Fact Check: Wolf Pack Order Is NOT As Described In Viral Photo -- The Picture Is From A 2011 Documentary On Wolves Hunting Bison

Fact Check

  • by: Sarah Thompson
Fact Check: Wolf Pack Order Is NOT As Described In Viral Photo -- The Picture Is From A 2011 Documentary On Wolves Hunting Bison Not Pack Order

Does this caption accurately describe the social structure of a wolf pack that happened to be photographed moving single file through the snow? No, that's not true: This is an allegorical caption that uses the image of a wolf pack to deliver a lesson to people about "the true meaning of life." This breakdown of the roles of the wolves in the pack as well as their order in the line is contrived to fit the narrative of this popular internet allegory, but it is not based on wildlife biologists' observations of wolf behavior. The caption originally published with the photo identified the wolf first in line as the alpha female -- not elderly and sick as later captioning would.

The photo of the wolf pack moving single file in snow originated from a 2011 BBC series titled, "Frozen Planet." In 2015 the photo gained lots of attention on social media when a false caption about leadership was added. The image continues to surface on Facebook, for example this post (archived here) published on June 27, 2021. The caption reads:

The example of the wolves: The first three, the elderly or the sick, go ahead and set the rhythm of the group. They are followed by the five strongest who will defend them in a surprise attack. In the center follow the other members of the pack, and at the end of the group follow the other five strongest who will protect the group. Lastly, there is the alpha male wolf, the leader of the pack. In short, the pack follows the rhythm of the elders and under the command of the leader, who imposes group spirit, leaving no one behind.

The true meaning of life is not to arrive first, but to arrive all together at the same destination.

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Tue Jul 13 18:03:23 2021 UTC)

An October 19, 2011, promotional photo feature published in theguardian.com the week before the documentary premiered included this picture of the wolves. It was captioned:

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  Sarah Thompson

Sarah Thompson lives with her family and pets on a small farm in Southeastern Indiana. She founded a Facebook page and a blog called “Exploiting the Niche” in 2017 to help others learn about manipulative tactics and avoid scams on social media. Since then she has collaborated with journalists in the USA, Canada and Australia and since December 2019 she works as a Social Media Authenticity Analyst at Lead Stories.


 

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