Thursday

Discarding a comfortable city life and donning comfortable Tibetan robe, artist Li Weiyi sweated and shivered for months on the vast grasslands in northwest China, rewilding a wolf cub she had saved on a sketching trip.

 For seven months, she lived, ate and slept "like a mother wolf" with her cub named Green (Ge Lin), first in a mastiff kennel, then in the deep grasslands, leading the young wolf back to the wild, and finally a pack.

The Sichuan native, 31, is the first recorded person in China who has raised a wolf to survive in the wild. The gray wolf, now two and a half years old, has been back in the wild for nine months with Li on the rewilding project. He has been on his own since then for 21 months.

Li says he was alive in May because a Tibetan herder checks occasionally and photographs Green with his distintive prints and markings.

This drama is unfolding near Zoige town in Zoige grassland on the northwest Sichuan Plateau. The grassland is in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, adjacent to Gansu Province.

Li herself last saw him in February 2011, attacking a yak herd with his pack. He came to her and licked her face before returning to his pack.


The cub was named Green after the color of the lush grasslands, and after the mistranslation of Brothers Grimm, who wrote the Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf.

Rewilding a wolf

 To get Green back to where he belongs, Li and Green risked almost certain death over months. They encountered fierce eagles and fierce Tibetan dogs that chased them for miles. Once she prised open a mastiff's jaws after it had attacked Green.

She survived a case of potentially deadly pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) and exhaustion when they ran out of food. She was amazed Green never tried to eat her while they were both starving.


Li never regretted her decision.

"Green is not a pet. He needs freedom to choose his own habitat and compete for survival. Freedom is a wolf's birthright. I can't take it away. He needs to live free like a wolf, with dignity," She told Shanghai Daily in a telephone interview from her home in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province.

"Even if Green died, at least he would die free. Between the safety of captivity and the danger of freedom, I chose a risky adventure for him."

In July Li described her legend-making experience with Green in a 400,000-word semi-autobiographical novel titled "Back to the Wolf Pack." Despite piracy, the book sold more than 100,000 copies in two months. It's China's next big "wolf" novel after the acclaimed "Wolf Totem" (2004) by Jiang Rong. It too tells the story of grasslands, wolves and a young man's rescue and raising of a wolf cub.


Jiang called Li "China's No. 1 wolf lady," and wrote in the preface: "I've read this four times and want to read it again. Many times while reading, I broke out in a cold sweat; I felt my blood burn and it brought me to tears." He was astonished that the wolf was accepted by a pack and awed by the courage and determination of both Li and Green.

Li said she was "quite stressed" after completing the book. "It may be a happy ending that Green survived and went back to the wild, but wolves are facing a much bigger threat. Maybe in just a few years, the wolf itself, 'Wolf Totem' and my story of Green will all become legends. People will only be able to learn about the soul of the wolf and lush grasslands from our books."

The book is in Chinese; translations are expected.


Li was praised by many readers but some accused her of wasting time and energy on animals instead of orphans and poor children in real needs. She laughs off criticism. "They don't understand it's not just about saving a life. Wolves are critical to the grasslands ecology," she said. "I hope our story can help change stereotypes of the wolf, bring changes in the grasslands and raise public awareness."

Fortunate encounter

Born in mountainous Ya'an in Sichuan Province, Li spent her childhood playing with squirrels, hedgehogs, snakes, wild boars, foxes, hares and pheasants. She frequently rescues strays on the street and campaigns to save endangered moon bears that are farmed in cages for their bile in China and Southeast Asia.

"Children who grow up in the mountains have a bigger world in their heart," Li said.


In her book, there's a photo of Green and Li, looking delicate and pretty. But she was born tough and stubborn. She wanted to paint at age five and once waited for three days outside the home of a painting master until he agreed to take her as a pupil. She sold her first works when she was 14 and held a solo debut exhibition two years later. She now lives in Chengdu and works as a painter.

"When I was sketching in the grasslands in 2010, I never thought a dying wolf cub crying for help was destined to affect my whole life," Li writes.

In May that year on her sketching trip she heard a wolf story from Tibetans: A male wolf had recently killed a lamb to feed his mate and newborn cubs. Herders killed the wolf. His grieving mate raided the sheepfold during the day and at night howled at the spot where the male was killed. She was hunted for days and poisoned, leaving behind seven starving cubs. A herdsman took them.


Hearing that story, Li couldn't resist the urge to see a real wolf for the first time and find those cubs. After days of travel and inquiries, she found the man's tent.

Inside was one, 10-day-old cub, a tiny bundle of gray fur, barely breathing. All the other cubs had died. Li crouched down and thinking he was dead as well, began to cry. The little wolf came to her, whimpering and nuzzling for milk.

The herder agreed and she took the sick cub back home to Chengdu.

Growing pains

"If I could do it again, I would never bring him back to Chengdu, the days in the city were miserable for him," Li said. "I never felt sorry later when he was bitten by mastiffs or chased by Tibetan dogs. Those were necessary life lessons."


Back in Chengdu, Li smuggled the cub into her home where she lived with her parents, hiding him in her studio, then moving into a flat with him. She fed the cub meat congee, based on the recipe in "Wolf Totem." She later fed him raw meat. Chocolate is his favorite dessert.

Li was moved by the wolf's territorial consciousness, his pride, vitality, instinct for survival and desire for freedom. He also had a pure love for those he trusted, namely Li.


"That's what moved me to risk my life returning him to the wild. There are fewer and fewer things that truly touch us in life today," Li said.

Far from trying to tame Green, she let him run free in the suburbs and on the big rooftop of her apartment building. But it became harder and harder to hide him in the neighborhood, especially when he learned to howl after listening to Li's recordings of wolves' howling. But his howl is a bit inauthentic and that's one way she can locate him.


Complaints from neighbors and warnings from the police upset her. Green was then two months old and weighted around 12 kilos.

A routine afternoon walk turned into a nightmare - Green ran off. When Li finally spotted him he was trapped in a busy intersection, frightened by bright headlights, screeching brakes, honking horns and shouting drivers.

"At that moment, I saw a wild life in collision with modern civilization," she recalled. She had to confine Green to the cement rooftop but it was taken over for a LED screen. That's when she knew she had to take him back.

Li did extensive wolf and rewilding research that included reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the United States. She determined to return him to Zoige grasslands for training and release. That was July 2010. Green was two and a half months old.


Shared life and death

"Only after sharing life and death together will the wolf treat you like family. Strong as I am, it was a narrow escape from death to walk with him through all this. I could barely hang in," Li wrote in an e-mail to Shanghai Daily.

For the first stage of wilding, Li took Green to a kennel for mastiffs owned by a friend in Zoige. It was near his natural home and relatively safe from hunters. But it was also dangerous because mastiffs fight wolves and Green was too small to compete.

However, after several tentative, get-acquainted fights, the mastiffs accepted the wolf and they played together. Thus, Li and her wolf settled down in the kennel. There, Green learned how to kill game, store food and survive in the wild.

In October 2010, Li and Green set out on their first trip to find a wolf pack. They failed when Green tried to lead a wild wolf back to Li, whom he trusted. Green was cruelly bitten on the shoulder. The two also went hungry for three days after they ran out of food.

Late that winter, better equipped, she tried again.

"Winter is hunting season for the pack, which urgently needs new blood (new members to hunt). Green is eight months old, capable of hunting but no threat to mature wolves, so it'll be easier for the pack to accept him in their society," she explained.

This time, they succeeded. Green ran off to find other wolves and didn't come back. The last time Li saw him was in February 2011, when she saw nine-month-old Green and his pack attacking a yak herd. She chased him for miles on foot and called his name. Green stopped, ran back to her, rubbing against her and licking her face.


She hugged the cub she had raised, briefly put a leash on him, and then forced herself to let him go after around 10 minutes.

It's been over 20 months since Li and Green have been apart. She often sees him in dreams, mostly nightmares, in which he is hunted or killed.

In May, Li's herdsman friend Tashi spotted Green eating salted meat they left around his ranch, to lure him occasionally and document his survival. But Green had gone by the time Li, then living in Chengdu, arrived at his home in Zoige. She took comfort in the pictures Tashi had taken and the remains of Green's hearty meal.

"I never doubted his ability to hunt and survive. It's human hunters I'm worried about," Li said in the interview. "I hope to see him again, but also afraid to find him hurt, afraid that I couldn't let him go again."

Green was not afraid of Li and her fiance, and she doesn't believe he would attack other people. But picking up the scent of human beings is dangerous for a wolf because his pack will smell humans, who mean danger, and expel him.

Whenever she has a chance, she takes a break from her painting world and goes in search of Green.

Green's prints are easy to recognize because he lost a toe when a terrified woman in Chengdu stamped her high-heel shoe on his paw. He's smaller and thinner than most wolves, but his fur is thicker. He has a round scar on his forehead where he beat his head against kennel bars in an effort to get out and help his mastiff friend fighting another dog. And his howl isn't quite right.

Li's life is calmer now, her health restored, her book completed. Painting fills the wolf gap in her life. She paints Green and so far has 10 watercolors, portraits and landscapes. She aims to raise funds to help wolves with an exhibition and charity auction.

The wolf lady hopes to fund a wolf reserve in China, which has none.


Meanwhile, her fiance Yi Feng, a freelancer, is editing their videos of Green into a documentary. A video titled "Beauty and the Wild Wolf" was released on the Internet and created a buzz.

"One day people will discard the stereotype of wolves and treat them in a fair way," Li said. "I will do everything I can to be the first woman devoted to protecting wild wolves in China."

Wiping out the wolves

Wolves once roamed throughout much of China, which had various gray wolf species, such as the Tibetan and steppes wolves.But loss of habitat to development and grazing and years of hunting and slaughter decimated the population.

Today wolves live in mid- and high-latitude regions of northwest and northeast China, in the Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang Uygur autonomous regions.

Reliable population figures are not available. A study in 2008 indicated no more than 2,000 wolves in the Hulunbuir Grasslands of Inner Mongolia.


The wolf plays a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance, which was disrupted when their grassland habitat was converted to industrial herding and agriculture, as described in "Wolf Totem."

Coal mining and human encroachment took more land and the desert moved in.

In 2008, 12 people in Qinghai Province were infected by deadly pneumonic plague, traced to its carrier, the Himalayan marmot. The rodents were reproducing in frightening numbers since wolves, their natural predators, were being wiped out.

This was one of many problems caused by wolf extermination and it drew nationwide attention but little effective action has been taken to protect wolves.
Source

VIDEO

Responses to "Li Weiyi - Woman who runs with wolves (Photos - Video)"

  1. this made my heart leap with joy but also brought tears to my eyes. god bless you xx

  2. Anonymous says:

    I LOVED THIS FILM WHEN 2 HEARTS MEET N GROW 2GETHER THEY BECOME ONE! IN THIS FILM U DON'T HAVE TO SPEAK CHINESE TO KNOW WHAT IS BEING SAID ,DONE, Y OR HOW BETWEEN THE GIRL N WOLF. WHEN THERE'S A BOND THATS TIGHT AS IT IS BETWEEN THE 2! WOLF N HUMAN THE ANIMAL KNOWS JUST BY HEARING HER VOICE FOR HIM TO SHOW THE LOVE LOYALTY N SPIRITUALY N RESPECT THE WOLF HAD FOR HIS MOTHER THAT NURSED HIM 2B STRONG N SMART WOLF N SHE TO THE WOLF BOTH KNOW THEIR HEARTS N SOULS! HE KNEW HE HAD TO GO BACK TO THE WILD WARE HE BELONGS !THROUGHT THEIR EYES HEART , SOUL N SPIRITUALY THEY WILL ALWAYS B ONE THE WILD W/THE TAMED! AS FOR THIS I WISH ALL MAN KIND COULD B N DO THE SAME WITH ALL ANIMALS!!. GOD BLESS U Li Weiyi THANK FOR BEING A GREAT WOMAN WHO CARES ABOUT THE WOLVES. HERE IN THE U.S. FISH N GAME ASSOC. N GOV.T HAVE 2MIL DLS TO PAY FOR HUNTERS TO KILL N TRAP THE WOLVES. THIS IS SAD THAT THE U.S. GOV.T IS DOING THIS.!!! AGAIN WE R THE LILTTLE PEOPL THAT OUR OPINION N WORDS DON'T MATTER NOR MAKE A DIFFERANCE. AGAIN TY N GOD BLESS I HOPE U FIND UR WOLF AGAIN N GIVE US AN UP DATE!! WILL B LOOKING FOWARD TO IT, I REALLY HOPE IT'LL B ALL GREAT NEWS N UP DATE. :)

  3. Wishing all the best for Li Weiyi and all living beings around :)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic even thou it was in Chinese I loved it and such an incredible story! What an extraordinary and courageous woman . I love wolves and admire Li Weiyi for what she did and her love for Green!

  5. Anonymous says:

    What a touching & beautiful ending...!!! <3

  6. Anonymous says:

    It almost feels like Li was supposed to help Green. Through love and perseverance they became loyal and united. I admire them both for that.
    Wolves are the most majestic, magical species left in our world today and we should fight for them. Their voices, howls and cries must be heard!

  7. Anonymous says:

    What a beautiful and touching story of love!. I have tears in my eyes!.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I watched the video in its entirety, but I do wish it had been translated. It was easy to follow, and as much as I was able to get the idea, it would have been so much more interesting to HEAR what Li was sharing. If there should be a follow-up in th future, please consider a translation on screen at least. It touched my heart and made me cry much like watching "Elsa" in Born Free.

  9. rose quartz says:

    Beautiful and touching story I admire Li :-)

  10. Kathleen says:

    Li shows us what a human is supposed to do...

  11. Anonymous says:

    Magnifique

  12. Anonymous says:

    Although I would have liked to been able to listen and understand the video in English it really wasn't necessary because her story was told before the video...I did enjoy video and understood that this was the time frame of the wolf 'Green' growing up..looking forward to her experience being translated in English..I loved this story a 'Woman and her Wolf.'...she did a Great thing....I had a wolf and miss him dearly raised him till he died of old age...Living in Michigan he wouldn't have stood a chance if I tried to do the Amazing thing she did for this cub...she gave him a chance to Live....

  13. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful Girl with a beautiful heart.

  14. SASS says:

    these two souls can teach us all how to be... Li and 'Green' are powerful in their spirit. I am moved to the core!

  15. amor verdadero. maravilloso

  16. Anonymous says:

    li is one awesome person ! if only this world had more people like her .

  17. Anonymous says:

    I wish I could meet her . I admire her for caring 4 the wolfs.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Li I am wolf clan in North western wwisconsin.theyare giving out lottery permits for hunting an killing wolf.they say "our children are next" when all they going is keeping the deer population at bay.farmers are expanding and taking up land that they really don't need.greedy individuals. Now they are hunted and slaughter for keeping he deer from overpopulation. Please help in the fight to save the wolf and making them out to be the most they most misunderstood specious here.my email is dverville@yahoo.com let me know what I can do to stop this slaughtering


    Thank you.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Absolutely inspiring, I would love to have the opportunity to do something like this, and even more I would love to have the opportunity to help working towards creating a world where humans are not considered separate from other living species and the natural world, and where wolves and all other species are automatically and without question given the respect they deserve :-)

  20. Diane Gubrud says:

    I Absolutely loved this biography. It was touching & emotional. I felt the lonliness for a lone wolf.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I Love it its Brilliant, Formidable oh my dont know what to say . I wish i had done the same when i still was young i also love Wolves and all other Animals You are absolutely wonderful Thanks for you have share this with us ppl <3 <3

  22. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful story - thanks for sharing it. Long life to Green and Li - wonderful souls.

  23. Anonymous says:

    A wonderful story about Green and Li. bless their spirit.

  24. Anonymous says:

    non occorre conoscere il cinese, basta guardare e condividere questa bella storia

  25. Anonymous says:

    As long as there are people like Li, there is still hope. Li, you are a hero!

  26. Anonymous says:

    You're lucky you didn't kill with kindness -- you should NEVER feed chocolate to canines!! It has an ingredient which can sicken, and even KILL dogs and, I assume, wolves as well!!

  27. Kass says:

    I am surprised and hope to see this book in my home soon. I love wolves and think they should be returned to the landscape in all countries to restore balance. This is a very brave woman. It restores my faith in humans in China.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Li and Green teach us so many lessons; we need to be brave enough to teach the tough lessons to those we love to make them strong. Congratulations to all the team who participated in this film. Let us learn to respect our wolves in N. America.

  29. I LOVED WHAT YOU DID FOR THIS WOLF. I WOULD'VE DONE THE SAME. WE NEED MORE PEOPLE LIKE YOU TO DO THE SAME THING WHAT YOU DID. THANK YOU

  30. Blues says:

    Would love to see this with English translation. Loved what I saw.

  31. Suz says:

    I SPENT 19 YEARS WITH 2 90% WOLF CROSS (WITH SIBERIAN-MALAMUTE) AND AM TOUCHED BY THIS EFFORT. THANK YOU.

  32. Richtu says:

    I've just watched a pre-release showing of the film in a theater in Guangzhou, China today since my girlfriend got a hold of tickets somehow and I must say I was moved and impressed with the story. It's supposedly 98% consisted of real-footage and though it's amateurish and some corny story-telling added to it (Forgive me if I'm underestimating a wolf's intelligence, but Green did some very extraordinary things), the bond between man (in this case a woman) and wolf will keep you drawn in. For those of you worried about language barriers, there were English subtitles and they were fairly accurate. Anyhow, I recommend the film to all!

    And thanks for the article, I had some questions after viewing the film and this piece explains a-lot of unanswered questions I had.

  33. a highly observant and sensitive person is who Li is. and what she has achieved should be celebrated. man and wildlife have evolved together but modern civilization has put them into deep conflict. the ecosystems we survive in require a deeper understanding in order for us to be able to manage our own affairs in a sustainable manner.

  34. It was for me a very interesting watch and in some matters also emotional. I have tried to find her book but is it still available and shipped to the Netherlands.

  35. Wonderful Spirit.

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