Nat Geo Photographer Ronan Donovan on Tracking White Wolves in the Arctic


The Arctic polar region is one of the toughest terrains on earth. With freezing cold temperatures, limited food supply, harsh winds, and wild animals, there’s potential danger around every turn. For explorer and photographer Ronan Donovan, it’s just another day at work.

Donovan spent three months in the Arctic on Ellesmere Island for his new Nat Geo WILD special, Kingdom of the White Wolf, studying and documenting a pack of White Wolves in their natural habitat. For the three-part series, which will premiere on August 25, Donovan wanted to shine a light on how these wolves truly behave in the wild and show how they survive in the harsh Arctic habitat.

“The experience was like being on a different planet,” Donovan told Men’s Journal. “There are no trees, a frozen ocean, a sun that never sets, and white wolves that’ll walk up to a landing helicopter because they’re curious. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. I was there for the short Arctic summer, so all the wildlife is in a mad dash to absorb as much of the sun’s energy before it dips below the horizon for six months of frigid winter. I’m a scientist by training, so to be immersed in a totally new ecosystem, especially one of such extremes, was just exhilarating.”

National Geographic / Ronan Donovan

To study the wolves and get the footage he needed, Donovan often worked between 20 to 40 hours straight before resting, usually tracking the wolves on an ATV across the Arctic terrain. During his time studying the wolves, Donovan suffered two major meniscus tears in both of his knees, but muscled through to get the footage he needed. “I had one in the first month of the project and one in the final month,” Donovan said. “I had surgery on both knees in March of this year to repair the damage, and I’m still recovering.”

At one point, to help get a better look at the wolves, Donovan built a small rock wall to help observe the wolves without them realizing he was there. It gave Donovan an unfiltered look at the way the wolves interact with each other, including a moment where the young wolves and pups played and greeted their mother and father one morning. Here’s a look at that clip: