Visiting with Wolves
Yes, that's right. Last month I was fortunate to visit the wolves at the California Wolf Center. To say that it was an amazing experience is an understatement. This is now on the top ten list of best days of my life and definitely something I want to do again if the opportunity presents itself.
The day started at an unmentionable hour. We had to be at the CWC entrance in Julian at 7am. That meant I had to get up and be ready to leave my apartment before sunrise. Ugh. But it was totally worth it for the opportunity of visiting wolves.
At that early hour we were the only ones there with our guide. Erin explained what we would be doing, how and where we were to stand and what to expect from the wolves. Everything was pretty straightforward except for one detail. We would be in the enclosure with the wolves!!! That was an unexpected and exciting surprise and an incredible opportunity. Not once did I consider it to be dangerous - clearly if they did this type of visit on a regular basis it would be safe. To be that close wasn't something I considered scary at all - it was a dream come true.
We walked towards the enclosure and a couple of the younger wolves spotted us and sniffed the air. As our guide had mentioned the main way they experience their environment is with their noses and it was clear when they did that that they were checking us out. Who are these people wearing dog perfume? What do they bring us? They don't smell like vets. The pack is used to having some sort of enrichment brought when humans visit. Enrichment can be an new/interesting scent, something to eat or something to play with (chew on). As it turns out visiting with wolves is fun for humans and wolves!
Let me be clear - these aren't Disney wolves. They don't do tricks, eat from human hands or get petted (I would have been in heaven if I'd had the chance to pet one). Even when a pack will never be re-introduced into the wild and they are very used to seeing humans because of their role in education, they don't get handled for anything other than veterinary care. That was something I thought was great about this place. They want wolves to be wolves. The animals are there for research, education and conservation - not for our entertainment. The workers at the center know the wolves and their personalities and they take great care in making sure every experience the animals have is a positive one. If they see signs of stress they stop whatever is causing the problem.
The wolves were curious about us and also a little wary. They would come relatively close to check out the enrichment but if they came too close Erin would take a step forward and that was enough for them to take a step back. In that pack there were a total of eight, all of them except for one, came to see what was being shared. They were beautiful, intelligent, social and even playful and it was a joy to watch. There was never a hint of aggression (by the way the whole big bad wolf thing is a myth). Wolves don't attack humans. During the time we were there I was never for an instant scared. I was in awe. Given the chance I would have stayed for hours just to watch them and be near them.
After decades of being a Husky owner, many of the wolves' movements and gestures were familiar. And it was such a treat to see them doing silly, playful things. To spend time with these majestic creatures just made me love them more. I highly recommend visiting the California Wolf Center to learn more about wolves and why they are so important for the environment. My photos from my time visiting wolves are available here. I still have many more to process and I'll be adding them as I finish.