The Wolf Experience

I begin this journey as a proud French speaking Canadian. The first person from Quebec chosen to accomplish a practicum at Wolf Park, Battle Ground, Indiana (USA). I am thankful for the experiences that led me to realize this project and will be happy to share my experience with you, the reader and avid animal behaviour enthusiast.

Arriving at Wolf Park was an adventure in itself. After being delayed for a few hours due to bad weather in Chicago, we were stuck behind a plane which suffered from engine failure. Being a spiritual person, it was easy for me to understand that what ever happens, happens for a reason. Unfortunately, the people behind me didn’t share my philosophy. Before I continue, I would like to add that this is a spontaneous exposé, spelling mistakes will be made as I have no spell-check on this computer. So, please try to read the content, not the vocabulary.

Arriving in Battle Ground I was greeted by a wonderful bunch of people. The staff and interns are nice and welcoming. Today, my first official day as Wolf Park Staff, my tasks were to follow as many interns as possible in order to get valuable hands on experience in order to function on my own. I also had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Erich Klinghammer, founder of the park, about wolves in Canada, especially in Algonquin Park. Then, I was asked by Pat Goodman, senior wolf handler, to follow her and Gail to the wolf enclosure, there I could watch them groom and treat their ears (they have nasty fly bites on them). As I watched on, one of the wolves came out of his den with a deer leg in his mouth. I stood there as he gnawed at it, maggots and all. Wow, what a sight !!! For more videos visit my You Tube.

After a few days into this adventure, I have learned a lot. First, to those who still think dogs and wolves demonstrate the same behaviours I can tell you this, YOU ARE WRONG. Although certain behaviours are similar, wolves will never be dogs, they have a short fuse and will push you beyond your comfort zone just to see what happens. Eric was telling about a girl in Algonquin Park (Toronto) who got eaten by the wolf pack simply because she tripped.

Yesterday, I received the training session and clearance to enter the enclosure with the wolves. Today, Pat Goodman gave us a training session on walking with the wolves. Remember, wolves are not dogs, they hate walking on a leash, being held or constrained in any way shape or form. Later, I went in with the foxes in order to clean the pond and feed them. They remind me of highly aroused aggressive Jack Russells. They are not pets, and could not imagine them as such. They have scent glands just like skunks, and yes they do smell like them.

We went on a field trip to the Brookfield Zoo and met with the Mexican wolves, wow! Wolf Park received their first wolves from the zoo many years ago, therefore it was interesting to see the difference between species. The Mexican wolf is a subspecies of the grey wolf, and look a little more like pups than adults, at least this is what I've observed. The zoo had them for three years and never heard them howl, we tried but did not succeed.

Being at Wolf Park is a wonderful experience, not only do I get to be with wolves, I also get to acquire knowledge from the best minds ever. Erich Klinghammer is very generous of his time and loves to talk about ethology. He has shared many secrets with me and is an endless source of information, I love sitting down with him to talk about stuff. Another person who is generous with her time is Pat Goodman, she will let you know everything you want, and makes sure you are involved in the different activities.

I have gained a lot of experience in life doing a variety of things. Today, I add another one to the list, wrangling bison for vaccination. It was a stressful time, but strangely I loved putting my life in danger in order to better theirs. Keeping them healthy for the bison demonstration is mandatory. During the demo, wolves are put in the field with bison in order to observe hunting behaviour. The experience of watching wolf/bison demo is always interesting. The wolves are curious about the calf and want to get at it, strange thing is, mom does not want to. Wolves and bison were made to be together as predator and prey, they have evolved in such a beautiful way, each species making his opponent stronger.

After seeing the bison demolish the corral, I can honestly say wolves do not have it made easy in the wild. Hunting down a bison, or other large prey is VERY difficult. Wolves get killed if they do not cooperate, for the bison stand their ground and defend themselves. I have a new respect regarding wolves and bisons. The video that follows is a demonstration of hunting patterns. The wolf is trying to find a weak animal or one that is less experienced and will separate from the herd. These behaviours are essential for studying predator/prey relationships and normal hunting behaviour. Findings from this research are necessary in order to update the wolf ethogram.

The Wolf Park Pack of 2008

Before I go, I would like to introduce you to the main pack of Wolf Park. Kailani is missing from the pack, she is a nippy girl when excited so she is removed when people go in the enclosure. She is the only female, therefore the alpha. Her sister Ayla is not in the pack because she was picked on a lot, she does have regular play sessions with her brothers Ruedi and Renki.

Tristan is ten-years-old, and a very well balanced wolf. He loves to be around people, but not necessarily to interact with them all the time. If you try to touch his ears he will leave. Tristan is an accomplished nibble-groomer, he will chew on your jeans and anything else he can find. Leadership is all about attitude and Tristan is, by all means, a true alpha.

Wolfgang is second in line, he is the beta male and brothers with Wotan. Wolfgang is handsome, playful and very charming when he is not beating up his brother Renki. He loves to do tricks which he invented and adores getting rewards for them.

Wotan is my favourite. He is a funny, interactive, playful, but serious wolf. He is the perfect balance between goofiness and assertiveness. He will come to visit you and want to stay, however, if his brother Ruedi comes for scratches all hell brakes loose. Wotan has a very big nose and loves to stick it wherever he can, even in your private parts.

Ruedi, and those beautiful blue eyes. When he looks at me I can only wonder what it would be like to be a wolf. Then the answer comes, it would be amazingly remarkable just like he is. I would dare any hunter to look at him and not be moved by his deep penetrating stare.

Renki, being the lowest ranking male or omega, is usually in isolation, but he is not to be pitted for he used to pick on Wolfgang and Wotan when they were puppies. He does not like to submit to his brother, but things being what the are, he complies. Sometimes he gets into trouble but is never hurt in the process.