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Wolves

Images from Wolf Park - July 2002

In July 2002, I spent three weeks in America on holiday, and was lucky enough to be able to visit Wolf Park on two separate occasions.  Wolf Park, located just outside Battle Ground in Indiana, was set up in 1972 as a facility for education and research into wolves.  Owning 16 wolves (among several packs), 4 foxes, a coyote and 20 bison, the main aims of the park are to promote and better the understanding of the wolf among children, while at the same time carrying out research into lupine behaviour - particularly on a social level, and that observed during the breeding season.

The park is also open to the public during the summer season, in particular on Saturday evenings when the wolves are generally more active (as it's not so hot) and they're started off howling.  Sadly, my attempts to be there for that, together with a staff member we knew and 5 other Furs got thwarted when none of the five could be bothered to journey the hour up there. 

<  Marion, alpha female.

At the centre of Wolf Park's site is a large enclosure containing a pack of 6 wolves - referred to as the 'main pack'.  With four males and two females, the pack take on the usual social structure one would expect - with the exception that Marion, the alpha female pictures left, has been sterilised to prevent any further inbreeding.


Reputed to be somewhat of a dominatrix, Marion, despite being very 'people-friendly,' tended not to make life easy for the wolves below her.  On our first visit, we saw Erin, the second (and hence lowest) ranking female hiding herself away in bushes on the other side of the lake in the main enclosure.  Here, we were informed, was where she usually headed as a safe haven from Marion's bullying.  While it may sound harsh and cause for concern, this is quite often how the social politics of wolf life work in the wild.

^
Erin, hiding in the bushes.



<  Marion, tearing her way through a deer.

Most of the wolves are fed about three times per week, usually with roadkill deer and similar animals (of which the surrounding area gets quite a number).  We saw the main pack getting fed on our second visit, which bought the two females out from hiding from the rain.  A popular conception that eating order is strictly determined by rank, it turns out this isn't always the case.

Away from their main pack are a number of smaller enclosures referred to by the park as the 'Eastlake Community.'  Here are placed wolves that cannot be in the main pack for one reason or another.  Sometimes they're injured, sometimes they've been acquired  by the park at an age beyond that which other wolves' 'mothering instincts' come into play and they can be accepted as pack-members.  More often than not, though, they have been 'retired' from the main pack through old age, bullying, or a serious challenge to their social status, all of which, in the wild, would have either led to the wolf's expulsion from the pack, or its death at the paws of its once fellow pack members.

<  Apollo (foreground) and Alyeska

The three wolves in the first of these enclosures - affectionately referred to by the park staff as the 'pillow pack' - underwent such fate, being eventually driven out of the main pack by the other wolves, or taken out for their own safety.  All three have bonded well into their own separate pack.

Of course, visiting fur-covered animals early afternoon on a scorching hot summer's day (it must have been well over 90F when we were there) is not the best thing to do if you want to see a lot of action.  Even come closing time for the park at 5 p.m., most of the wolves are hiding in the grass or basking away under trees in the heat, while the more adventurous are out sunbathing on platforms.

<  Alyeska  >

Karin



Socrates, soaking up the afternoon sun.  >

Visiting members of the public are given a 'tour' around the park by one of the staff members.  This has the advantage that you get to know about the park and the wolves - and I was very impressed with what I was told. It was a lot more involved than the 'educational' talks so often given, which assume you either know nothing, or only the traditional misconceptions about wolves.


Unfortunately, the disadvantage is that the visitor is not able to explore at his or her own pace, and thus unable to spend much time watching the wolves and what they get up to.  While the main pack does have a free viewing area, on the occasions we visited, it was the wolves in the outlying areas which were more active, and which I'd have appreciated the opportunity to dwell a little and observe.

Other Animals at Wolf Park

<  'Wild Bill,' the coyote.  >


Born in 1987, Bill the coyote is Wolf Park's oldest resident, and one of the most popular with the visiting public.  He lives on his own - by choice, as the park staff are keen to make out - in a cage next to the main pack.

 

<  The Bison


Wolf Park owns around 20 bison, kept in large fields surrounding the wolf enclosures, with the main public pathway separating the two groups.  They are allowed to breed, but, unlike the wolves, none of the bison are socialised towards people


Once a week on Sundays, a public 'wolf-bison demonstration' takes place, whereby a couple of the wolves are placed in with the bison, and allowed to 'hunt' for a bit.  At only two strong, the wolves do not pose any threat whatsoever to the bison, who usually regard the whole event more as an insult to them rather than anything to be afraid of.

Wolf Park also own four red foxes - two with 'conventional' fur colouring, one silver-phased, and one almost white.  With two of each sex, all born between 1996 and 2000, all four are kept in one large enclosure to one side of the main wolf pack.  All are socialised animals, though Ember slightly less so, and often enjoy interacting with the public.

These photos are all from the first visit we made to the park - despite the heat, all four of the foxes were active, which is more than can be said for their lupine counterparts.

^
Corey (in the background) and Ember.

< Devon, the silver-phased fox.

Basil - still a red fox despite his fur colour. >


Resources

  • Wolf Park on the Web - Wolf Park's website, which included some history of the park, photos and biographies of all its four-legged inhabitants, and information about visiting and membership.


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