The Man Who Lived with Wolves
I first met Dr Jason Badridze in Tbilisi, the capital of the small republic of Georgia, in the Caucasus, when I was writing about the country’s efforts to protect its wilderness. One of the staff on the nature reserves told me that I should meet him, as he was the most experienced researcher on wolves in the entire Caucasus region.
He was also the former professor of Ecology and Vertebrate Behaviour at Tbilsi University, and he’d raised orphaned wolf cubs himself and returned them to the wild.
Jason picked me up from the friend’s flat where I always stayed in Tbilisi: compact and bearded, his dark eyes were open and direct behind his glasses, and I saw a vivid sense of humour dancing in their depths.
I instantly felt at ease with him. That evening we talked for a long time over a bottle of the excellent Georgian red wine, as Jason told me an episode from his life among wolves which I found so unexpected and compelling that it seemed to come from the pages of a magical story rather than the life of a scientist.
As a young man Jason had gone to search for wild wolves in a remote forest in the Caucasus mountains. He went alone, and his only shelter was a shepherd’s felt cloak which kept out the cold and rain when he slept on the ground at night.
It is very hard to locate and observe wild wolves in thick forest, for long persecution has made them very wary of people and they are skilled at avoiding us. “At first I had no idea how I would ever make contact with the wolves in that forest.” Jason told me. “But I knew that the first thing I must do was show them that I was not a threat to them.”
Jason kept the hunters away from that part of the forest and began leaving meat for the wolves in parts of their territory. Then in one sudden, heart-stopping moment he came upon the pack’s mated pair, the alpha male and female wolves.
“The male came a few steps closer. He looked at me and it seemed to me that he was puzzled, that he did not understand why I was not a danger to him. Then both wolves ran off, and after they were gone I realized how frightened I had been. I was shaking.”
“When the wolves had adapted to being around me, I lived with them. I stayed with them for two years and when they accepted to let me follow them hunting, we often went for thirty or forty kilometers a day together. Never once were those wolves aggressive towards me. And after some time, they allowed me to take deer meat for myself from their kills – once they had eaten themslves, of course.”
After that first meeting with Jason in Tbilisi, I went with him to the Shirvan Nature Reserve in Azerbaijan, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, where wolves hunt a rare and beautiful species of desert gazelle. There, he told me more about his close bond with the wild wolves, and how a wolf once saved his life, a story told in full in Eyes of the Wild.
“It is one of the best feelings in the worl dwhen the wolf knows that you are not an enemy” Jason said.