TV Review: Snow Wolf Family and Me

Filmmaker Gordon Buchanan spends three weeks with an Arctic wolf pack who’ve never seen people before. Former wolf obsessive reviews what happened next

Snow Wolf Family and Me

Rating: ★★★★☆

The wild wolf has always been the stuff of legends: the villain of Red Riding Hood, the imminent danger of Aesop’s fables, and one of the planet’s deadliest predators. It is rare that we are presented with a view of these animals that does not automatically buy into these well-worn tropes. The central conceit of Snow Wolf Family and Me, presented by wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan, is to challenge these pre-conceived ideas. Although he has filmed these animals in the past, Buchanan claims to have always been fascinated by wolves. As a child I too was borderline obsessed with the creatures – I read about them, drew pictures of them, watched many documentaries much like Buchanan’s – but I also remember the deep sense of fear instilled in me when one particularly large alpha male directed his steely gaze my way at a safari park. In this vein I was as equally ‘unnerved’ as Buchanan was when the rather hungry Arctic wolf pack he was studying started to circle his camp.

The concept of the series is the same as Buchanan’s previous outings featuring black bears and polar bears. Buchanan arrives on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic for the spring season and camps opposite a pack of Arctic wolves who have never seen people before with the hope of getting as close to them as possible. This in itself adds an element of danger to Buchanan’s mission from the very beginning (he is the first to admit that “they might think I’m their next meal”), but luckily his curiosity leads him to venture outside his small camp almost from day one. The pace of the show picks up immediately when Buchanan is faced by a large female wolf, who seems unthreatened by his presence before stalking away. From then on we get a pretty much day-by-day account of Buchanan’s three-week stay with the pack, charting his various attempts to win their trust.

The characterisation of each pack member is not only endearing but also appropriate for the tone of the show. By introducing us to alpha female and new mother ‘Luna’, alpha male ‘Romulus’ and the “troublesome teen” ‘Scruffy’, Buchanan provides us with a basic insight into how the pack functions, allowing for some general education that balances nicely with the show’s varied cute, terrifying, and funny moments. The footage of the yearling wolves cleverly dismantling Buchanan’s electric fence and stealing his equipment was enjoyable to see, as was the moment that Buchanan realised he had been accepted into the wolves’ circle – when they had urinated on all of his belongings.

Of course, in recent years viewers have been almost spoilt for choice when it comes to beautifully-filmed wildlife shows. The BBC has set expectations high following their own successes in this field, but Buchanan’s offering does not disappoint. The footage taken by the rock-crawler of the four-week-old pups emerging from the den was quite simply breath-taking, whilst the later scene which saw Buchanan stuck in the middle of a musk-ox and wolf pack showdown was immensely gripping to watch. Another highlight is Buchanan’s fraught tête-à-tête with ‘Scruffy’ over a stolen camping stool. Interspersed with these scenes are brief but well-shot filler sequences featuring the Arctic’s other inhabitants, from foxes to hare. It is to the programme’s credit that the bleak landscape comes across so beautifully on screen.

This is a very authentic, interesting, and at times exciting hour of television. Buchanan has so far succeeded in proving that wolves do deserve better press than they generally get. Now the introductions are out of the way the next episodes will hopefully include more of the educational sections that worked so well in this first hour (it would be nice to see more of Buchanan’s attempts to communicate with the pack, for instance). Overall this episode is a strong introduction to what looks to be an intriguing series of programmes.

9 comments

  1. His self obsession ruins a fascinating topic, I wish they had eaten him!

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  2. 31 Dec ’14 at 1:22 pm

    Carolyn Wilkin

    My very placid elderly rottie watched the programme quietly from the fireside rug, when it got to the part where “Scruffy” tentatively touched Gordons welly, she launched herself in a snarling fury at the TV obviously with the intent to protect him – she almost demolished the new 4 day old telly, telly stand and sky box !
    An enlightening moment for Gordon – Chaos for us !!
    Loved the programme- not sure if the dog did though.

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  3. 31 Dec ’14 at 5:30 pm

    Bert Hollocks

    Have to agree with Patrick.
    GB must be good mates with the editor.
    Comments like’worried,my wolf family’, got on my tits and were disingenuous imo.
    A small corner snapshot would have sufficed of the vane presenter.
    What happened to ‘invisible’ presenters not wanting to infect the natural habitat?

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    • 31 Dec ’14 at 6:41 pm

      Laura Flannigan

      I found Buchanan generally endearing as a presenter — though I admit that having watched the second hour of the show now I do agree that constant references to ‘this is the closest ANYONE has ever been to wolves’, ‘my wolf family’ etc. etc. were a little ham-fisted.

      His acceptance into the pack is part of concept of the show itself though so had to be done I suppose — his actual presence amongst the wolves was all part of the message that wolves are not as terrifying as they first appear. I think the second hour perhaps could have done with more of the wolves and less of Buchanan’s thoughts but overall I still think it’s pretty solid as a documentary.

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  4. 1 Jan ’15 at 2:45 pm

    Jetty van der Wansem

    How does the collar come on the male wolf? Have I missed something?

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  5. Buchanan’s constant references to ‘my wolves’ and ‘my pack’ spoke more for his self-effacing need for gratification that for his respect for wolves. Moreover, his calls of ‘here boy’ etc. just made him look silly. Overall, the programme was a vanity piece of sentimental clap-trap; as uninformative as it was uninformed.

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  6. Shona

    Fantastic TV Viewing but left me with a strong fear that the programme has ‘highlighted to the wrong people how vunerable these fantastic animals are to the wrong people eg ‘hunters’. The programme repeated again and again how easy it is to get close to them as they have no fear of people, I felt Gordon Buchanan and the programme makers have been fatally naieve.

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    • the nearest hunters (Inuit community of 150 people) are 400km away. This site is near the North Pole. These wolves are in no danger from human hunters as they are too far from humans with guns. One of the main reasons wolves are killed by people is unreasonable fear of the harm they could do to people which this series tries to put in context. I hope that helps relive your concerns. Best wishes, Ted Oakes

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  7. 7 Apr ’17 at 9:25 am

    Colin Ashbaugh

    My girlfriend and I loved it until they drugged them and hung weights around their necks. Absolutely unnecessary. He never deserved their trust, they should have attacked them and defended their pups. Why is it that humans have to take advantage of the kinder and gentler creatures. If they had been aggressive mean wolves and protected themselves they could have prevented this this drug/kidnapping attack on themselves. Unfortunate.

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