We still find it valuable, and a lot of researchers do, because there is certainly a fluid hierarchy amongst middle-ranking wolves. And then there is always the breeding pair in a pack, and sometimes more than one pair or more than one female will breed, but usually it's just the alpha female. In a study in Idaho, it was 98% of the time that only the breeding pair bred.

Anyhow, the alphas are not dictatorial, they're not necessarily by nature super aggressive, and they don't necessarily assert themselves through force. And it turns out that the alpha female is the most essential to keeping the pack together, more so than the alpha male or the breeding male.

DANI: That sounds about right, I believe that.

GARRICK: Took us a while to figure that out, but yes of course, right?

GAVIN: How big is a pack, like what's an average pack size?

GARRICK: Well, that really depends. Unfortunately here in Idaho with how much we're killing them, it's rare for packs to get above five or six. I'll explain to you why that is not very good for wolf survival. But in Yellowstone right now, the Junction Butte pack is well into the twenties, it might even be bigger than that. An average pack size, if I were to say so in natural conditions is probably around 10 or a dozen, give or take. But it really also depends on the concentration of packs in the area, the territory size and the prey availability, and how much bounty there is for them to be able to you know...

When there is a lot of prey availability, that's when you'll sometimes see more than one litter in a pack. The litters only happen once a year during the spring so that the pups can grow throughout the summer and fall to get to be pretty full-sized in order to survive winter. And 50% or so of pups die in their first year, it's not an easy life.

Hunting, for wolves, is really difficult. They only succeed about 15% of the time, they fail about 85% of the time. That's a broad average. Hunting bison is a lot less of a success rate, I think it's less than 5%. Hunting whitetail deer I think it can be a lot greater of a success rate, I think upwards of 25%. So it really depends on who's hunting what, but 15% of the time success rate is a pretty good average. Also, wolves get killed or injured a lot in the hunt because they have to go in with their teeth, they don't have sharp claws, they don't have the brute force that bears and lions have. And so they have to go in and face kicking hooves and horns, antlers, whatever it might be, you know, formidable defenses of their prey species. They get killed pretty often.

Personalities though, they vary greatly. Some wolves will select themselves to stay back with the pups, to be puppy sitters and play with the pups. They just want to play and kind of be goofy, and that's, again, a predisposed personality, while others will want to go out and hunt. So science has shown that at least four need to be in a hunting party to have the greatest likelihood of success. Under four and it diminishes greatly. So when you have a pack of five or less, if you have four hunters that only leaves one to stay back with the pups, and that would be the bare minimum size for a fairly functional pack. Because otherwise, there's always a pup sitter that gets left behind, or at least if there can be, there always is. And that protects the pups, keeps them near the den or the rendezvous site or wherever they are so that the pack will find them and keeps them protected from any kind of external threat.

DANI: Are they ever petty, or have drama amongst each other?

GARRICK: Oh yeah, absolutely. There are personalities that don't get along with each other, they pick on each other, it's very human in a lot of ways. It's really fascinating. In our pack, the leader seemed to be an alpha male by the name of Kamots, and he was very benevolent and he didn't need to assert himself. Very rarely would he ever do that. And it was sort of just the leadership that he had through the respect of the rest of the pack.

GAVIN: Do the alpha males, or anybody in it, do they show the fact that they are the alpha male in some way, does their body change or are the alpha males bigger generally or is there anything specific about it?

GARRICK: Males are bigger than females, about 20% larger, and they take on different roles in the hunt, seemingly because of that. Or maybe, I don't know which is the chicken or the egg there. But the wolf that was the most subordinate in the Sawtooth Pack was one of the largest. His personality just lent himself to being submissive, so size, no. Interestingly, what we are seeing through research is that in a pack, for instance, and I was talking about the importance of the alpha female, if the alpha male gets up from a rest and everybody's chilling, he just gets up, wolves may take note of that and sit around and hang out. If the alpha female gets up and starts moving, they all get up, they all get ready to move.

DANI: I love that.

GARRICK: She has a stronger influence and they follow her. That seems to be the case in many situations.

DANI: It reminds me of those old royal dinner parties, when the woman stands up and all the men like get up, they're all standing up as she exits.

GARRICK: Yeah, these are important things to realize.

DANI: Yeah, I'm curious in like all of your time, what are the things that you love the most about them, that you're the most passionate about, or just love about wolves?

GARRICK: Most passionate is the unfair way in which they're being treated by state governments and by certain members of the hunting community and by the ranching community. Not all ranchers, there's a lot of ranchers working towards coexistence and doing so very successfully. That might be what I'm most passionate about, because it's simple injustice and wolves deserve better, so do all large carnivores.

GAVIN: Can I dig into that really quick? So I was trying to figure this out earlier. Is the discussion mostly between ranchers and conservationists? Can you kind of lay out what's happening in that world for us so we can best understand?

GARRICK: Wolves rarely attack livestock, but it does happen. In 2020, I'm just going to give you some numbers here, wolves killed 173 sheep and cattle in Idaho, but that is out of two and a half million cattle and 220,000 sheep. So that amounts to them killing one in about every 12,000. And that was out of a population estimated by fish & game to be around 1500 wolves at its peak which is summer, right after pups are born.

But for a livestock producer, maybe zero is a better number than 173 out of 2.72 million, and then it also just creates more work for them. They have to find ways to try to keep their animals safe, but I want to remind you that these are wolves that we all paid for the restoration of through our tax dollars. And they live largely, almost entirely in national forests, which is our public lands owned by you and me and everybody paying our tax dollars.

And so we have a private enterprise of the ranching community leasing those lands to raise their livestock. It is our position that it is their responsibility to keep their animals safe on public lands and to minimize the conflicts and accept some of the natural threats that exist out there. Many more livestock are killed by bad weather, birthing complications, and disease out there on the land than by wolves, mountain lions and bears, but yet we persecute those species.

GAVIN: Do some of the myths that we were talking about before kind of invade this conversation? Do you find that people, when you say I'm here to help make sure that wolves get a fair shake, are they like wolves are bad automatically, like they just come at it with that attitude?

GARRICK: Absolutely. It's a lot of people's ingrained belief that that's the case, I'm faced with it all the time. There was a recent video of a wolf hunting an elk in Yellowstone from last week. And the elk and the wolves are not really thinking about where a line of the traffic of cars is because they're just doing their thing.

So the hunt happens to cross right through the road, the elk runs right into a car, and then the wolf follows and now he's got a meal because the elk looked either unconscious or dead. Some of the people commenting in the news thread said "Too bad it wasn't the wolf, this is another reason to get rid of all the wolves."

I mean, they're just carnivores making a living and they're not that many of them. Yellowstone had 123 at the end of last year. And we have 120,000 elk in Idaho, which is almost at the all-time record high.

Dani, you asked what I like most about wolves, and it’s the diversity of personalities, the compassion they show each other, and the support they show each other within their own family. I think those are probably two things I admire most in them and respect and really resonate with me.

DANI: I still can't handle that comment because before you got on, we were talking about how I saw A Quiet Place 2. I was saying it was so lush and green because we didn't exist anymore. My first thought would be like, too bad humans exist and that car was there. That traffic, that road that shouldn't have been there through their actual land.

The wolves have always been here, and same with all these wildlife animals, we are the ones that are building on their land. They're just trying to survive. I know probably everyone listening to this knows this, but my first instinct was like, did no one say anything about the car being in the middle of this park or something? No, it's the wolf, and that's so hard to hear.

I know you're doing such good work to try to undo, but that must be so difficult to have to look and see those comments of people that are hating on an actual, glorious animal. An animal that's only trying to co-exist along with us, who are dominant and brutal, like we’re the most violent species, clearly.

GARRICK: That's right. We have the greatest impact on the planet and all of its natural systems. So that is something that hopefully the generations that follow mine will continue to become more and more aware of. And more people will hopefully fight for that awareness and to stem the bleeding, so to speak, and protect what we have left of wild places and wildlife because it is critical to our own survival. I mean medicine comes from the jungle from all around, we find our medical solutions through natural compounds, natural chemical reactions. We learn from nature and it helps us survive.

GAVIN: I have kind of a random question, but how long will they live when they have a pack? Are they 30-year animals, 40-year animals, what's the lifespan of a wolf?

GARRICK: Not very long. In the wild, a 12 or 13-year-old wolf would be very old, they're similar to dogs, large dogs.

One of the Sawtooth Pack, he lived his life out in captivity in the large twenty-five-acre enclosure. He made it to 17. So captive wolves, 17, sometimes 18, and that’s really the furthest they make it. In the wild, a lot of them die at 2, 3, 4 or 5, but you know, some will persist and live to 12 or 13.

GAVIN: And do they die mostly from — like you were saying before — accidents, or is it hunger? I'm assuming a lot of them also die at the hands of humans, but what's their main cause of death?

GARRICK: Absolutely, humans, by far. In Idaho last year, out of 1500 wolves, people killed 583 of them. In Yellowstone National park, because this is a sort of contained environment, but limited space with lots of prey, way more prey than was probably there when there was a healthy balance of carnivores and prey species. You know, wolves have since reintroduction and since mountain lions and bears have been allowed to return and numbers as well, the elk population has come back down to a more sustainable natural number. But what we're still seeing in Yellowstone may ease up, because it's not necessarily characteristic of wolves everywhere. There’s a lot of wolf-on-wolf killing, competition for space and resources, but in places like Idaho and Montana, it is far and away people killing wolves, hunting and trapping them. And trapping is a really unfortunate thing.

Just recently in New Mexico, the government there passed a law — called Roxy's Law colloquially — to ban trapping on public land. Arizona had done that years past, California has very strict trapping rules, hardly any trapping allowed at all, same with Colorado. So there's a move away from trapping and that's a great threat to wolves. And the other thing is that when people are out trapping, half the time they're trapping the wrong species because traps are indiscriminate.

Whatever likes the smell of whatever's luring it to the trap is going to step in the trap. So there's a ton of collateral damage in that kind of archaic and outdated practice that we hope someday isn't going to be something we have to face any longer. But it does a lot of damage to wolves and other wildlife.

GAVIN: This is maybe very rare, and if it is, please feel free to say, but if you were ever to come across wolves in — say you're camping and out in the wild — what should we do if we see them? Will they even come up to us?

GARRICK: Very unlikely. There are a few situations where that's occurred. There was a big sensationalized story out of Banff a couple of years ago, and the wolf that came in and actually bit somebody in a sleeping bag, they ended up killing the wolf. They found out that it was a very old wolf, his teeth were all worn down, he was starving, he was at the end of his life and at this point kind of desperate.

He didn't hardly do any damage at all to the person. I mean, he cut his arm, but he didn’t have much of the ability to kill anything at that point. So, no. I hear tons of stories of people camping and encountering wolves, but the thing I would be careful with is your dog. Especially during denning season, wolves will want to protect their pups, and if they feel that somebody's dog is a threat to that, their attention will be on the dog.

So if you're in wolf habitat, it's good to have your dog nearby, not to let it run out very far. Plus, when dogs run really far ahead and away from you, they're often harassing wildlife. Which, life for wildlife is tough enough on its own, let alone us having any kind of negative adverse impact upon them. So I go hiking with my dog and I want him out there and I just keep him nearby.

DANI: I think my final thing I was just going to ask, because I collect so much wolf art and memorabilia, do you do that as well still?

GARRICK: Yeah, absolutely, and a lot of it gets sent to us because of our history with all this. There's still a lot of big fans out there from the films of the Sawtooth Pack. The films are Living with Wolves, Wolves at Our Door and Wolf: Return of a Legend. Those three, I think one is on Hulu, they're available on YouTube, other places, and Discovery still sells DVDs of them and so on. So if you want to learn about the Sawtooth Pack, you can find those but yeah, we get memorabilia all the time. People approach us to co-produce products, we've done all kinds of interesting things.

GAVIN: Do the wolves get fan mail, does a specific wolf get sent fan mail to you guys, for the Sawtooth Pack members.

GARRICK: Yeah, absolutely. And there are people who are very passionate about individuals within the Sawtooth Pack, you know, very much picking their favorites and loving that personality.

GAVIN: Is there any place you can see them? Is there like a camera live-streamed online or anywhere you can kind of observe wolves in a way for people at home?

GARRICK: In captivity, I believe some of the centers, maybe the International Wolf Center in Minnesota, maybe the Wolf Conservation Center in New Salem, New York, I believe? I think they may have live cams for captive wolves. I think the Detroit Zoo had a live cam on their captive pack as well.

But in the wild, no, the very best place to go see wolves is the northern range of Yellowstone, the Lamar valley, and in that area. Depending on the time of year, your chances of seeing wolves if you get up early enough and go for it is probably an excess of 60 to 70% on any given day at the right time of year.

GAVIN: Is there like a wolf tourism world, where people go ...?

GARRICK: Yeah, thanks for bringing that up Gavin, we want to point out always that some of the arguments against wolves is that they're all red ink, well they're actually generating. Back in 2004 or '06, John Duffield a researcher out of either Missoula or Bozeman University of Montana or Montana State (I don't remember which one) did a study that found back then that $35.5 million dollars a year were generated by wolf tourism for local businesses. And we work with people that run tours in the park.

Nathan Varley and Linda Thurston of Wolf Tracker are, in our opinion, the best operators for going into the park and seeing wolves, they've been doing it for a long time. So yeah, there's a lot of enthusiasm for that. That study was done quite a while ago, and park traffic has more than doubled since then. And it seems that there's a disproportionate amount of that traffic being directed at trying to find the large carnivores, mostly wolves, but also grizzly bears. So that number from 35.5 million has probably doubled or more since then.

GAVIN: Well gosh, thanks so much for being here, this was amazing. I have one more question before you go Garrick, I've asked this of all our experts. Is there something that you're specifically way too interested in right now, outside of your wolf interest?

GARRICK: You know, a passion of mine, two things in my life. I love celebrating cultural diversity, visiting different cultures around the world, seeing how they live, interacting with them, learning from them, as a way to kind of step outside of my own.

And I love birds, I love going bird watching because it takes me to some of the most pristine ecosystems in the world. I get way out there in jungles, wherever, savannas, you name it. I choose those passions because they'd bring me to the places that I want to see.

GAVIN: That's awesome. Well Garrick, thank you for coming, and Dani, thank you so much as well.

DANI: Yes, thanks for having me.

GAVIN: This was super fun and I really appreciate you guys coming in. And Garrick, they can go to livingwithwolves.org to learn more about it, is that right?

GARRICK: That's correct, and you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as well.

GAVIN: Wonderful. All right, thanks so much for joining me, you two. I appreciate it. We'll be back next time with a new episode.

GARRICK: Thanks guys.

DANI: Thank you.

GAVIN: All right everybody, that was the show for this week. Thank you so much to my guests Dani Fernandez and Garrick Dutcher. Also thanks go to the Gregory Brothers for our theme song.

Thank you to Eric Johnson of LightningPod for helping to put this thing together. And I really appreciate you tuning in.

Please, if you'd like to, follow me on Twitter @GavinPurcell. As I've said in the past, I think there might be a Discord now, and we'll find out. I will try to regularly update this. For now, since I'm recording all of these ahead of time and wanting to get them right, I might re-record some intros and outros as we go along.

But we're trying to build a community around this, so enjoy, and please shout at me with any ideas for topics or guests you have, I would love to hear them. Thanks again for listening and tune in next week, we have about five more left in this first run, and I'm really looking forward to hearing your feedback on all of them. Thanks so much. Buh-bye!

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