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Another Misconception Regarding Wolves – by Maria Ferguson


Wolves picture.jpg

I decided to write this article after reading a recent blog about a girl who visited a Wolf Sanctuary for the first time and had her shirt bitten and torn by one of the Wolves.  We get emails all the time from people wanting to come here and hug or hang out with a Wolf.  Another request we get quite often is if they come for a week or so to volunteer would they be able to come in with the Wolves.  The answer is a firm “NO”.  The reality of the situation is this.  Our Wolves along with most other Wolves both in the wild and in captivity are extremely shy and fearful of humans. It takes a long time to gain ones trust and sometimes that never happens.  The woman who introduced me to my first Wolf said that they are opportunists and I couldn’t agree more.  If they sense a weakness or see an opportunity, they will take it.  In most instances this means stealing something from you or jumping on your back but it could also turn quickly into something you just couldn’t handle.  These animals are strong and extremely agile.  They are not dogs.  They don’t live for a pat on the head and a good boy.

When visitors come to the Preserve we tell them before they even walk over to the enclosure how to behave so as not to upset them.  It’s in their best interest if they want to see a Wolf to take our advice.  Wolves are extremely territorial and protective of their pack.

I have been living and working with our adult Wolves now for three years.  They are fairly comfortable with me, Ohoyo, the female, more so than the males, Wa-ta-chee and Waya.  During the summer months when our Alpha, Wa-ta-chee’s testosterone levels are low, he’s definitely more friendly and relaxed than in the winter months and especially breeding season when he’s protecting his mate.  Waya still gets nervous and afraid if I wear a new article of clothing or footwear into the enclosure.  Ohoyo is the only adult Wolf who has even attempted to meet someone other than the caretakers she’s known from her first day here.  The males are much too fearful.

The pups, Niko Akni, Woha, Chito and Nita are much better than the adults are as they were bottle-fed and socialized.  I can do a lot more with them without them getting panicked but they still are Wolves.  If I wear something different they are cautious but curious.  If I make a sudden movement or do something I normally don’t do, they do become startled.  It’s clear to me that Niko Akni and Chito would not want anyone they didn’t know really well to come into their enclosure.  Woha and Nita are bolder Wolves and they would want you to come in but just because they are curious or to test you.

I discussed this matter of Wolves being basically anti-social with Pat Goodman of Wolf Park a few years back and she told me that some of their Wolves just refused to meet new people.  She likened it to them having friendship cards and some of those cards just filled up faster than others.  Wolf Park does let sponsors in with a Wolf.  To insure there will most likely be no accidents, there are a large number of volunteer caretakers in there along with the person and only select Wolves are chosen to participate in this meet and greet.  The sponsor is advised at the time they schedule their visit on how to dress and act for the encounter. 

I just want everyone to understand that Wolves are not vicious and they also are not cuddly dogs, they are wild in nature and prefer the company of each other to that of humans.  We want to make their lives here as comfortable as possible and would never do anything to comprise that.  It takes years of observation and working with Wolves to begin to understand their true spirits.  Those that work and socialize with them must speak their language or at the very least make sure that they understand yours.  Earning a Wolf ‘s trust is not an easy task.  I started hand feeding the adult Wolves the week they arrived and did so with our 2007 pups as soon as we removed them from the den.  I’m able to move their food and stand by them while they eat but no one else would be welcomed into their meal circle not even another caretaker for a long time if ever.  This was observed here as a part-time caretaker that was going to move a pan had the subordinate male make a threatening move towards him. 

Just like humans they have good days and bad.  There are days that I walk into the enclosure and just sense that they would be happier if I weren’t there at all.  I quickly do what needs to be done for them and leave.  On other days, I can see that they are more than happy to see me and I get to spend time giving belly rubs and massages. Here is some food for thought on this subject.  If strangers came to visit you, would you want most of them to hug and kiss you?  I’d say for most of us, the answer would be “NO”.  Why would anyone think it would be any different for them?

An important part of educating the public and keeping our Wolves in the wild is to understand their true nature.  Their natural instincts tell them to survive.  One of the key factors in this is for them to remain fearful of humans.  It’s an inheritant trait and one that must be respected and preserved.  For a Wolf to live a comfortable life in captivity, there must be a happy medium between both worlds and that is what we strive to do.  We don’t force anyone on them but make them comfortable with those that need to be caring for them.

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