Being graced by the presence of Wolves is something I never take for granted. I do, however, have a tendency to feel sorry for myself sometimes when the weather is so hot sweat is pouring off my face after only minutes of being outside and when the insects find me the most delectable thing they have encountered in northeast Mississippi. When my 50 something body tries to tell me I’m not as young as I used to be after hauling in 280lbs of meat for the Wolves, I do occasionally get down in the dumps. Once in a while I miss my Sons and Grandson so much I could sing the blues. Most times, there are not enough hours in the day for all the things I have to do to keep the Preserve running smoothly and the animals happy and healthy. Yet, there is a driving force that keeps me going and yes, actually loving what I do. It is the Wolves. It’s not only what they stand for, the wild but their spirit. I only have to remind myself of what they face in the natural world to give myself a reality check of what I am trying to accomplish here.
Recently on one of my aforementioned “wowsie wo- wo days” I was walking over to the Wolf enclosure in the heat of the day to change water buckets. It was almost 100 degrees. I hear whimpering and whining from my seven beautiful charges. I see them leave the comfort of their cool afternoon resting places to come greet me in the blazing sun that beats down heavily on the main gate to their territory. As I begin unlocking the 4 gates to gain entrance, I see them all stretching and greeting each other with body and muzzle rubs. Ohoyo runs up to the gate, stands up on her hind legs to give me a Wolfie kiss right on my mouth and then proceeds to flaunt the fact that she got to me first much to her daughter’s Chito and Woha’s dismay. That always makes me chuckle and my mood starts to lift. I open the gate to the main enclosure and Niko Akni slowly and purposely makes his approach. His eyes, ears are down turned and he is trying to be smaller (no easy feat for him). He is ready to flop over on his back for bellyrubs from me but I always kiss the top of his head first so he waits for this before his 125lb plus body hits the dirt. I discover once again that I adore him. “Hello puppy boy”, I say with all the love I could muster up in my heart. I just want to lie down in the dirt and love on him but there are more Wolves waiting with unique greetings for their caretaker. The next Wolf to come greet me is Woha. Her strategy is normally a multi-purpose one. I can imagine her thinking this, “I’m gonna briefly submit to my human, show her that I can be respectful and sweet then immediately do whatever it is that I want to her”. For Woha (Woes, my nickname for this cutie) that means jumping up on me, checking out everything I have on with her nose, tongue and teeth. She can and does become quite adamant with this. There have been many a time that with every step I take I have a Woes nose on top of my foot making it difficult to maneuver over the rough terrain in their territory. She is persistent. I clumsily make my way over to the overturned water tub and sit down, the rest of the pack approaches. Nita comes trotting over with all the confidence in the world it’s seconds before she is within my reach. Her submissive approach is hurried. She has no time to waste, as Chito is normally close behind. It is a quick reception that is followed by her rubbing the length of her body against mine as I give her back scratches. I look up in time to see Chito, our beautiful but quietly demanding Alpha Female approach. I know I must concentrate on her for the sake of the lower ranking females. I acknowledge her approach with a whimper to let her know I’m hers temporarily. I extend my hand and she pushes her body into it and allows me to give her a massage as I tell her how beautiful she is (she really is). Out of the corner of my eye, I see Wa-ta-chee approaching and then he disappears momentarily while I’m still honoring Chito’s greeting. I feel the tub I’m sitting on tip from his weight. I turn to see that he has placed his two front paws up onto it and his sniffing my back. I notice that his ears are ever so slightly held down just to let me know he’s happy to see me but he is a demonstrative soul and he lets me know just what he wants. Once he knows that I am aware of his presence, he postures so I can give him a good scratching on his lower back. He loves this and will stand there until he is satisfied then just walks away. Waya gives the final and most quiet greeting. He is the shyest when it comes to affection but the first to whine when he sees me coming over to the enclosure. His advance is subtle, gentle. He never makes eye contact, as he fears it would be inappropriately challenging. I verbally acknowledge him first and extend my upturned hand to him in friendship. I usually start out by rubbing the underside of his chin and he sniffs my arm. He then slides his body along the length of it so I can scratch his back and sides. On this particular day, Niko decides a brief greeting is all that Waya deserves and he pushes his way in between us. I must acknowledge the pack hierarchy so I turn my attentions once again to Niko the higher ranking Wolf. I tell Waya, I’ll catch up with him later.
They have completely assisted in changing my mood. I feel at this point a tremendous amount of satisfaction and love. Yes, love. In their own way they do love me and they do let me know how they feel. Years of trust building between us have brought us to this point. I can see that it is very hard for some of them to risk this trust. This is not unlike what many humans would have to overcome to trust them. I know that it can be done, though. It is all about understanding and learning about each other. You have to be honest about your fears but at the same time take a risk to overcome them.
I love when I come back to the Preserve after being at the grocery store, chiropractor, etc to the sound of a chorus howl as a greeting. Sometimes it’s a joyful, glad your back kind of howl while other times it’s more of a scolding, “where’ve you been so long” type thing. I know they have missed me and possibly worried that I wouldn’t return. I miss and worry about them when I’m gone, too. I don’t know that I can ever live happily without hearing a Wolves howl. I am sad that all people can not see just how wonderful it can be to coexist with this amazing predator, to experience moments of appreciation and affection with them. They do have feelings and they can respect humans even in the wild.
I realize that what I have with them is rare and that I am one of the privileged few. Wolves are born with an inherent fear of Man and with all that is going on in areas where they are living wild you see why this fear is necessary for their continued existence. I worry that this basic primal instinct will not be enough to sustain them. I want people to know that they are not the bloodthirsty creatures that their human adversaries make them out to be. They hunt and kill ungulates, that is how they eat to survive. It is their purpose on earth. They live as a family unit. There are rules that must be adhered to for their units to work together effectively. There are traditions within the pack. There are feuds and happy times within not unlike our human families. They sing together and acknowledge good times as well as bad. They have moods; feelings and fears just like we all do. They face similar everyday challenges, adversaries, illness, disease, lack of food and other natural resources, inclement weather, natural disasters, birth and death. Some consider them magical and mystical, I personally see no evidence of that. I do see them as amazingly smart, loving creatures. Wild Wolves are a necessity to keep our planet a healthy one. They are an integral part of our complex ecosystem.
If I had a magic wand, I would allow all humans to get a glimpse into the life of a Wolf. To understand their feelings and accurately portray their actions. Since, that tool is not available to me, I will continue to love Wolves and try to learn more about them so that I may teach as many people as I can about their true nature.