By Amy Simpson Swiss
Photos: Courtesy of the Wolf Conservation Center
I met an ambassador recently. In fact, I met four of them. You might expect that such a meeting would be a formal affair, but actually, it was quite down-to-earth: so much so that we met in the woods, near a campfire, under a full moon.
Clearly, the ambassadors I met were not dignitaries—they were wolves! Atka, Alawa, Zephyr and Nikai were the sleek, majestic animals greeting guests at the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY. These ambassadors are helping to bridge the great divide between humans and wolves, and they made for an amazing evening.
The monthly Full-Moon Wolf Walk I attended began with cookies and a campfire. Regan Downey, the Center’s director of education, invited us to settle onto the rough-hewn log benches around the fire pit as she shared some fascinating wolf facts. Our group included a well-rounded mix of young and old, with a few Girl Scouts sprinkled in for good measure, all sharing one thing in common—we couldn’t wait to meet the wolves. Downey spent our time around the campfire discussing the history and habits of wolves and debunking some widely held myths that often give them a bad rap. The favorite topic of conversation, though, was the news about the Center’s latest additions—22 adorable wolf pups born onsite this year!
We ended our campfire in an unexpected way—with a group howl. We said hello to the wolves by howling toward the woods—and for the next few minutes, 51 wolf voices howled back in unison. This surreal experience is one you’re not likely to experience anywhere else.
A short walk through the woods took us to the ambassadors. As Downey introduced them and we watched them interact in their enclosure, it was striking how clearly their personalities emerged. For example, the playful Zephyr, leader of the pack, did not hesitate to show us who was in charge, while his little brother, Nikai, hung back in a shy way, quickly retreating to the trees. Atka, the oldest ambassador at 16 years old, is still beautiful and dignified with his thick white coat but slower and calmer than the rest of the pack.
Mixed in with the fun and fascination of watching the wolves, Downey shared these facts: a dire situation exists for many wolf populations in the wild. Several species of wolves are currently endangered due to the loss of their natural habitats and human interventions. As part of the Species Survival Plan program, the Center is helping to remedy that situation. They are carefully breeding and managing a group of wolves to preserve their species and to someday, hopefully, reintroduce them to the wild. These wolves are being raised off-exhibit to safeguard their natural behaviors.
“The ultimate gift we can give our wolves is a wild future,” comments Maggie Howell, who has been the director of the Wolf Conservation Center for the past 13 years. “We’ve had three successful releases so far, and our goal is to have many more. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Wolf Conservation Center loves visitors, and so do the ambassadors. Do yourself a favor, make a date to meet them. To learn more about the Center, view the calendar of upcoming events and see the ambassadors live via webcam, visit them online at www.nywolf.org. █