What comes to mind when you hear the word, “wolf”…. Is it a snarling, vicious beast threatening travelers in the night (as in Disney’s Frozen)? Is it a conniving predator with “big eyes” and “big ears” that tries to lure a red-hooded girl to her demise? Or is it a soulful and playful, yet fierce, wild animal with an undeserved bad rap which could benefit from more protection?
Yes, the latter is what I’m going for with this blog… After recently visiting Wolf Hollow, a wolf sanctuary in Ipswich, MA, I felt compelled to share the experience with our dog-loving audience. Wolves, after all, are the closest living relative to domestic dogs, and are said to have virtually identical DNA.
Wolf Hollow – Wild Wolf Preservation via Education and Exposure
Wolf Hollow’s mission is to “preserve the wolf in the wild through education and exposure,” and the folks there have been sharing the wildness, beauty and grace of their wolves with the public for over 30 years. If you live relatively close to eastern Massachusetts, or will be visiting at some point, Wolf Hollow is something special to check out.
As a dog lover (admittedly, I’m more of a “crazy dog lady”), I was enchanted by the wolves living there, and what I learned about them, their care, and wolves’ contribution to the ecosystem during the tour.
Wolves are not so different from dogs, and many of their behaviors explain a lot about the domestic canines we know as best friends. For example, when your dog rolls on a putrid-smelling dead bird, what they instinctively intend to do is to bring a wealth of information -intel, if you will- back to your “pack.” As you know, dogs (like wolves) have much better senses of smell than we do. Each wolf pack also has an alpha male and female, so that alpha behavior you may see in your dog is indeed a part of their ancestry.
Through the tour, we learned how wolf packs co-exist as family groups and that there are certain behavioral cues that indicate pack dynamics and hierarchy. And yes, wolves do mate for life, though siblings may not always stay in the same pack.
One wolf in the sanctuary was actually a wolf-dog hybrid, rescued from New York. Although the thought of having one of these wild beauties at home is tempting, owning a hybrid is NOT a good idea (not to mention illegal in many states). Wolf Hollow very strongly opposes the breeding of wolves with dogs, as the vast majority end up euthanized (sometimes after tragic attacks on humans). Wolves are, after all, wild animals.
Although preservation of the wolves’ wild natures is highly prioritized at the sanctuary, the animals were also affectionate with the Wolf Hollow staff (especially when given treats)…it was heart-melting to see. That said, it’s important to also note that the people at this family-run sanctuary have decades of experience caring for wolves, and are careful to honor their wild nature and respect their behavioral cues.
While not domesticated, the wolves at this sanctuary are clearly quite used to being around humans, which has ultimately increased their life span. On average, the sanctuary wolves have lived about twice as long as wild wolves due to their steady supply of food (that doesn’t injure them) and veterinary care, including vaccination.
My favorite part of the Wolf Hollow experience was hearing the wolves howl. I occasionally catch the sound of coyotes howling at night, but it’s different with wolves…maybe because this time I was on a tour, and not wondering if the neighborhood cats and small dogs were safely inside. Their howling was soulful, perhaps due to the context…these wolves wanted our attention. They began howling when we left to focus on wolves in other areas of the sanctuary. It was like how our own dogs vie for our attention.
So how does seeing and learning about wolves in a sanctuary help preserve wolves in the wild? Through exposure, we become less fearful…we can develop some connection with wolves as we relate to similarities between wolves and dogs, and even wolves and humans. Through education, we reevaluate and change, says the Minnesota-Based International Wolf Association:
“As people gain knowledge and appreciation of wolves and their place as predators in the ecosystem, they can become concerned about wolf survival and recovery. Decades of research have unveiled multitudes of facts about this species. That research, used in public education, has motivated people to help and to allow wolves to begin reclaiming small portions of their former habitat.”
Wolves Are at Risk Again?
In the 1800s wolf populations were decimated by Western settlers, and the killing of wolves – “predator control” continued through the 1900s until there were so few left that they were close to extinction. Thankfully, in the 1970s they received federal protection when put on the endangered species list in the lower 48 United States.
While restoration of wolves to their natural habitat was a national priority for several decades after that, wolves were eventually de-listed in 2020 (in-part due to a legal technicality surrounding whether the gray wolf could be considered a species). Aside from those in Alaska, the U.S. wolf population is still quite low at about 5,000 – 7,700 wolves (sources vary). You can view populations by various states here.
The good news is that the gray wolf had federal protections restored in many U.S. states through a 2022 court decision. However, the northern Rocky Mountains of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and parts of several adjacent states were not included in the judge’s ruling. Wolves are currently under “state management” in these states.
What can you do to help protect wolf populations? If you live in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, or a state adjacent to any of these, you can write or call your state legislators and ask them to protect gray wolves. If you live elsewhere, you can spread the word about wolves and perhaps inspire others to do so as well.
And if you’re in the north-eastern Massachusetts area, visit Wolf Hollow – it’s a special experience. Be sure to make reservations a few weeks in advance; space is limited.
- Wolf Hollow Website
- Saetre P, Lindberg J, Leonard JA, Olsson K, Pettersson U, Ellegren H, Bergström TF, Vilà C, Jazin E. From wild wolf to domestic dog: gene expression changes in the brain. Brain Res Mol Brain Res. 2004 Jul 26;126(2):198-206. doi: 10.1016/j.molbrainres.2004.05.003. PMID: 15249144.
- National Park Service. Wolf Restoration. NPS.gov, last accessed May 16, 2022.
- University of Cincinnati Law Review. Are Gray Wolves Ready to Be De-Listed as an Endangered Species? UCLawReview.org, January 22, 2021.
- International Wolf Center. About Us and Things You Need to Know About Wolves and Delisting. Last accessed May 16, 2022 at https://wolf.org/things-you-need-to-know-about-wolves-and-delisting/, https://wolf.org/wow/united-states/, and https://wolf.org/about-us/
- Brown M and Flesher J. Judge restores protection for gray wolves across much of U.S. APNews.com, Feb. 10, 2022.
- Wolf Conservation Center. Wild Wolf Populations in the United States. NYWolf.org, last accessed May 17, 2022.
- U.S. Dept. of the Interior. Management of Wolves. DOI.gov, Sept. 26, 2016.
Top photo credit: 123light.
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