«Наедине с волками» - Ясон Бадридзе
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Among the wolves

It is the holy truth that a dog is man’s best friend. But try to prove that no less are wolves – angry, violent, horror settling predators.

In Tbilisi lives a man who not only proved that it is quite possible to live in a wolf-alike society but also experienced it himself. Meet Iason Badridze, doctor of biology, a model scientist, professor of Illia State University.

It’s one thing to read about Iason and his works and the other thing is to meet him in person and learn about breathtaking adventures first-hand that went on for two years in woods face to face with wolves. Still to this day, Iason is known as “the man in a pack of wolves”.

After graduating in biology faculty from Tbilisi State University Iason worked at institute of physiology. He acquired a doctor’s degree defending a dissertation on the behaviour of large predators, focusing on wild wolves. For more than 20 years he studied the life of these predators. Some episodes of his life might seem unrealistic but it is the truth – I was sitting and talking to a man who talked, ate, slept and lived with wolves – even hunted with them.

When I read his biography I was a little surprised by the fact that arts was the main occupation in his family but he took a completely different path. His father Constantine taught at theatrical institute, led school of stuntmen and also played the trumpet. Her mother Natela Sanikidze was an actress of Marjanishvili Theatre and his uncle David Abramidze was a famous singer performing at Tbilisi Opera Theatre. Iason started laughing when I asked why not the theatre?

“I was the odd one out in our family, I loved dancing and sports – in fact, I was a champion in weightlifting for juniors but the theatre was not for me.”

Predators and most of all wolves have become Iason’s main interest in his life and work. Iason is professor-werewolf, one of the most respectable ethologists in the world. He is an expert at studying genetically based behaviour of wild animals (ethology is the science of animal behaviour). For the sake of study, Iason went to woods choosing wolves as the subject of interest.

“There is no point in observing wild animals in lab environments. It is impossible to study their living and not look at them in their natural habitat. Why did I choose wolves? I have been getting along with dogs since early childhood, even with very aggressive ones, taking care of them. But dogs depend on humans and their instinct only shows when human attention is absent. So the best way of observation was forest and dogs’ wild ancestors – the wolves. Forestry “Zovreti” of Borjomi’s national park singled out territory for my experiment which has become a place of my living for two years.”

I and not only me but whole Tbilisi was curious about the fact that Iason brought up wolves at home and then he would release them back into the wild. The last group of wolves that he released was back in 1979. They had collars around their necks saying – “The one who brings the collar back will receive reward twice as much the government offers” – i.e meaning liquidation of wolves. During all this time no one has ever brought a collar back. Why? – Take a guess.

“To experiment first of all I needed to study the behaviour of wolves in-depth and for that reason I needed to get into their “system”, meaning becoming one of them, deserving their trust and receiving a “rank”. Only after that, a wolf will allow you into their circle. All this required strength and fangs (for hunting) and I had none of these things. So all I hoped for was my willpower and luck. It took four months to get close with elderly wolves and even more with young ones. On course of these months I have realised that what a grand feeling is to become a part of nature, too feel like nature’s child and not only appreciate the beautiful surroundings but to be one of the water drops in this magnificent sea of nature”.

Predators avoid hunters and poachers, during these months with Iason’s arrival and request maximum safety of animals was provided. Somehow wolves sensed that not only Iason was not a treat, on the contrary, that he was a protector.

“I warned huntsman so they would not hunt at least for some time. Wolves are very sensitive to the smell of gunpowder and avoid potentially dangerous places. For the first time in four months, I came to them in early autumn, during estrus, to the place of their loving. A male wolf has approached me, looked at me, growled and then went away. Shortly after other ones started approaching. After some time young wolves have accepted me into their circle. In that way, we connected. They have realised that I am the reason for their safety.”

– Have you not been afraid? Who would be there for you if something happened?

– Of course, I was, At first when they were wandering in circles and I did not know what to expect, fear would not go away. But after some time I got used to it and relaxed. It should be noted that a wolf senses human’s fear very well. The scent produced by adrenaline both saves from and initiates an attack. It gets even worse if one tries to run away, it immediately triggers the instinct of prey drive. The rule goes the same with other predators. But when one does not panic, is ready for self-defence, shows self-control – it shows and the wolf recedes.

It is hard to believe that Iason hunted and ran kilometres with wolves. His role was to wait for the pray in a specific place where predators would guide it to. When a pray saw a human it would freeze, allowing wolves to take down an animal. After that that they would share with Iason.

“They would bring me meat, drop it near my camp and ran away. There was one time when chase went on half a day, I could barely move my legs so I leaned on a big rock. Suddenly a bear rose from behind the rock. I froze in complete fear. In second wolves appeared and attacked the bear. It barely escaped but wolves just turned around and went away. Interestingly, wolves never fight to the death with their family members, They mostly show their strength and try to dominate. Conflict can occur because of lack of food or family disagreements. But if a wolf outside the family or another pack puts an eye on their territory, it means a fight to the death”.

The whole interview I have been waiting when Iason would tell about his pups.

“I have been buying them from hunters, newborn and very small. Everyone was surprised – why do you need them? what is the point? they are useless. I decided to bring them up as my children. I didn’t have any money to buy or to take care of them so I started working as an auto mechanic. I had 6 to 8 pups. I kept little ones on a balcony and when they grew older I would bring them to our institute in Mtskheta. I would take them on a walk so they get used to being in the wild. On their claws, I made some incisions so I could recognise them with their traces. One time, After 10 years I accidentally stumbled upon a familiar looking trail. I knew that if wolves were far away they would howl but in case if they were close they would just bark. I learnt their “language” quite well so I started howling and to my surprise, they came, my wolfs came back to me. They were old but still managed to recognise me. After my two-year-long hermitage ended and I was leaving, the wolves that I lived with circled me and started howling – it was their goodbye and probably their gratitude in some way, I miss my wild brothers. There was another occasion – One American scientist visited and asked me to teach him wolf howl. So I took him outside the city and started howling in different tones. What has followed is impossible to describe with words, from every surrounding village rose an unbelievable barking.

– Do wolves have “foul language”?

– No, it does not exist – says Iason- but we indeed have turned into the wild animals. We destroy everything that belongs to nature, not thinking about the consequences. Poaching has reached an unbelievable scale which has never been seen before. Trees being chopped down causes animals to seek food from humans, that is the reason why attacks on pets have increased. Inhuman attitude toward nature does not end well. Even more dangerous are dogs that ended up without their owners and ran wild. They go to the forest and start living with wolves. In second-third generation offsprings change their colour, behaviour, lifestyle, it gets hard to differentiate them from the real wolves. But the thing is, a dog that got used to not being afraid of humans will not be able to fit in a new environment, but at the same time will not be able to go back to past lifestyle. That’s the reason why they are so aggressive and dangerous. They are a bit like bats – They do not fit anywhere.

How much time has passed since Iason and wolves have signed “non-aggression pact”? – Almost whole life! Iason confesses that he misses past times and if not his health he would definitely relive that long and difficult road with great pleasure, times when he felt and appreciated the magnificent experience that nature gifts to a man.

“I have seen how wolves take care of the elderly, helpless, feeding them. I have seen their loving care towards their children and simultaneously their strict bringing. I have been astonished by their love and faithfulness. They are amazing creatures and there is no need to hate them”.

Having heard all these stories I have been imbued with extraordinary sympathy and respect for Iason, who fits his nickname – “Mgelika” (wolfy). Also, having compared things that we hear about wolves to his stories made me realise that they are often more human than we are. Maybe we should learn from them how to not leave our parents without assistance and help, how to teach the young to respect the elderly, how to respect your kind, not to be cruel, heartless, aggressive. Not to kill, rape, hurt and bring pain. The proverb “A man is a wolf to another man” seems wrong after all that. Is it really that the wolf which has saved Iason from the bear has a better understanding of what does a family mean? Love? Honesty? Help? Kindness? Do people turn into the animals?

Dodo Akhvlediani