Travel: Visit haven to see wolves in their natural surroundings

Posted: Sunday, June 04, 2000

TENINO, Wash. (AP) -- The wolves are together in packs of two or three. Some are resting, some are wandering around marking their territory while others meander over slowly to look at curious visitors.

Many came from zoos and research facilities, or private owners who had them as pets, but it didn't work out. Now, Wolf Haven in Tenino, about 70 miles southwest of Seattle, is their new home.

Thirty-thousand visitors, half from out of state, trek to this sanctuary each year to catch a glimpse into the wolf's life.

''Many people are just curious. They get their stereotypes of wolves from fairy tales,'' said communications director Julie Palmquist. ''Others think of wolves as spiritual guides so they want to be in a place where they can just observe the wolves.''

Wolves, once a common sight all over North America, have been virtually eradicated from their natural range in the United States' Lower 48 by predator-control programs.

The 32 Mexican gray wolves at Wolf Haven were born in captivity and brought there to live on the sanctuary's 80 acres of mima mound fields and forest.

Wolf Haven was founded as a nonprofit in 1982 and has since been supported entirely by private contributions. Known as a premiere wolf facility in the United States, Wolf Haven is also one of the most unique both in its work for restoration and protection of wolves and because they don't let formerly captive wolves breed because of the fear of contributing to captive populations.

Some wolves at Wolf Haven are bred specifically for release into the wild, where they live to an average age of 8. To date, 11 have been released in Arizona and New Mexico.

These wolves are not available for viewing, are allowed to live as wildly as possible and are treated differently -- with little human contact and a different menu. Unlike the captive wolves which are fed red meat, wolves to be introduced into the wild are fed road kill, deer and elk so when they get into the wild they do not crave red meat and want to kill livestock.

The wolves viewed on the tour are sterilized so they don't have pups. The wolves are then matched up by personality with one or two other wolves and housed in their own circular enclosure in a natural wooded setting.

The 45-minute tour works hard to allay people's fear of wolves as well as to quash any misconceptions.

''You really get a feeling for the animal,'' said Phyllis Root, 75, of Blaine.

The two types of wolf species found in North America are red and Mexican gray, which are housed at Wolf Haven. The names are deceiving, though. Each wolf actually has different color and shading.

Visitors learn about the relationships between wolves who establish clearly early on who is the dominant and who is submissive in the pack. Once established, the wolves settle into a routine of active digging and hunting in the early morning and late evening. Twice a week they settle down to a 10- to 15-pound meal, the equivalent of 65 Big Macs.

The most important sense a wolf has is scent. Wolves even have scent glands between their toes. Scent also is the main form of communication between wolves, though wolves do howl occasionally, just not at the moon.

''It's a great place for saving something we've come so close to losing, as well as to allay your fears and appreciate the animal'' said visitor Cheryl Brothers, 48, of Hammond, La.


IF YOU GO: Wolf Haven is located at 3111 Offut Lake Road, Tenino. Tours are given every hour on the hour. Hours are May through September 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. In March, November and December hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends only. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for youth ages 3 to 12. Contact: (360) 264-4695.


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