October 30, 2002

'Mission: Wolf' Visits North Campus

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Over 300 people of all ages gathered at Robert Purcell Community Center last night to meet Rami, Raven, Luna, and Maggie, four live wolves from southwest Colorado. This marks Mission: Wolf’s 15th journey to the Ithaca area.

Mission: Wolf was sponsored by the Ecology House, the high rises, the Residence Hall Association and community development. People of all ages, from toddlers to Cornell students, senior citizens, faculty and locals from the Ithaca area attended the event.

Mission: Wolf operates a national education program that allows people a chance to meet a live wolf. This traveling program was created to dispel myths people have about wolves as well as to educate them about the environment.

Tracy Brooks and her husband Kent Weber founded Mission: Wolf in 1987 “to prevent wolves from becoming extinct and to take care of wolves and wolf-dogs who can no longer survive on their own. People try to make wolves into pets and it doesn’t work out. That’s where most of our animals have come from,” said Brooks.

They have been traveling from Sept. 27 and will continue until Nov. 10 when they return to their refuge in Colorado. In this time Mission: Wolf will have visited groups in New York, Vermont, Main, New Hampshire, Kansas, Illinois and Colorado. They turned down over 15,000 requests for educational visits this year alone.

Mission: Wolf is a learning facility and refugee, located at 9,000-foot elevation in the southern Rockies of Colorado. It provides a home for up to 40 captive born gray wolves and wolf-dog crosses in need of adoption.

“Our primary objective is to connect people with nature and foster concern and support for wild habitat protection. Our dream goal is to educate enough people so that wild wolves and humans may coexist and places like Mission: Wolf will become obsolete, as people learn that wolves do not make good pets,” said Webber.

Kent is a graduate of architecture art and planning and resigned from the field because he became disillusioned by the corruption. “People are confused about wolves so they kill them — like they did to all the wolves in the state of New York,” said Weber.

Children’s stories such as “Little Red Riding Hood” spread misinformation about wolves, according to Kent. “They create ignorance and fear in people, a recipe for disaster. In New York, if a wolf is seen, it will be killed within 24 hours,” said Kent.

“We came to show [her son] Tristan the wolves,” said Tonya Engst ’89. “He was scared of wolves and we thought it would quell his fears. Wolves get a bad rap in children’s literature.”

Today there are more wolves in cages than in the wild. If wolves are born in cages, they must live in captivity for the rest of their lives. This is because they never learn how to hunt for food and would starve to death if turned out into the wild. “We gave the wolves a bigger cage in the Rocky Mountains where they can hollow to their hearts content,” said Weber. “We created a beautiful place for people to learn about wolves and nature.”

People often confuse dogs for wolves and vice versa. Though all dogs came from wolves, there are clear behavioral and physiological differences. Wolves have bigger heads than dogs and love to chew on each other’s heads. “It doesn’t hurt, though, because of their thick layers of fur,” Weber assured the audience.

Wolves also can’t be contained in backyards. They can jump up to eight feet from a standstill and often jump fences. “Chaining them to a tree or house makes for a very dangerous animal, similar to chaining up a dog. Wild animals are used to roaming and being chained makes them aggressive. They see a child or an animal and get frustrated and aggressive,” said Brooks.

Wolves run about 40 miles a day and love to play in the snow. At Cornell, Brooks and Weber took them to the tennis courts for a little exercise.

“In the last 10 years we have turned down over 4,000 wolves that we couldn’t provide a home for. Most had injured a child or killed a dog,” said Weber.

It is illegal to own a pet wolf in the United States unless it is for education purposes or one has a research facility. However, as Brooks notes, “wolves have become a fad animal. People think its macho to have a pet wild animal until they realize they can’t take care of it as it grows up.”

They received Luna, a Mexican wolf, from a man who had bought his wolf for $500 and was raising it in a bathtub.

Yellowstone National Park has had great success brining back the wolf population and it has influenced the natural ecosystem in an extremely positive manner. Mission: Wolf hopes to do the same thing in other states through education and research programs.

At the end of an interesting slide show about the Wolf refuge in Colorado, an enthusiastic audience greeted the four traveling wolves: Rami, a nine-year-old gray wolf, is one of the gentlest wolves with people. She tolerates leashes, vehicles and large audiences because she is imprinted on humans and cannon be introduced into the wild. This happens when a wolf grows up around humans until the age of three.

Rami eagerly greeted the excited toddlers in the center of the room and allowed many audience members to scratch his chin. “When I grow up, I want to introduce wolves to Pennsylvania” commented an excited eight-year old from the audience.

“The most fascinating thing about the wolves” said Jodi Paz ’04, “was their eyes. They are almond shaped and a piercing yellow color.”

“It was interesting seeing how sensitive the wolves were to small things like clapping. They immediately wanted to leave because they were afraid,” said J.J. Weinstein ’05.

The program ended with an attempt to get the wolves to howl, with a little audience encouragement. Though the wolves wouldn’t oblige, the audience enjoyed the show.

“I’m psyched it went so well overall,” said Craig Johnson ’04. “Everyone was very involved and the interactions between the wolves and audience were neat to watch.”

Archived article by Alison Levine