By Nancy Jeffrey
May 16, 2005 12:00 PM

Jim Dutcher can step outside and howl at the moon—then listen while the answering howls of gray wolves fill the night. It’s just one of the skills he learned during the six years he and his wife, Jamie, spent living in extraordinary closeness with these fascinating—and feared—predators of the American West, chronicling the growth of a wolf pack from four newborn pups to 11 adults. “We were there from the moment they opened their eyes, so they trusted us completely,” says Jim, 62, an Emmy Award-winning documentary maker whose latest project, Living with Wolves, airs on the Discovery Channel May 8.

In the early ’90s, the couple shot 60,000 ft. of film in a 25-acre enclosure in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, capturing intimate footage of the wolves as they hunted, mated and reacted to a cougar attack that left one member dead and others shaken. “Their ears went down and they tucked their tails. Wolves care a great deal about each other,” says Jim. In other footage, Jamie, 43, a former zookeeper and veterinary technician who met Jim aboard a flight home from Africa in 1987, wriggles into a den to get a look at newborn cubs.

The Dutchers parted with the wolves almost nine years ago when they returned to their home in Ketchum, Idaho, to continue work on documentaries and books. They used to make occasional trips to see surviving pack members (now down to five) in their new home on a Nez Percé Indian reservation. But no more. “It’s too sad,” says Jim. “They’d follow us to the gate and sit, as if to say, ‘Don’t go.’ ”

Nancy Jeffrey. Michael Haederle in Ketchum