Michael Allan Mallory and his writing partner, Marilyn, are wonderful writers, avid environmentalists, and great friends. Please give him a big convertible welcome. (And please excuse the poor formatting of his blog. WordPress reallly hates me this morning.)
“Don’t treat Michael like an Omega!” the wolf curator chided, nearly laughing. The comment was directed toward the woman who’d nearly crashed into my face with a tree branch.
We were in the main wolf enclosure at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, clearing away the winter’s straw and removing debris. I was one of a dozen volunteers that weekend helping out at this respected learning center inside Superior National Forest. It was mid-May and Lori Schmidt, wolf curator, was directing our movements when the volunteer totting the fallen tree branch almost got me. That had prompted her good-natured ribbing.
The omega wolf is the lowest ranking member of the wolf pack, the one the others pick on. The reference came from the evening before, the first day of the volunteer weekend. We were extending the height of the holding area fence when it happened. I adjusted the ladder I’d been working on and the socket wrench on the top step banged down onto my skull. The result: blood. My blood. Dripping freely down my face onto my sweatshirt. Meanwhile scant feet behind me three of the exhibit wolves watched the incident with keen interest. They were on the other side of a chain-link fence. I wished I was on the other side of the planet, embarrassed I’d messed up in front of Lori. I was ushered into the wolf lab for treatment.
I was at the wolf center, in part, to research my next book. Fortunately the injury was minor and when Lori came in to check on “Mr. Head Trauma” we joked about it. The accident served as preamble for her remark the next day when I was almost taken out by a branch wielding volunteer.
Indeed. The actual omega back then (2007) was Malik (Ma-leek), a beautiful white arctic wolf, the gentlest and most people-interested member of the pack, based upon my observations. Malik was my favorite. His brother, Shadow, was the leader, the dominant wolf. The term alpha, I learned, was out of favor among wolf scientists as there’s too much baggage associated with it.
There was a lot to learn about this iconic animal of the wilderness and working with the wolves was the most enjoyable aspect of my research. Last spring I returned to volunteer, this time without mishap. No more Mr. Head Trauma! Another change was that the aging Malik had been retired to his own enclosure to prevent him from being injured by the newer, younger wolves in their biological drive to establish new social order. A month afterward his brother Shadow joined him in retirement after serving as pack leader for many years.
Contrary to the bad press undeservedly heaped on them, wolves aren’t bloodthirsty killers. Apex predators, loving parents, and high intelligent, they play a key role in the health of their ecosystems. They’ve been exterminated in nearly every country where they once lived. Minnesota has the distinction of being the only state in the contiguous forty-eight United States that never exterminated its wolf population, so that today nearly three thousand gray wolves thrive in Superior National Forest.
Pro-wolf/anti-wolf sentiments propel the story in KILLER INSTINCT, which sends zoologist sleuth, Lavender “Snake” Jones to the North Woods of Minnesota to help investigate the killing of four wild wolves. Things take a dark turn when one of the suspects turns up murdered and Snake ends up fighting for her life in the dark confines of the forest as the killer trains his gun sights on her.