October 8, 2003

Mission: Wolf Comes to C.U.

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The wolves Rami, Raven and Magpie charmed an audience of over a hundred Cornellians and Ithaca residents of all ages on Tuesday night.

Mission: Wolf brought the wolves as part of their traveling program to educate the public about wolves and the environment in general.

Tuesday’s event was sponsored by Akwe:kon, the Ecology House and Earthrise, making it Mission: Wolf’s 16th visit to Cornell since its founding in 1987.

The founder, Kent Weber, talked about the history of wolves in the United States, their biology and the current status of reintroduction programs across the nation.

Emphasizing respect without fear, Weber made a point of debunking myth of murderous wolves.

“They do not eat grandma,” he said, referring to the tale of Little Red Ridinghood.

Fear is many people’s first response when meeting the wolves. Weber described incidents involving everyone from six year-old girls to college men who react in terror when the wolves arrive.

“Then they take a deep breath,” Weber said, “and they get over the fear.”

This is what Weber and his colleagues are seeking: people who respect and understand wolves instead of fearing them. On the other end of the spectrum, however, are people who love wolves so much they try to keep them as pets. While wolves cannot be genetically differentiated from dogs, their behavior is very different. Most wolves only tolerate humans while they are puppies, and are very independent-minded, Weber said.

Dogs, on the other hand, have been selectively bred over 10,000 years to become the friendly, loyal pets we know today. Not only do adult wolves fear humans and resist obedience training, they can also easily jump over 6-8′ fences, making them very bad pets, Weber explained.

Most of the over 40 wolves and wolf-dog hybrids at Mission: Wolf refuge in Colorado were bred as exotic pets, as well as for movie projects. And, because the wolves and hybrids were born in captivity and imprinted strongly on humans, they don’t know how to hunt properly and have lost their natural fear of humans, Weber said.

According to Weber, this means the wolves would either hang around human habitations and end up being shot, or they would starve to death in the wilderness. Instead, they will live out their natural lives at the refuge, gulping down a thousand pounds of raw meat every week.

Unfortunately, Mission: Wolf has to turn away over 80 percent of the requests they get to take in captive wolves. Weber explained that part of the reason why is that they can only take in puppies which other wolves at the refuge will accept. Additionally, the refuge simply lacks the space to hold additional animals, Weber said.

At 449 acres, the refuge isn’t large enough to support even one wild wolf pack, where an average of 10 wolves control anywhere from 40 to 100 or more square miles of territory, according to information from the International Wolf Center’s website.

Mission: Wolf does have a project to acquire more land for wolves, however, their ultimate goal is to make themselves obsolete. They say there are currently over 250,000 captive wolves and hybrids in the United States, but only 4,000 wild wolves in the lower 48 states.

New York might be the next to join the list of states with wolves. “You’re this close to getting wolves in New York state,” Weber said, explaining that there are currently discussions about reintroducing gray wolves to Adirondack Park, the 6 million acre forest preserve in northern New York.

An audience member raised concerns about the wolves being in close proximity to the many people who live within the park. In response, Weber explained that education is the best solution to human-wolf conflicts.

Archived article by Sarah Colby