As the summer sun goes down, the wolves at Wolf Park in Battle Ground, IN, are just getting going.
Since the 1970s, Wolf Park’s main mission has been to conduct research and promote conservation efforts with wild canids both in and out of captivity. But Event and Membership Coordinator Caity Judd says it’s just as much to educate guests and clear up misconceptions around the animals at the park.
“There’s a lot of false information and mythology out there by Little Red Riding Hood and the like, so we try to provide clear information about the way wolves and coyotes properly behave in the wild,” Judd said.
In addition to their wolves, coyotes, foxes and bison, Wolf Park just added a small animal wing this summer, where kids can learn how to safely handle and interact with tiny critters like Guinea pigs, turtles and rabbits.
And for the adults, this summer has plenty of chances to get closer to these canid companions. Fridays and Saturdays call for Howl Nights, where the park stays open later – that’s when the wolves get especially active.
“We invite the audience to howl along, and the wolves are usually really good about responding,” Judd said.
Judd said it’s a time for people to learn more about how these animals communicate, and it’s been on offer at Wolf Park for the past 20 years.
This past Saturday marked one of Wolf Park’s Enrichment Days, which is about the closest guests can get to playing with the wolves. Handlers move the wolves away from the main enclosure and give people time to decorate it with toys and treats. The wolves are then let back in and go wild.
There’s piñatas, hay bales, meat hanging from trees: “[It’s] basically anything we can come up with that is fun for people to build and fun for the animals to destroy,” Judd said. “And the animals loved it.”
The wolves tend to rip apart any toys they’re given, so the staff at Wolf Park figured it would be best to lean into that.
“We like to do anything that really exercises their minds, because it gets kind of boring being a wolf in captivity,” Judd said.
Sparrow discovered hanging meat.
Posted by Wolfphotography.com on Saturday, June 9, 2018
As far as treats go, wolves typically dig into meat and cheese (relatable). “We generally use things like hot dogs, spam, sausage, pepperoni,” Judd said. “And they’re also fans of cheeses – and they all have their preferences! We have one that likes pepper jack, one likes mozzarella.”
But Judd did point out that wolves stay away from bread and other wheat products. A high-protein, low-carb diet – we can respect that.
Another Enrichment Day is planned for this summer, but it has not yet been scheduled.
Also in rotation are this summer’s kids’ camps, which just kicked off earlier this month and go through mid-July. There are a few different options for young campers between 5 and 16 years old to get familiar with Wolf Park’s residents as well as that new small animal wing.
Other events at Wolf Park include late-night tours once a month when the full moon comes around; a watermelon party (think Enrichment Day, just messier); a cookout alongside the wolves in July; and Brew on the Bridge, a gathering with barbecue, drinks and local rock band Against Odds.
All these events let guests get close with the animals – just not too close. It’s still a safety concern for the animals and humans alike, so park attendees won’t be able to nuzzle up to the wolves.
However, people will be close enough to break some misconceptions. Judd said these events bring in many people arrive with ideas about wolves and the other animals that they got from books and movies, and she’s consistently fielding questions about which wolf is the alpha.
“[They’re] very convinced that there’s this very violent, firm hierarchy within a pack. And they’re very surprised that the wolves are actually pretty low key with each other and not that concerned with who’s in charge most of the year,” Judd said.
Rather, the wolves at Wolf Park are more known for their differing personalities, like one’s playfulness during a piñata party earlier this year, or another’s…territoriality.
“One of our coyotes adored jumping up and down into that tree trying to get the piñata out,” Judd recalled. “We have another coyote that insists on peeing on every object we put in the enclosures.”
To learn more about the animals at Wolf Park and all the events coming up this summer, you can head to their website.
Featured photo courtesy of Monty Sloan of WolfPhotography.com, with permission from Wolf Park.