U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service



John A. Shivik

Date of this Version

January 2001


Published in International Wolf.


Growing up with three older sisters was a bit like being raised by wolves. One of their favorite games was called “stop hitting yourself.” To play, I was immobilized, and then with my arms overpowered, I was forced to repeatedly pummel my own noggin while they uttered the name of the game. Watching yourself hit yourself, feeling the pain and humiliation, yet being unable to stop is somewhat like being a federal biologist working with wolves. I’ve learned humility from my experiences but also formed the opinion that if you want to work with wolves, first consider medication; if that doesn’t help, at least develop your sense of humor.

But I have other characteristics that help me in my vocation. For example, the thing that enables me to work most effectively with wolves is that I do not consider myself a wolf biologist. If nothing else, this allows me to investigate and work with these animals (which I really do consider to be pretty cool) with a certain amount of relaxed levity if not complete objectivity.

Part of my problem is that I didn’t go into wildlife biology because I thought I could change or improve the world, because I love our Mother Earth or Brother Wolf, or because I thought I’d learn how to hunt more deer, which were the reasons given by most of my undergraduate wildlife management colleagues. No, I think I did it just because I liked to be outside and thought animals were fascinating. Then, I began to study human-wildlife conflicts because the problems were so interesting, nearly intractable puzzles that really challenged one’s mind. Lastly, I became interested in wolves because they were the new, rapidly growing issue for someone who was dedicating his life to resolving conflicts between humans and predators.