Mr & Mrs Wolfman
Following on from ‘The Wolfman’ shown on Five in 2007, this two-part documentary catches up with the work of Shaun Ellis as he continues his unique experiment with a pack of captive wolves in Devon. Shaun has been living with the pack for over seven years, but his work is about to enter its most dangerous phase as he attempts to introduce his girlfriend into the wolf society.
Helen Jeffs lives in a small caravan on the edge of Combe Martin Wildlife Park with her boyfriend, wolf expert Shaun Ellis. For the last seven years, Shaun has been studying a pack of seven wolves in an enclosure within the park. Now, he wants Helen to join him as a member of the pack. Having been Shaun’s partner and apprentice for more than three years, Helen knows only too well the dangers of the life she is about to begin. “I’ve seen numerous injuries with Shaun,” she says. But the intrepid couple believe that the wolf does not deserve its reputation as a vicious killer, and are willing to put their lives on the line to prove it.
Each of the seven wolves in the Combe pack has its own role, so in order for Helen to infiltrate the group, she must first convince the animals that she can be of use to them. Her opportunity arrives when alpha female Cheyenne is mated, creating a vacancy for a new wolf nanny – a low-ranking female who can look after the pups. Helen now has just nine weeks to learn all she can about wolf behaviour.
The first lesson Helen must learn is how to convince Cheyenne that she is trustworthy. After a crash course in wolf body language, Helen is ready to enter the enclosure for the very first time – a critical and dangerous point in the mission. “It’s one of the last few places on Earth where people are not in charge,” says Shaun. “When you enter their world, you come under their rules.” As Helen prepares to meet Cheyenne, Shaun has some final words of advice: “Lose your human, think wolf.”
As soon as Helen enters the compound, Cheyenne approaches to sniff out the visitor. Helen rolls onto her back and opens herself up, allowing the wolf to dominate her. By showing such respect, Helen proves that she is lower-ranking than Cheyenne. Keen to make the most of a good start, Shaun takes a gamble and allows “the boys” into the enclosure. These three young males will pose the biggest threat to the pups when they arrive, so Helen must show Cheyenne that she can stand up to them. After a brief scuffle, Helen holds her ground. “That was far beyond what I’d hoped for,” says Shaun when he and Helen are safely back outside. “I think she’s done extremely well.”
After a successful first encounter, Helen is ready for the next stage of her training – to prove to the pack that she can provide food. Armed with wetsuits and freshly caught trout, she and Shaun go to feed Cheyenne and the three young males. Once again, Helen performs well, encouraging the animals to take the fish from a pond. Then, Helen leaves the enclosure while Shaun feeds the three adult males – the leaders of this pack.
However, there is a problem. Once the adults have eaten, Shaun tries to move them back into a separate enclosure, but alpha male Yana refuses to budge. With a member of the film crew trapped in a hide, Shaun will need Helen’s help. “Stick with me, keep with me and trust me,” says Shaun, as he and Helen march back into the enclosure to free the camerawoman. The mission is a success. “If someone had said to me a few years ago that I was going to infiltrate a pack of wolves, I would have laughed,” says a relieved Helen. “Look at me now!”
Over the next few days, Helen’s training moves up a gear. After changing her diet to include more meat, she prepares herself to regurgitate food for Cheyenne – a function she will be expected to perform for the pups. But as Cheyenne’s pregnancy progresses, the behaviour of the other wolves changes. During a public display, Shaun is bitten by Tamaska, one of the dominant males. Helen’s confidence is knocked, but Shaun is keen to show the pack that he is not to be pushed around. “If he doesn’t think I have a future within his pack, then he can tell me to leave,” says Shaun as he prepares for a face-off with Tamaska. “But he’s going to have to fight for it.”
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