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Call of the wild

By Mei Jia ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-01-16 15:09:23

Call of the wild

Li Weiyi and the wolf Green huddle near a rabbit hole, as she trains the animal to hunt. Photos provided to China Daily

Call of the wild

Li Weiyi plays with wolf cub Green on the grass in their early days together.

A young artist sketching in remote grasslands meets a wounded wolf cub, and finds new purpose in life, Mei Jia reports.

For Li Weiyi, a Chengdu-based painter born in the 1980s, her sketching tour to Zoige grassland in northwestern Sichuan province offered an unexpected and life-changing encounter with an orphaned wolf cub.

His ears stuck to the head, his fur was hard and looked like dried grass. He was weak and nearly dead. I wanted to help," Li says, vividly remembering the first time she saw the cub.

The young painter has a gentle face and speaks softly in an interview in Beijing, her long hair braided. She seems an unlikely candidate for a wolf rescue.

Wolf Totem author Jiang Rong, whose book on the Mongolian wolf culture has sold millions, says it's a miracle that Li succeeded in doing what he failed to do as a younger man: adopt the cub, take him to the city, and return him to the grassland wilds.

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Like Jiang, Li recorded her 10-month experience with the wolf.

She says she hopes her book, Return to the Wolf Pack, can change stereotypes about wolves and excite more people about preserving nature.

The book's 200,000 initial printing sold out just three months after its launch in 2012. A film adaptation is in the works.

"Wolves are not dogs, and they're never pets. They're untamable, independent and have their own characters," Li says, showing the scar of a bite on her right hand.

"My wolf taught me a real spirit of self-reliance and to respect individual features," she says. Though she hasn't mingled with the wolf for months, she can still mimic its grunts and howls during the interview.

Li was born in Ya'an, a city in southwestern Sichuan, to a teacher's family. She left home at the age of 8 and went alone to the provincial capital Chengdu, where she sharpened her skills in drawing.

Since her teens, she has been able to support herself while keeping up with her studies. Always an animal lover, "I'm keen on observing and copying them," Li says.

Although she has a degree in foreign language, she now lives a freelance painter's life.

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