Category Archives: Wolf Park

Wolf Park Round 2

For those of you who know me well, it probably isn’t surprising that I spent another three months at Wolf Park after returning from Madagascar. My first internship was truly life changing. The staff and volunteers were passionate about their work and so gracious in sharing their knowledge. And the animals of the park invaded my heart and soul. My experience at the park left me eager to return as soon as possible. And my wish came true when the intern coordinator and fox curator, Kimber, invited me to return for an enhanced internship.

So, I returned to rural Indiana in January. Nothing prepared me for the brutal cold of a Midwest winter. Thankfully, the warmth of the animals and people took away some of the chill. Within an hour of arrival, I was back in the fox enclosure to visit Scarlett and Joker, the red fox       ambassadors, and at the fence lines of the wolf enclosures. Even though icy wind was burning my skin, I had to say hello the wolf “pups” from last summer. The pictures from the past few months didn’t convey just how much they’d grown. No longer puppies, they were now hulking canines. They came bounding across the enclosure when we called. Every single pup seemed excited and clearly remembered me, which was my hope. Khewa, who chose to develop a close connection with me last summer, was ecstatic. She jumped up and down, rubbed against the fence, wriggled her whole body, and tried to lick me through the chain link. My heart melted.

The next day I was already back in with the “pups” and many of the other adult wolves. Over the course of three months, I was given so much opportunity to help train and walk the pups. I even had the chance to walk Wolfgang and Wotan, the rowdy 12-year-old males. Because of my established relationship with the wolves from last summer, especially the pups, I was able to continually advance to higher level interactions such as bringing a bait bag (treat pouch) in with most of the wolves each time I went in with them. Helping train and walk wolves, sometimes up to four times a week, was incredible and helped me grow exponentially as a trainer.

My first time at Wolf Park was for the wolves. This time was for the foxes (and Khewa of course). Enhanced interns get lots of free reign with the foxes, because unlike the wolves, interns and volunteers can be cleared to go in their enclosures without staff. This resulted in 3 months of constant fox time. Every day, I went in with the red foxes, Scarlett and Joker. My relationship with Scarlett developed quickly and it wasn’t long before she let me hold her upside down in my lap. Joker, a shier fox, took a little more time, but eventually, he too accepted my friend request and even started soliciting belly rubs from me.

The grey foxes were a slightly different story. Gypsum let very few people into his inner circle and Hunter was a very shy fox. But I was so excited to work on my relationships with them and attain higher clearances with them. Working with these two taught me so much about training. They were my favorite animals to work with. I worked up to the level 3 clearance with them, meaning I could bring a bait bag in their enclosure and train them without needing staff supervision. This was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at Wolf Park. And when Gypsum fell ill a week later, it broke my heart. I could write paragraphs about him, but his life and his legacy are preserved in the heartfelt words of Wolf Park’s fox curator, Kimber. I was just thankful I could be a part of his life for a short time and could join in the celebration of his life at his funeral, the day before I left the park.

My second three months at Wolf Park were filled with joy and happiness. But it was also filled with heartbreak and grief. And it was difficult to not let Gypsum’s death overshadow the good experiences. Especially because there were some really good times; like making a few excellent new friends among the winter/spring interns, developing deeper relationships with the staff and animals of the park, and even getting a visit from my mom, who got to meet almost every animal in the park. It was an incredible journey once again at Wolf Park and I’m so glad I was there this winter and spring, despite the heartaches. I’m already looking forward to coming back to the park next year!

Reflections from Wolf Park

My summer at Wolf Park came to a close a couple weeks ago, and I am already missing the two legged and four legged residents of the park. The internship was a whirlwind of once in a lifetime experiences, ranging from seeing dental surgery performed on a fox, to forming relationships with wolf pups as they grew into adolescents.  Everything was much more hands on than I expected from an internship with apex predators. Interns were tasked with most aspects of husbandry, such as butchering road kill, feeding and medicating animals, training wolves and coyotes through the fence, and free training foxes.

The big news of the spring for Wolf Park was the arrival of five wolf pups, the first pups the park had raised in five years. Because wolves are naturally neophobic (scared of new things), the socialization process of the pups is an intensive 3,000+ hour project. The pups need to learn at an early age that wheelchairs, golf carts, crowds, and loud children will not harm them, and are a part of a typical day at Wolf Park. Because the wolves are used for research and educational purposes, and will never be placed in the wild, it is important for them to experience as little stress as possible around crowds, vehicles, and strange noises. They would naturally be afraid of these things if not for the training and desensitization protocols that are in place. Interns assisted in the socialization process by scheduled “puppy help” shifts throughout the summer, as well as assisting with their training and desensitization as the summer progressed. We watched the puppies grow from about 10 pounds at the beginning of the summer, to 50-60 pounds by August.

Because of the immense amount of time spent near or with the animals, it was easy to develop close relationships with many of the animals within the span of a few months, making it very hard to leave. Fiona, a black phase 5-year-old female, is a good example of this. I didn’t meet her face to face until about halfway through my internship because she didn’t always like making new friends. However, the moment she met me, she licked all over my face (mostly in my mouth) and began to scent roll and crawl on me. And each time she interacted with me after that, she did the same thing. In my last visit with her before I left, she had barely greeted me before she flopped on the ground and presented her belly for scratches, something that most adults won’t do unless they are very comfortable with a person.  Khewa is another example of the relationships I formed at the park.  She was one of the puppies, and was less than 10 pounds when I first met her. After a couple of interactions with her at the beginning of the summer, she began using me as a comfort person when she was frightened. And any time I entered the enclosure, she would make her way to me as quickly as she could and flop on her back for scratches. The close bonds I formed with Fiona and Khewa made my internship incredibly special.  And between these relationships and the vast amount of knowledge imparted to me from staff and volunteers, I left Wolf Park with a lifechanging new perspective on canine conservation.

First Month at Wolf Park

The first month of my internship at Wolf Park has already flown by.  Living on site and being surrounded by adult wolves and wolf puppies every day is a refreshing break from the real world.  Each staff member, intern, and volunteer come from distinctly diverse backgrounds and lifestyles, but we are all united by our love for wolves, conservation, and research.  Between phone problems, poor service, and slow wifi, I have been a little cut off from the rest of the world, but it is small price to pay for living around wolves.

Wolf Park is a nonprofit education, research, and conservation facility that raises and trains socialized wolves.  Captive wolves need to be socialized to give them the best life they can possibly have.  Being trained and acclimated to strange and unfamiliar body handling allows them to receive any medical treatment that is necessary.  In the wild, a toothache or an infected cut could mean a death sentence, but if socialized, a captive wolf can receive the necessary treatments.  Having socialized animals also allows researchers to study the behavior and social interactions of wolves.  Because wild wolves have such a long flight distance (how close a human can get to a wild animal before it flees), humans rarely get the opportunity to study wolf behavior.  Typically, wild wolves are studied through the use of radio telemetry, high power binoculars, fecal samples, and tracks.  At Wolf Park, an ethogram, a catalog of behavior, has been compiled over the last 45 years for wolves.  This assists facilities with captive wolves by providing a better understanding of wolf behavior so they can better care for their wolves.  It also benefits researchers studying wild wolves who may not get close enough to observe their behavior.

Socialization simply means that the flight distance of a wild animal is reduced to zero.  That doesn’t necessarily mean an animal likes people or is friendly.  Most of the Wolf Park wolves, however, love people.  The animal care staff goes in several times a week to brush coats, apply fly repellent on ears, and do training and enrichment activities with the wolves.  Interns occasionally have the opportunity to join the staff on these visits, which has made every aspect of the internship worth it.  The park also has 5 wolf pups that have been getting 24/7 care and have been progressing on a highly developed training regimen.  Leash walking, learning basic behaviors, and crate training are all becoming second nature for the pups so that when they are older, they can easily be moved to different enclosures as well as receive medical attention if needed.  Starting training and exposing the pups to new stimuli while they are young also helps them adapt to and handle new stimuli later in life and results in lower likelihood of behavior problems arising when they are older.  Interns have had the opportunity to help with socializing and training the puppies, which is arguably the best part of our internship.  Being swarmed by excited wolf pups is an experience like no other.