He chose to forego normal human contact, sometimes for days at a time, as a tutor to the three wolf pups at Combe Martin. Thanks to his previous work, Ellis said he had learned to distinguish elements of wolf language. Some of the first lessons the three pups got were in howling.
"The first call I usually give them is what we call a locating howl -- very high in pitch -- and it tells the young pups that no matter where they are, if they hear that, they come to me very quickly."
Every pack member develops a signature howl that is unique to that animal, Ellis said. "If the position that it holds in the pack changes, then its howl will change. Everything depends up on the social positioning that these guys hold, and the howling is no different."
One of the pups, named Tamaska, was particularly vocal. "His reaction to being in trouble or getting hurt was to scream like a big child. And he'd come running over to me very quickly and I'd have to pick him up, put him under my neck and give him warmth. Warmth is one of the ways that we use to say to the wolf that everything's okay, you can calm down."
Conservation biologist Dr. Chris Darimont of Canada's Raincoast Conservation Society and the University of Victoria said that although the pups would have learned to howl on their own, "Shaun could have taught them certain howls, absolutely."
Darimont has mixed feelings about the nature of Ellis' work. "I'm of the opinion that the best teachers of wolves are their parents and their older siblings in a traditional wild setting What Shaun is doing is not traditional Western science, but it doesn't detract as much as one would think it does from what he's been able draw from his very intimate associations with wolves that has rarely been done before."
Darimont said he was impressed by scenes of Ellis eating at a deer carcass with the wolves, and growling to guard his portion of the kill and enforce the hierarchy of the pack.
"To be side by side, next to these carnivores with 1,500 pounds per square inch of biting pressure in a highly competitive environment -- this is a feast or famine lifestyle," Darimont said. "I've seen his expressions, modifying his facial features, and it's the same thing that the wolves are doing. It mimics wolf behavior close enough that it's very, very effective."
Ellis wasn't eating raw meat from the animal carcasses, which were purchased and brought into the sanctuary for the wolves. He had the organs he ate precooked, wrapped in plastic and placed back into the carcasses. He then claimed and defended his food.
"I was never healthier," Ellis said. "Colds, flus, upset stomachs, internal problems never really became an issue. I did pick up two bouts of worms, I have to admit that one."
He also suffered what he said were accidental facial bites that resulted when two wolves on either side of him snapped at each other. On such occasions, he left the compound briefly to see a doctor and receive stitches for the wound.