When field biologist Gudrun Pflueger found out, in 2005, that a cancerous tumor the size of a golf ball was growing in her brain, her chances for survival looked bleak. Many might have even said that recovery was impossible. But Pflueger—sweet, and yet tough as nails—fought, and remained hopeful.
“Already once something impossible happened,” she says. “Why not a second time?”
The miracle she’s referring to happened just prior to her diagnosis. Pflueger, a wolf expert, was on a six-week expedition along the coast of British Columbia, when she experienced a rare wildlife encounter. Seven Canadian coast wolves encircled her, curiously but not aggressively, in a meadow, while she lay prone in the grass. They played in the field for about an hour.
“The situation kind of carefully evolved. It was always their decision to come closer and closer. They didn't rush. They took their time. They tried to smell me. They never showed any sign that they would even remotely consider me as prey,” Pflueger told me in an interview two years ago. “They just accepted me.”
At that time, the Smithsonian Channel was preparing to air its first program on Pflueger, called “A Woman Among Wolves.” (Check out the interview and the accompanying video clip.) Now, cancer-free, Pflueger is the subject of a sequel. The channel’s “Running with Wolves” premieres this Sunday at 8pm (et/pt).
“They gave me their will to fight for my life and be determined,” says Pflueger in the film, which describes her deep connection to the animals. The biologist says that her battle with cancer really brought her work into focus, and to a great extent her life’s, purpose, to fight for wolf conservation.
In “Running with Wolves,” she returns to the meadow where her encounter with the wolves happened. She also searches for wolves in other parts of British Columbia, setting up motion sensitive cameras along the way. Months after she installs a camera outside of an empty wolf den, she returns to it and watches the footage. Jackpot! For a second time, she gets a privileged view of wolves. On her laptop, in a cabin in the backcountry, she watches wolf pups coming out of their den for the first time.