Call of the Wild
I just got back from a little BC road trip. Among other adventures, my partner, Zane, and I stopped at the Northern Lights Wolf Centre outside of Golden.
We toured the Centre, listened to the interpretive talk and went on the Blackwolf Photography Walk. The walk was truly magical. We hiked with Scrappy Dave and Flora. The wolves were both born in captivity, purchased from the zoo where they were born and imprinted at an early age. They are the youngest wolves at the centre and each has a distinctive personality. Scrappy Dave is the wilder of the two. He is adventurous and independent. He was trained to stay within a certain distance during our walk, but he was back and forth into the forest, exploring this and sniffing that. Flora, who is also the ambassador wolf at the centre, is obviously more comfortable with humans. She enjoyed hanging out with our group, and not two minutes into our walk she was scolded for jumping up on me. Apart from this apparently “doglike” behaviour, I was struck by how distinctive their behaviour was from the dogs I’ve known. If I hadn’t known they were wolves, I would have known they were somehow different than the dogs I’ve lived with. They were continuously active on the hike and always scavenging. The rosehips were ripe, so they were eating those throughout most of the trip. Bear poop was also up for grabs. Their energy level was intense and somehow distinctive from that of dogs. If you go on the walk, like we did, it’s on the wolves’ terms. You can’t force yourselves on them; you let them come to you. The wolves seemed to like Zane and me, but they don’t treat everyone equally. They both let us stroke their fur, and Flora spent a lot of time with me on the walk. We had just come off the Juan Da Fuca Trail, and we both smelled very “organic,” so that may have had a lot to do with it. If you want to go on the walk you must reserve ahead, and it’s pricey. But it was well worth it, an experience I will never forget.
You don’t need to go on the walk to see the wolves. The program that the Northern Lights Wildlife Centre runs is really remarkable. It’s all about education: understanding the role wolves play within their ecosystems and dispelling common myths. They have educational displays and regularly scheduled interpretive lectures where they talk about wolf history, behaviour and their relationship with humans.
Wolves have been persecuted for centuries, but they are vital to their ecosystems. Wolves are a keystone species, and when a keystone species is eradicated from an ecosystem, it causes a harmful cascading effect that is destructive to multiple species and environments. This video explains what happened when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone Park.
We were inspired to go to the Centre by my daughter’s work. Nastassja wrote her Master’s thesis on the impact of the Wolf Centre on participant attitudes and knowledge. While she was researching the history of human/wolf interaction for her thesis, she wrote a rant inspired by her research. I reprinted her piece in a previous blog post. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you do. She’s knowledgable and eloquent in her writing.
For her thesis, Nastassja interviewed visitors to the Centre as well as staff and the Centre’s owners, Shelley and Casey. She wanted to learn whether the Centre’s educational program changed visitors’ understanding and knowledge of wolves. Her major finding was that “conservation outcomes reported by participants included thinking about the larger picture in terms of the societal causes for wolf persecution and eradication, highlighting the importance of education, and discussing intentions to engage in pro-environmental behaviour and advocacy.” A few of the visitors have even acted on the knowledge they gained by starting petitions and other initiatives. One of the staff members told Nastassja this story:
“There was this young girl, she actually did everything to set up a fundraiser… she had it done at the Robert Bateman gallery and Robert Bateman donated the space for her to do it there. She raised $1500.00… ten year old girl. She took that upon herself because she saw our website and saw what we talk about and the issues that we have. Now she wanted to save the wolves.”
As it turns out, the young girl is one of Maia Green’s students. Maia is a personal friend. We took our Masters in Environmental Education and Communication together at Royal Roads University. She is now the founder of FUN Society and an educator at Sea to Sky Outdoor School. I didn’t pick up on the connection at first, but when I did, I had to smile. It’s sometimes shocking how close our worlds intersect.
The wolf centre has left a lasting impression. I will go back, not only to see the wolves but to support the centre and its vision. If you’re interested in learning more about the centre you can check out their website. The site contains many resources, including information about wolves. If you would like to read Nastassja’s thesis, What Big Teeth You Have: An Educational Approach to Wolf Conservation, you can find it here.