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Howlin’ Wolf

Hearing the call of the wild

Illustration Graham Roumieu

Park Falls, Wisconsin

ADRIAN WYDEVEN STANDS perfectly still along a hushed and snowy road in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. He cups his hands over his mouth and breaks the silence with five plaintive, pitch-perfect wolf howls. After a pause, he lets out five more, louder this time.

Wydeven is the extremely hands-on director of Wisconsin’s Wolf Management Program, and though no wolves howl back tonight, oftentimes they do—usually pups left behind as their parents hunt, or adults warning others not to tread on their turf. These “howling surveys” help gauge the size of the local timberwolf population. Since 2003, Wisconsin’s wolves have bounced on and off the endangered species list six times. According to Wydeven’s howling surveys, their numbers are currently at a robust 650. “It’s pretty exciting knowing that you’re communicating with another animal in its language,” says Wydeven, who learned how to howl with the help of timberwolf recordings that he played on his car stereo and practiced for years in the privacy of his shower. In 1990, having spent two weeks howling for the state, he received his first response. “I felt like I really developed a rapport with this other animal,” he recalls. “It was magical.”

Sometimes, however, howlers accidentally develop a rapport with other survey groups, who wind up calling to each other in the darkness. And on rare occasions, a howl can become something of a human mating call. Wydeven met his wife when she took a course he taught on wolf ecology. After class one day, he asked if she wanted to go howling. “How’s that for a pickup line?” he says with a grin. —EMILY STONE

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