Long-Held Wolf Myths Overturned by Wildlife Researcher in American Journal of Play

American Journal of Play News Release
One Manhattan Square Rochester, NY 14607 585-263-2700 museumofplay.org

December 8, 2010

For Immediate Release

Contact: Susan Trien, 585-410-6359     strien@thestrong.org

Long-Held Wolf Myths Overturned by
Wildlife Researcher C.J. Rogers
as Reported in the American Journal of Play®

The wolves of our imagination—those vicious, solitary, single-minded, and dangerous beasts of folklore and myth—don’t exist, according to C. J. Rogers, who has, since 1992, lived with and observed wolf societies at Raised by Wolves, a research sanctuary in a high valley of New Mexico’s Zuni Mountains. Rogers’ fresh observations about the playful, sociable, and nurturing nature of wolves are revealed in an interview in the American Journal of Play, a scholarly, quarterly publication of the Strong in Rochester, New York.

Rogers’ field work, which has been compared to Jane Goodall’s work with primates, involves living with, observing, (and even sleeping among), up to 22 wolves in their near-wild state. Wolves have a villainous reputation that is undeserved, she says. In reality, they are gentle, high-spirited, fun-loving, “delightfully goofy” creatures. They thrive best in cooperative groups; in fact, says Rogers, “one wolf is no wolf. This lone wolf business is nonsense.”

Play is the glue that holds their society together. Wolves have “play romps” that can involve “all sorts of pretend, including mock hunting games with lots of stealing and chasing and ambushing.” They love to dance, play with their food, snatch things, and, “unless they are grieving or being traumatized, wolves seem to have an irrepressible levity.” Wolves may also be prompted to sing by any number of events including a train whistle, a siren, or someone coming down the road—and of course, the full moon. Says Rogers, “Some songs include a soloist interlude. Some songs are like a lullaby and very intimate. But there seems to be a general rule about singing. If one sings. . .all sing. Sometimes wolves sing in rounds. Sometimes their singing sounds like jazz. Wolves can make creepy guttural, Hounds of Hell sounds. But they can also sing the purest most perfect notes in all the music of the spheres.”

Rogers disputes the “standard dominance order-based hierarchy” for wolf-pack dynamics, which originated with Rudolf Schenkel’s classic study of the behavior of captive zoo wolves published in the mid-1940s. “Wolves know that alpha isn’t the only place to be,” she says. “If you think about different  types of dogs—guard dogs, hunting dogs, rescue dogs, shepherd dogs, work dogs, and so on, you can match them up to different positions in a wolf pack and the different temperaments and talents that go with each position. The pack is organized for cooperation.” In fact, wolf society is more like the model of a solar system with male and female alphas at its nucleus and dynamic balance among all the personalities, each of whom plays an important role in the pack. The wolves even made a place for their observer and cast Rogers herself in the role of “sentry,” the protector and watcher of the pack.  

In view of their intelligence and capacity for play and sociability, Rogers speculates that wolves may have played an important role in the evolution of early humans. She finds it laughable to think that, in prehistoric times, wolves came to campfires because they were begging for leftover scraps of “fillet of mastodon.”  Wolves were “state-of-the-art hunters for at least a million years before we showed up. When we started hanging out with wolves, the benefits for us were beyond measure. Wolves protected humans.” 

For Rogers, “all available evidence points to our being saved and raised by wolves.” She says, “Wherever there were wolves, we find ancient creation myths of how wolves brought humans into the world and how wolves nourished and nurtured the human species.” And once we felt safer, “our brains could do more interesting things than evade being eaten. We could begin to lead a more playful, less fearful, and less vulnerable existence. We were people who played with wolves.”  

C. J. Rogers has taught at Northeastern Illinois University and Western New Mexico University and holds doctorates in psychology and behavioral ecology. She has arranged for all her field notebooks, video and audio tapes, and other research records, representing the most detailed long-term study of pack behavior yet conducted, to be preserved by the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play(TM) at the Strong starting immediately. The C. J. Rogers Papers, which will accumulate over time, also include photo albums, manuscripts, and other materials that document Rogers’ life’s work. “These records are a vital contribution to the wide-ranging field of play studies,” says G. Rollie Adams, the Strong’s president and CEO, “and we are pleased to house them.” The papers will be available to researchers by appointment; however, some restrictions apply. For more information about the Strong’s Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, visit www.libraryandarchivesofplay.org


About the American Journal of Play (a publication of the Strong in Rochester, New York): 

Peer-reviewed and written in a clear, straightforward style, the American Journal of Play is the first interdisciplinary journal dedicated solely to the study of play.  Providing thought-provoking content from some of the most prominent national researchers and writers in the field, each issue is filled with articles, essays interviews, and book reviews that explore the critical role of play in learning and human development.  To view the most current issue’s table of contents, visit:  www.americanjournalofplay.org