Rick McIntyre took a job not to keep the wolf from the door, but to make sure he was always there when it came calling.

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This article was published 28/12/2019 (533 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Rick McIntyre took a job not to keep the wolf from the door, but to make sure he was always there when it came calling.

This elderly American is a celebrated world expert on one of earth’s pre-eminent predators, and has spent more time watching wolves than anyone on Earth.

McIntyre describes a highly social and sophisticated animal with a bite that measures well over a thousand pounds per square inch, an almost human-like affection for its kind, long legs to travel long distances with minimal energy (with wide paws that are snowshoes in winter) and an uncanny capacity to work in concert to bring down prey much larger than itself in a lightning ballet of strategic thinking at 55 kilometres per hour. These animals truly are nature’s deadly infantry.

The Rise of Wolf 8 is an important book about the character and conduct of grey wolves, changing attitudes about the creatures, a wild area of American land 19 times the size of Winnipeg, a civil servant obsessed with the merit of scientific observation and animals imported from Canada in the late 1990s to reintroduce wolves in America’s Yellowstone National Park. It features a runt named Wolf 8 who, to McIntyre’s surprise, blossoms with age into a magnificent leader of his particular pack and becomes a master of benign manipulation and aggressive generalship of his four-legged troops. Wolf 8 is Ronald Reagan and field marshal Erwin Rommel in a fur coat.

The now-retired McIntyre worked in several U.S. national parks over 50 years, and has recorded more sightings of wild wolves than anyone in the world — a record of 100,000 sightings as his book was being typeset.

Astonishingly dedicated, McIntyre rose before dawn every single day for 15 years without interruption to observe the Yellowstone wolves, a kind of record probably not in the Guinness book but it should be.

Back in the 1920s, park rangers at Yellowstone (which is mostly in Wyoming) wiped out the last of the wild wolves in the park because they thought them good for nothing. But, as McIntyre recounts, times and attitudes change, and 70 years later, 14 wolves from Alberta and 17 from B.C. were brought down to repopulate the park as a means of controlling a problem their absence created — an exploding population of elk that was threatening farms and crops outside the park. What had been wiped out as a nuisance was brought back as a welcomed necessity.

LM Otero / The Associated Press files</p><p>A timber wolf walks in a mountain stream in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., where wolves were killed off in the 1920s before being reintroduced in the late 1990s.</p>

LM Otero / The Associated Press files

A timber wolf walks in a mountain stream in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., where wolves were killed off in the 1920s before being reintroduced in the late 1990s.

The Rise of Wolf 8 is the first book of a trilogy. The next two books will be the stories of Wolf 21, one of 8’s adopted sons, and his relatives and descendants.

The head of Yellowstone’s grey wolf restoration project has nothing but effusive support for McIntyre’s work. "If you know what an animal is thinking, then you can know the animal," wildlife biologist Douglas Smith says. "Rick has come as close as anyone to this phenomenal feat: understanding the thoughts of a wolf."

McIntyre’s love and respect for wolves shines through his descriptions of their conduct. To him, they are almost human, and it shows in the anthropomorphic terms he employs. In this book, they are us and we are them. It is a pleasant feeling.

As well, McIntyre describes that today’s dog licks the face of a human coming home because their wolf ancestor did the same thing, begging for food from an adult returning from the hunt. The modern dog’s uncanny ability to sense moods in humans also comes from the wolf. McIntyre saw many examples of empathy among adult wolves for struggling juniors, how they instinctively home in on troubled feelings in the pack and move to heal them with affection and companionship.

McIntyre could have cut back on the number of sightings he describes and what he learned from them — a sense of sameness creeps in. It becomes like ice cream — a real pleasure until you’ve had too much of it. But it’s a small price to pay for an understanding of what and how this magnificent animal thinks.

Barry Craig is a retired journalist.