From Nov. 15 to Dec. 15, he spent two days a week in Yellowstone National Park with scientists participating in the Yellowstone Wolf Project Winter Study. Last summer, he traveled to the Hokkaido University Museum of Natural History, under a Japan Foundation grant, where he collected enormous amounts of information about wolf extinction.
"I'm reading more books on wolf biology than I am on Japanese history any more. I'm kind of re-educating myself," Walker said. His interest in wolves is one reason he and his wife moved to MSU from Yale University, Walker added. Walker was teaching Japanese history at Yale, but came to MSU last year to teach Japanese history and become director of the new Japan Studies Program (http://www.montana.edu/japan). His wife, Yuka Hara, teaches beginning and intermediate Japanese at MSU.
"We wanted to be closer to Yellowstone and an area that was experiencing wolves," Walker explained.
Walker is now writing a book on his findings. One chapter will focus on the history of wolf taxonomy in Japan. Some scholars debate whether these canids were wolves at all or merely wild mountain dogs. Another chapter will explore the portrayal of wolves in popular culture, including museums, comics and animated films. His book will include historical illustrations and early writings that trace the changing nature of Japanese attitudes toward wolves.
"Brett Walker has done a remarkable piece of research, weaving together history, science and culture," commented Ron Nowak, a nationally known taxonomist who reviewed a draft of Walker's taxonomy chapter. "His presentation should make a topic, canid taxonomy, ... interesting to a broad spectrum of the public.