Two weeks ago I spent a wonderful morning at the Lakota Wolf Preserve in New Jersey with fellow photographer, Bob Thompson. I was leery about going because I do not like seeing wild animals behind bars or fences and I was afraid the place might upset me. I needed a hike in the woods though, so I figured I would check it out anyway and hope for the best. Wolves have always been one of my favorite animals. They are gorgeous animals, ancestors of dogs and care deeply about their families. To me, they are the iconic symbol of the North American “wild”. I am happy to report that the Lakota Wolf Preserve was a very nice place with large enclosures for the wolves. My guess would be that a wolf would prefer to be completely free, but this is a good second for the the wolves that call Lakota home. The animals residing at Lakota were all born in captivity or rescued by the owners and you can tell they are well taken care of. The caretakers are part of the pack and it seems like the wolves and their human family members love each other. One interesting fact that we learned was that all wolves have yellow/brown eyes (never blue). And another is that adult wolves will take in and care for any baby wolf whether it is theirs or not. They are very devoted parents. This is a strong contrast to Lions where adult males will kill any cub that is not theirs.
Our guide also told us that one in every ten wolves is born with a black coat. I just recently read an article that reported that nearly half of North American wild-born wolves have black coats while European wolves are overwhelmingly white or grey. But, the most interesting part of this, according to research done by graduate students at UCLA, is that “a novel mutated variant of a gene in dogs, known as the K locus, is responsible for black coat color and was transferred to wolves through mating.” They suspect that the transfer occurred when wild wolves bred with black dogs that were here with the Native Americans. “This is the first example where a gene mutation originated in a domesticated species was transferred to and became very common in a closely related wild species,” said Robert Wayne, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. At Lakota you can see many of the Grey wolves’ color variations, including black, a coat color that gives them a very mysterious look!
Beyond the excitement of seeing these magnificent creatures, the highlight of the day was when, as we were leaving, the pack started howling! It started out with one, then two or three and I thought at first it was the wind. Then as the rest of the pack chimed in, I realized what was going on and had to stop in my tracks and just listen. It was beautiful and powerful and I can’t wait to visit again to hear their wild conversations!
GRAY WOLF FACTS – compiled by: Aidan Bodeo-Lomicky, 8
Gray wolves are the largest members of the canine family. In Alaska, there are eight to eleven thousand gray wolves roaming free in the wild. Their cousins, the red wolves, only have about one hundred individuals left of their species in the world. There are five recognized subspecies of gray wolves in North America: the arctic or Melville Island wolf, the eastern timber wolf, the Great Plains/Buffalo wolf, the Rocky Mountain/Mackenzie Valley/Alaskan wolf, and the Mexican wolf. The four main reasons the wolves’ numbers have decreased are continued loss of habitat, hunting and trapping, disease, and because of the easing of the regulations that protect them.
Sources: Seacrest Wolf Preserve, Lakota Wolf Preserve, the Journal Science
If you would like to learn more or visit the Lakota Wolf Preserve, please visit their website at http://www.lakotawolf.com/ .
Here are a few of my favorite photos taken at Lakota–