International Wolf Center - impressive building for humans but what about the wolves? - by Julie Wesson
I'm just learning about wolves and as a novice wolf enthusiast, I was lucky that our short vacation included a stop in Ely, Minnesota in June. There you'll find the International Wolf Center, which offers lectures, movies, cameras in the live wolf environment as well as in the wolf nursery. Adventure programs are also offered by the center, and just the thought of spending an evening tracking wolves and listening to their howls was most appealing. There's a huge display of wolf taxidermy, showing wolves in various positions, and the display is aided by short videos explaining the stances, ear positions, relationship with the ravens, and actions of the pack. For younger children, a room is set aside for their exploration into understanding and appreciating wolves. As I toured the area, I learned a great deal, and each time I looked at one of these magnificent creatures, I was taken with the power, the majesty, and the awesome beauty of each of these proud animals.
The center itself is housed in a magnificent building with gorgeous windows for viewing nature in the surrounding area. Upon entering, you're greeted by a huge fireplace with multiple openings for viewing, as well as a cozy corner with large comfy benches with a view of the magnificent statue of several wolves on the run. It is a most impressive building, but what about the actual wolf habitat? Is that impressive as well?
The tiered lecture hall was filled with visitors, and as questions about wolves were being answered, several workers paraded in through a side door, each holding a precious bundle in a soft towel. It was a special and magical time at the center, as three wolf pups were bringing the joy of puppyhood to the eager viewers. The pups were placed in a chainlink-fenced area, about 6 feet by 6 feet, and filled with grass, rocks, birch logs, and even the foot of a beaver. This area was in full view of all of us, and we were asked to stay quiet and just observe. All eyes were riveted on these adorable, playful pups, which at that time ranged in age from 32 to 37 days. The pups were a male and two females, and "Grizz," the male, had the most dominant personality. He chased around the area, stopping long enough to have a good chew on the end of rock. He would occasionally shove one of the females out of his way. The females played with the birch bark, chewing as all good pups do, and they took turns sharing the beaver foot that was a special treat. All were still being fed a formula, but dog food would soon be added to their diets, and after that, venison would be part of the mix.
It was an absolute delight to watch the playful pups, yet there was a sadness welling up inside me. These pups would all be spayed and neutered, as were the adult wolves in the tiny 1 1/4 acre outdoor habitat. The center has no license to breed wolves, and I wondered to myself how the neutering and spaying would affect the Alpha male and female roles. Would there be any? I was further saddened by the seemingly small habitat for the adult wolves. How could they run? All were arthritic, according to the lecturer, and I observed only one of the six wolves. He was a sad looking Arctic wolf, lying quietly in the corner. He seemed to have lost his will, his exuberance, and his interest in life. Could a larger habitat be something he longed for?
All in all, I marveled at the multi-million dollar building, the well-designed programs for learning, the opportunities to support the wolf center, but after observing it all, I must say I didn't see an adequate, natural setting where the wolves could flourish. I speak for those wolves now; I hope the center will change focus and give these magnificent creatures the large, natural habitat that they need. Honor them not just with buildings, programs and information; give them the home they deserve.
A former travel agent with a passion for travel and continuing education, Julie Wesson has found peace and serenity on Sunny Ridge, amidst an Amish community in west central Wisconsin. She and her husband are building a log home in their Shangri-La and enjoy their berry and tree orchards, the "feel-good" greenhouse, colorful wildflower garden, serene rock garden, and bountiful vegetable/fruit gardens without the aid of chemicals or pesticides. When not pulling weeds or piling logs onto the next wall level, Julie and her husband take day trips throughout much of Wisconsin, searching for nature's gifts. They never return unrewarded, be it fields filled with statuesque sand hill cranes or amazing colorful landscapes of wildflowers or perhaps a mother sandpiper pretending to be wounded to divert attention away from her chicks. With a long week-end, they were able to travel beyond the State of Wisconsin to explore Minnesota's spectacular Lake Superior shoreline and the Ely, Minnesota boundary waters area and wolf center. Julie and her husband have a thirst for knowledge, love exploring new territory, and rejoice in finding a cat sitter for their 10 indoor, orphaned cats to allow for an occasional trip that is more than 24 hours long.