Pic: Me and my parents with Aspen. Taken by Shelley Black of Northern Lights Wildlife Centre in Golden, B.C., Canada
Okay, so I told you guys I'd tell yeh how it all went right? Alrighty.
So on Sunday, June 8th we drove to Northern Lights Wildlife Centre, which is situated just west of Golden, British Columbia, Canada and is a facility geared towards wolf and bear conservation. (Though mostly wolf.) We were about an hour early, and I can well remember my first sight of a real wolf. It brought tears to my eyes when I realized that yes, sitting in a large treed pen not fifty metres away from me, was a real timber wolf. She's black and I later learned her name is Maya and that she shares a pen with the omega wolf of the pack Wiley, who's a normal grey-and-brown colour. We go in, pay for the rest of our hike with the wolves, which we'd put down money for, then we walk out to look at them and take in the interpretive program.
The wolves are the most magnificent animals that I've ever seen. No picture can describe the way they move; no camera can capture exactly the way they pad about, silent as mist, their eyes on the cabin where their very human alpha pair, Casy and Shelley Black live. The interpreter comes and introduces us to the four wolves who are in the front pens (there are six in the pack, but we didn't get to meet the other two; Keehta and Moab) who are Wiley, Maya, Aspen and Tuk. Aspen has to be kept seperate from Maya, because lately they've been fighting over who's dominant and the scars on Aspen's head proves this, so Aspen rooms with Tuk.
We learn that in a wolf pack there is an alpha pair, but in this pair the female is usually dominant and the true leader of the pack. She controls the other females through hormones and force, making sure that she's the only one who has pups. Humankind could learn a lot from wolves. For one thing, wolves are adept at controlling their own populations, only having puppies when food is plentiful. In years where there is scarce anything to eat, wolves do not mate, which is just one reason humans shouldn't interfere with wolves. They control their own population - they don't need moron human hunters who think they're macho to have a wolf pelt and government people culling them.
Besides the alpha, there are two betas, or second-in-commands. This was something new to me; I'd always thought there was just one, but no, there's two. There is one male beta and one female. Aspen and Maya have been scrapping over the position of female beta for several years, while Maya's brother Tuk holds the position of beta male. If an alpha dies, the beta who is the same gender takes their place.
Underneath the alphas and betas there is a group of wolves known as the subordinates. These are basically the common warriors of the pack. Beneath them is the omega, or lowest ranking member of the family. In the Northern Lights pack, Wiley held this role. Besides being everyone else's chew toy, Wiley's rank details looking after puppies and basically being the cheerer-upper of the pack. All the wolves at Northern Lights Wildlife centre have been 'fixed' so that they can't have pups. This also keeps them from wandering off when 'it's that season' and their alphas take them for a walk.
Most lone wolves who have dispersed from packs have left because of dominance wars such as the one between Maya and Aspen. A wolf has two choices in a fight such as this; submit or leave.
We also learned that wolves have webbing between their paws, so that in deep snow they work like snow shoes. The forepaws are bigger than the hindpaws and wolves hold their forelegs very close together when standing still. (Try like one and a half inches apart.) They are very thin animals, but they can eat more than 25% of their body weight at one time, which, if you ate the same amount, would be about 80 hamburgers in one sitting. Because wild wolves do not eat everyday, the wolves at Northern Lights don't either. Casy and Shelley feed them roadkill, donated meat and purchased meat, about once or twice a week, which keeps the wolves happy and healthy. Wolves have short stops (distance between forehead and muzzle), rounded ears and long legs.
We met with Casy and Shelley, who explained that on the hike we weren't to crouch down, as the wolves would take this as threatening, nor were we to walk directly towards them. The only way we were allowed to pet a wolf is if they came to us of their own accord and entered our personal space, which they said as being about a metre, or a large hoola hoop. We were to speak quietly and walk slowly, so as not to startle the wolves.
The wolves we were to hike with were Aspen and Tuk. Tuk is a huge silvering black male with a light tail tip and Aspen (seen above) is a little grey and brown female, who just happens to be 25% malamute. Aspen was the first wolf to come to the centre, because Casy and Shelley thought starting off with a wolf-dog would be the best way to learn how to train true, full wolves. As they explained, wolf-dogs may have dog blood, but they are at heart wolves, because 5 thousand years of domestication cannot be accomplished in just a few generations, which is why a lot of wolf-dogs end up being in shelters - or being put down.
As we spent time with Aspen, we were to see that there really wasn't much dogness in her at all and she did, in fact, act almost exactly like Tuk, who is 100% wolf. Tuk, who was imprinted by humans at 6 weeks of age, was warier than Aspen was of us. Aspen had spent her entire life from day 1 with humans, so she was relatively comfortable with us, but like any true wolf she liked being away from us.
Wolves are terrified of humans and they have every right to be; let's face it, we've murdered them for stupid childish notions since the dawn of time. Hunters kill them because they want to look macho and say "I killed a wolf!", or because the stupid government has ordered a cull, usually for baseless reasons. Perhaps the reason humankind tends to fear wolves is because lupine society paralells our own like no other animal's, not even the primates. In a human '
ack,' there are two alphas - a husband and a wife. Below them are the oldest children, who are the betas, then the middle ones who are the subordinates, then the omega, usually the youngest who gets picked on by everybody else. I've been there. People ask me now that I've gotten back "weren't you scared?" and to me, this is a fairly stupid question, because of all predators, wolves are perhaps one of the only ones you don't
have to fear. In 300 years of humans being in North America, there has only been one death and it is still unconfirmed. Wolves generally avoid us like the plague, sticking to the brush where they really do become nigh invisible. While people have been bitten by wolves, compared to bear attacks, these attacks are a vast minority and mostly wolves who bite humans have perfectly good reasons, such as being sick, injured or protecting their pups. Wouldn't you
defend your child against an attacker?
Before we left the centre for the hike, an amazing thing happened; the wolves started howling. Now, we've all heard recordings of the sound and it just sounds kind of blah, doesn't it? Well, here I am to tell you that the howl of the wolf is possibly the most beautiful sound in the entire world and that it isn't eery at all. Recordings do NOT do it justice. Wolves actually harmonize their voices when they howl and probably the closest thing I can liken the sound to is south american flutes. It's positively soulful, a weaving tapestry of feral music that lasts maybe a minute or two.
We drove to a field, where Shelley and Casy loosed Tuk and Aspen. We walked along an overgrown vehicle track, watching as the two wolves loped up ahead, then came dashing greedily back when Casy brought out the treats. Wolves can run 65 km/h, half the speed of a cheetah and keep it up for 20 km. They can also trot at 20 km/h, walk at 12 km/h and travel over 100 km in one night. It's not surprising they often have territories spanning 2000 square kilometres!
The wolves gamboled about, Tuk rolling in deer poop and flattening some grass. They like the smell, which covers their scent. They would usually stop when they'd gotten a certian distance away, looking back at us over their shoulders to see what we were doing. Aspen usually followed Tuk and she was always the one to come running first when their human alphas called. Casy had a water tight barrel in which they had small bits of meat. These he'd fling into the air as the wolves got close and Tuk would leap high, catching his with an audible CLACK! as his jaws snapped together. He was a very good catch. Casy tossed a treat into a deep puddle and Tuk sniffed about for it, then eventually he found it, snapping it up. The water cleaned his fur of the deer poop a bit.
We hiked leisurely along, Casy and Shelley keeping the wolves close for photography purposes. Tuk weaved in and out of the trees, vanishing completely like smoke into the bushes. The wolves chomped at the grass occassionally, which Casy explained they did for much the same reason as your common domestic mutt or cat; to help food pass through their digestive tracts easier, by clinging to large clumps such as bones. A wolf's bite is twice as powerful as a german shepherd's and can crush bones easily.
We hiked to a pond that is regulated by Ducks Unlimited, where Casy brought the wolves to one side so I could take pictures. Hiking further, we came to the flank of the milky Columbia River, where we stood on the bank, enjoying the view and watching as the wolves checked out the shoreline. Casy said that once they saw a lone wild wolf on the other side, a few years ago. Here, on the banks of the river, Aspen came and sat down beside me and I got to pet her head. Her fur was very soft. Shelley took the camera and took pictures.
I was very sad as I hiked back to the car. I'll never forget my time with the wolves and I plan on going back to Northern Lights Wildlife Centre whenever possible. I love Aspen, Tuk, Wiley, Maya and even Keehta and Moab, though I didn't get to see them. I felt tears at least three times and I was very sad to leave them. Shelley and Casy said that if I ever want a summer job, I should send in my resume. I wiiiiish
!! It was a very spiritual experiance for me, considering my totem is the wolf and they've always been my favourite animals. I plan on hopefully saving up for another 'wolf walk,' hopefully next time with a better camera that has a better zoom and shutter speed. (Wolves move VERY fast!) I absolutely adored being there and I learned stuff, even when I didn't even dream that I would. The centre is absolutely amazing and if you guys are ever in Golden, B.C., I implore you to check the place out and I recommend a photography session, which is what I had. It costs a bit, but Northern Lights is the only
wolf centre in the world that offers hikes like this, with no fences, no leashes and especially no large groups, which can put wolves on edge, so they don't act as naturally. The money you pay for a hike with these beautiful animals is truly worth it and they run rain or shine. Bad weather to us can make fantastic photographs when they involve Canis lupus
because they add a sense of naturalness.
I bought a print of Wiley and a postcard featuring Tuk licking Aspen on the nose for souvineers.
You can learn more about Northern Lights Wildlife Centre at [link]
- check it out!
Stay tuned for some more wolf photos!
The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. If you have an opinion that differs, please refrain from posting it. I know wolves are a controversial issue, but I want this to just be a positive record of the time I spent with them, not a huge discussion with anyone. I believe hunting is alright so long as the hunter uses all parts of the animal that they kill and so long as the animal is relatively common and not endangered. The hunting of endangered animals such as wolves makes my blood boil. I want to continue to remember this trip in a loving way. The wolves at Northern Lights are taken care of very humanely and unlike most captive wolves, they get regular romps with their alphas Casy and Shelley in the wilderness, completely un-contained. They have been used in the making of several wildlife books and articles, and will soon debut in a documentary. - mah 2 cents