CALL OF THE LOBO
When Elke Duerr was growing up on an organic farm in Germany, she went for a walk with her grandfather. Duerr, now an educator and independent filmmaker living in Albuquerque, was about 6 years old on that day in Bavaria.
As she and her grandfather strolled through their little patch of forest, he proudly told her that the wood was called “The Wolf Trap.”
“I said, ‘Why is it called the wolf trap? We don’t have any more wolves,’ ” Duerr said. “He said, ‘Oh, this is where our ancestors killed the very last wolf, so that you and I could be safe.’ And he looked it me like, aren’t you glad?
“I didn’t really process what was going on until later, but I got really mad, and I said to him, ‘How dare they have done that, because now I will never meet them! They have taken something away. And I said to him, ‘I’ll bring them back!’ “
Bringing back the wolf — not in Germany, but in her adopted home of New Mexico — is Duerr’s raison d’Atre. She is at work on a film, “Stories of Wolves: The Lobo Returns,” that she hopes to release early next year.
Duerr’s film will focus on the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program, which has been a roller coaster of success and failure since it was spawned by the 1973 Endangered Species Act.
It has generated great controversy since wolves were first released in 1998. To this day, in parts of southwestern New Mexico, tensions between conservationists who would see wolves flourish again and ranchers seeking to protect their livestock remain high.
But Duerr isn’t getting too involved in the politics. For her, it’s all about the lobos.
“I’m interested in solutions,” she said. “We have blamed each other a lot, we’ve pointed fingers a lot, and that needs to change, because that doesn’t help the cause at all.”
Duerr teaches part time in the Los Lunas public schools as well as working on her film project, which includes educational outreach on wolves. She received her degree in Munich, which at the time was Germany’s film capital. Many of her friends were making movies, she said, and she got involved and discovered a new avocation.
“I decided to really learn as much as I can because I felt like my calling now was more in that area, because of the environmental concerns that are piling up,” she said.
Wolves may be her passion, but her ultimate goal is more far reaching, she said:
“I realize that we are very disconnected from nature these days. That’s why we are doing the things we are doing. That’s why I’m doing all the educational outreach that I can. It’s not just about the wolves.
“I started with the wolves because they’re the most endangered mammal in all of North America, our Mexican gray wolves, and they’re in our backyard. So we can have a personal connection to that animal; it’s not thousands of miles away. But ultimately it’s about us and our relationship to nature.”
Although wolves once held an exalted place in some ancient cultures, the creatures have for centuries been demonized in popular mythology — see Three Little Pigs or Little Red Riding Hood — and hunted to near extinction around the world.
Wolves are predators, and often still are portrayed as a danger to man. But Duerr said her research has not revealed a case of a healthy wolf attacking a human.
Conversely, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2009 that cattle kill on average about 20 people a year, mostly their caretakers.
But because wolves do kill livestock, some ranchers — whose animals often graze on public lands — see them as a threat to their livelihood and have vehemently opposed the reintroduction program. Wolves have been killed, trapped and relocated. Though numbers have fluctuated, there are 41 known Mexican gray wolves (after the recent shooting of an alpha male) in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area on the New Mexico-Arizona border.
Duerr said her film, while advocating for wolves, will present all sides of the controversy and will include the positions of ranchers and hunters. She will examine views of wolves through various cultures: European, Mexican and particularly Native American.
“The Native American cultures say the wolf is our teacher,” she said. “Brother wolf: because we learned from him how to raise a family and how to hunt. They are so much like us. …
“Every time I want to write ‘lobo,’ I always write ‘love.’ That’s the underlying thing. The more love there is for nature, and all of her creatures, and the web of life, and the more connected we are, the more they will stay, and the healthier we’ll all be for it.”
In New Mexico, the tale of Lobo, “the King of Currumpaw,” is the stuff of legend. The wolf, who became infamous for killing livestock after settlers had nearly wiped out its natural prey, continually eluded capture or death. In 1893, Ernest Thompson Seton, a bounty hunter, stalked the wolf for months before finally capturing him in January 1894. Lobo died during his only night in captivity.
The experience was life changing for Seton, who became a well-known naturalist and writer and told the story — some say in highly romanticized form — in his 1898 book “Wild Animals I Have Known.” Seton became a pivotal figure in the founding of the Boy Scouts of America and later joined the Santa Fe literary and artistic circle that included Georgia O’Keeffe, Raymond Jonson and others.
An excellent documentary on Seton and Lobo, “The Wolf That Changed America,” aired on PBS in 2008; it’s available online at http://tinyurl.com/2uhdhlo
Elke Duerr will give three educational outreach presentations on the Mexican gray wolf and her film in progress, “Stories of Wolves: The Lobo Returns.”
Noon Saturday, at Wildlife West Park in Edgewood. Admission to the park is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, $4 for students and free for children under 5. Visit www. wildlifewest.org or call 505-281-7655
8 p.m. July 30 at The Kosmos, 1715 Fifth NW. This program will be a fundraiser for Duerr’s film project and will include a jazz performance, wine, food and a silent art auction. Admission is $15; tickets are available at www. wildwolffilm.com or at the door. Call 505-234-4611
10 a.m. July 31 at the Open Space Visitor Center, 6500 Coors Blvd. Free. Visit www.cabq.gov/ openspace/ or call 505-897-8831