May 11th, 2011:

Dancin’ with Wolves or Chimps, Anyone?

 

When I saw the news about a chimpanzee mauling a middle-aged man a few years ago—the chimp had nearly killed the man as he tore off part of his face, mouth, nose, tongue and fingers.—I couldn’t help but think of my former neighbor and animal wrangler for the movies. Jules Sylvester, who had worked on the film “Project X” starring Matthew Broderick and some chimpanzees, had once told me that chimps were really “urban guerillas,” especially when they got older. Chimpanzees may remind us of ourselves and seem so cute in the zoo and in TV ads, but they are wild animals, a fact to respect.

Wolves are also complicated creatures. “Wolves have a very closed and complicated social system,” Jules explained. The social graces are important to observe since wolves don’t like strangers. It takes a trainer a great deal of time to develop a relationship. “The ideal thing is to be a non-person, to be calm and unobtrusive. Always keep moving. Don’t indulge in the human trait of standing around staring.”

Some years ago Jules took local California wolves to Coldfoot, Alaska, in mid-winter for a Sears commercial, and was amazed at their adaptability. He had also managed wolves for the movie “Never Cry Wolf,” a wonderful story of a man living in a tent and observing the everyday lives of wolves in the wilderness during the icy winter. I had met Charlie Martin Smith, the primary human star of the film at a Malibu Shopping Center opening.

The Alaskan site for the commercial was 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The temperature, at minus 87 degrees, was too cold to run any vehicles or fly out, and the crew were stuck there over two weeks. They had to wait until it warmed up to minus 74.  It was too cold to film, and Jules remembered finding six inches of ice under his bed in their trailer camp.

“The wolves, who were born and raised in Thousand Oaks, California, were totally ecstatic. It was wonderful to watch how magnificent wolves are, how adaptable, and how insignificant we are. They could adapt from minus 87 to 100 degrees.”

Years later, Jules took wolves from Thousand Oaks to Thailand for the movie “The Phantom.” Despite the dense, hot and humid jungle, once again the wolves loved the environment.

Jules loves his business and the very long list of credits on his website prove it. “I get along with most people and that helps.  In business you sell yourself. Anybody could wrangle a cockroach, but I can do it with a lot more giggles.”

 

 

 

 

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