ENDANGERED WOLF CENTER (previously known as the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center), Eureka, MO
Wolves in the backyard – well, almost
“He (the wolf) is hunted by everyone. Everyone is against him and he is on his own as an artist is”. (Ernest Hemingway)
Considered a pest by many, wolves now have more defenders as pro-wolf sentiment is growing and there are places that are trying to help these endangered animals.
21 miles from downtown St Louis is an unusual nature sanctuary: theEndangered Wolf Center, where “ our wolves are waiting to see you”. It is often nicknamed the Wolf Sanctuary, but despite this nickname it does not take in canids that people can no longer care for, or have been abandoned.
Started by Marlin Perkins, former director of the St Louis Zoo, and his wife, Carol, in 1971, and run by Washington University now, its mission is to save wolves and other wild canids from extinction. This non-profit organization is considered the cornerstone of wolf conservation in America. They have many approaches to achieve their goal:
1) captive breeding and re-introduction of animals into their natural habitat
2) non-invasive research, such as determining nutritional requirements. Most wolves are carnivores, but the Mane Wolf is an omnivore, for example.
3) education. This has two parts. The first is to find out why wolves are endangered (for example, they are hunted by farmers, or are hunted because of superstition). A group called “Defenders of Wildlife” re-imburses farmers if re-introduced wolves do kill any cattle. The second is outreach, to tell people about wolves, which is why we visited.
We arrived for the 1pm tour one frosty Saturday in fall, with our grandson and daughter. People congregated at the entrance gate, then, following the guide, drove a couple of miles further to the Center, situated in 63 wooded acres. It uses part of an old military base—the ammunition storage and bunkers —and close by has built outdoor enclosures with double chain-link fences.
We wandered around for almost 2 hours and listened to the very informative guide, who was really excited about the wolves and the whole program, so the visitors began to feel more enthusiastic too. Our group was interested and asked lots of questions, and the kids seemed fascinated too.
We were surprised, as the wolves are smaller than we expected, and really do look a lot like dogs. The huge, snarling predator is certainly not in evidence here.
There were a total of 30 wolves there at that time, consisting of four species; Red Wolf, Mexican Grey, Mane Wolf, and Swift Fox. Which animals you see at any particular time will depend on their holdings at that time.
The Red Wolf is found around the Alligator River and there are around 60-70 in the wild. Some Mexican Greys were released in 1998 to the Apache Nature Reserve in Arizona, and there are about 200 in the wild now. The Swift Fox ranges from Texas to the Great Plains to Canada. The Mane Wolf ranges over the grasslands of America, and there are only about 17 in the wild. Mane Wolf parents sometimes turn on pups, so in the Center pups are often hand-reared. This means that they are less likely to be released when adults as they become too comfortable with humans.
We learned many other fascinating snippets of information about the Center and the lives of wolves. Life expectancy is longer in captivity, up to 16 years, as opposed to 5-7 years in the wild. This is due to regular nutrition and medical care. The Center does veterinary checks and gives regular rabies and distemper shots.
The wolves get three kinds of food: first, dried dog food, up to 2lb per day for the big animals; second is “Bone Day” where tidbits are thrown to the animals; and finally, they eat whatever gets into the enclosure, such as rodents, small birds, and perhaps birds’ eggs fallen from a nest.
Wolves are social animals, so they are kept in pairs, but male and female are separated unless they’re a mating pair. Males are much more decisive about dominance and there are many dominance fights, usually more for show and seldom fatal. The Center handles the wolves as little as possible, as they want the animals to be afraid of people, but they still get familiar with people, so it’s sometimes difficult to know which ones to choose to go out into the wild. They are released at about two years and all are collared for monitoring. A pack needs about a hundred square miles, preferably in a remote area. They tend to be very territorial.
It was a wonderful visit and we plan to return, perhaps one evening, when they offer a campfire ‘howl’.
Location: Located in West St Louis Country, in Washington University’s Tyson Research Center.
Take I-44 west to exit 269 (Beaumont/Antire Rd). The Center entrance is a short distance on the right after the exit.
Hours: Advance reservations are essential, by calling 636-938-5900
Tours and programs on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday 10am and 1pm. Campfire programs and Wolf Howls on selected evenings (children must be at least five years old). Closed all of May. Open House in October, when people can get closer to the wolves. No reservations for this.
Admission: $8 per person. Reservations are essential.
Group tours are also possible—-see website.
Cost for evening programs varies—see website.
(Relevance to SG: A really fun, educational activity for all ages—our grandson loved it (below, 02). It’s not far from a big city but you do feel like you are out in the wild)