Exclusive Interview With Shaun Ellis:
This interview was done over three separate days, 16 Dec 2004, 20 Dec 2004, and 4 Jan 2005, by Felix Ho and Mr Shaun Ellis from Wolf Pack Management, U.K. We thank Shaun for his time and contribution doing this interview with us.
This entire article is divided into six parts. Please feel free to visit us regularly for the next installment.
Continued from The Wolf That Speaks
Part Two - Packing Order
Felix: Let's talk about the social structure in a wolf pack. How many wolves did you live with in the previous packs? Are you always the Alpha in the packs you study?
Shaun: Not at all. In the past, the pack I actually lived with, I was a member in the Mid rank. One of the main reasons for me to go into the pack itself is to learn the wolves’ language. We can’t learn the language if we go in as the dominant species or the dominant member, because if we do that, rather for them to teach us, they would try to learn from the dominant member, which would destroy the purpose.
What we had to do is, we had to accept a lower ranking positions which are the Mid-High, Mid ranking or Mid-Low ranking animals. When you think about it, it is probably the easiest role for human to operate within a wolf pack. The Alpha and the Beta communicate largely by smell, which is very difficult for us to achieve anywhere near that. But down to the Mid ranking animal or Mid-Low ranking animal, we operate by vocalization, body posture, facial expression, something human can mimic very easily.
Felix: What about the Omega?
Shaun: The Omega in the wolf pack is often thought of as a very low ranking animal that is sometimes called the Cinderella Wolf, which simulates the Cinderella story in which the fierce big sisters would regularly bully the young Cinderella. This speculation is often given by people looking from the human world from the outside. What they saw was, when a kill was placed into the enclosure, most of the wolves were able to get to the quarry and feed without any trouble, however there were one or two wolves that were thought to be the Omegas, were kept out and they were made to wait. Often only the left behind or the scraps would be their food source. If they didn’t wait for the meal, they were seemingly beaten up by the dominant members, and then made to wait again. However, this is the perception from the human world. The actual reality of that is, the Omega is not a really low ranking animal, but a specialist.
Dances with wolves - Shaun playing with a pack member by using prey drive
Hostile environment in European Wolves' natural habitat
Felix: Does it mean the Omega’s role is actually to keep the pack’s stability, so when there are conflicts in the pack, the aggressors can direct the energy towards the Omega and keep the pack’s harmony?
Shaun: That’s correct, yeah. This young animal is taught from a few weeks of age. If you watch a litter of dog pups or wolf pups, depending on the size of the litter itself, there would be one or two animals that are always the centre of attention, they would be the Omegas. It’s a bit like us in the human world, a child may be bullied in school. You look at some of our top comedians, if you look back into their social orders, often these people are funny as a result of their up bringing, may be they were bullied at a young age. So to cope with the bullying, what they can do is, they can turn a hostile situation into a joke, or play, by their body posture or simply making a funny face. So armed with this skill, being constantly subjected to fighting at an early age, the young wolf learns how to diffuse these situations very quickly with body posture, vocalization, or scent. As this animal grow, we can then use him as the specialist in the wolf pack.
So what actually happens, looking at it from the inside is, the Omega having seen the kill placed in, would know that this is a time with very high tension amongst the wolves. So what he would do is to position himself in such area where scent, sound, and visual aspect can be brought to at first hand. The Omega would then wait there because, although many people have come to realize that by eating before the dog will elevate our status from the animal, what many people don’t know is that it is also very important where about on the carcass you actually eat. In order for the male and the female Alphas to get access to the internal organs, they need to place themselves to the underside of the quarry at both sides of the ribcage. That leaves the Beta rank the next one down, his source is a good supply of fresh meat. He would place himself on the flank or the shoulder areas, the areas of prime meat. But there’s normally not enough of that quarry for the Alphas to sustain themselves purely on internal organs, so at some point during feeding, everybody is going to have to move around. Under the influence of food, that move around can turn very hostile, and that could mean that the Alphas and the Beta fight to such extent that someone will get severely injured, possibly even being killed, and that can weaken the pack’s structure. So the Omega would wait for this change around to take place, and then he or she would move into the pack, and it would then deflect that tension, something that it’s been taught from an early age.
Once the move around has been successfully instigated, the Omega would then voluntarily retire back to the post of origin and wait for the next move around to occur. Once everybody has fed, it would then move up to the food source to take its share of the kill. But if it is only receiving the leftover, it doesn’t seem very rewarding for the Omega. So in order for the animal of this rank to repeat this right through its entire life, the Beta rank, that’s the enforcer, although the Alpha makes the decisions, the Beta would carry out the decisions on behalf of the dominant pair. He would scent on the area of food, usually on the flank area, a good supply and a good quality of fresh meat. There, when the Beta finishes, nobody is allowed to touch that area of food. So when the Omega finishes his or her role, he then comes to the kill and feeds off the best quality of food, which takes him to the top of the rank structure, not at the bottom.
Wolf Pack Management is a self-funding organization located in Britain. As you read in the interview, the members of W.P.M. have devoted their hearts and souls in researching and studying wolf and canine behaviour. Endeavor like this is rare in the world, not to mention the knowledge and skills these people have to offer. Naturally, a project with such intensity and commitment requires a stable financial establishment to continue on. If you would like to support, sponsor, or if you would like further information from Wolf Pack Management, you can visit their website at www.shaunellis.org