Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Escape to Wolf Mountain

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Yukon Cornelius is an Arctic Fox at Wolf Mountain Nature Center in Smyrna. The center allows visitors to get to observe wolves, coyotes and foxes.
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Kenai is an Eastern Coyote puppy at Wolf Mountain in Smyrna.
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Will Pryor, the director of Wolf Mountain Nature Center gives a talk to a group of school children from Ballston Spa. 
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Hunter is Wolf Mountain Nature Center's only rescue wolf. He lived in a horse stall in a barn for five years when the zoo which was his home was disbanded.
Posted Aug 13, 2012 
High noon means a different kind of showdown on Wolf Mountain.As the daily fire siren in the village of Smyrna blares, the wolves, coyotes and foxes living at the nature center answer in kind, defending their territory to what appears to them to be an opposing pack infringing on their turf.
“They perceive a wolf pack and so they howl so they don’t have to fight them,” Wolf Mountain Nature Center Director Will Pryor said. “When the whistle goes off at noon, they howl. The coyotes like to throw you off and make you think there are more of them.”

Howling is a territorial communication but also can just indicate any emotion a wolf is experiencing.
“They like to say, ‘Hey, I’m here, I’m alive,’” Pryor said, adding that, “One of the main reasons they howl is they’re territorial. They go to great lengths to avoid violence. They howl when they’re happy and when they’re sad.”

One of the programs the center has put together to help satisfy curiosity and educate people is the weekly Howl Night sessions at Wolf Mountain every Saturday evening.
A group of school children from Ballston Spa recently came with their family and a teacher to learn about the unique nature center, bringing with them four dozen eggs as a treat for the wolves. The caretakers made short work distributing them to the wolves, and flying eggs and sprinting
wolves suddenly were everywhere.

“It’s like Easter all over again,” 9-year-old Mira Jaeger said as she watched the black and white streaks fly by on the other side of the fence.
The impromptu egg toss was just another way the center could share a glimpse into the lives of wolves with visitors, dispelling one of the many myths surrounding wolves that they only will eat meat.
Wolves will eat “everything from apples to zucchinis. People don’t know that wolves love apples and berries,” Pryor said.

Only licensed caretakers can interact with wolves, coyotes and foxes, but the center gives visitors opportunities to observe some of the behavior of these rarely seen animals.
“They do a lot of stuff your dog might do,” Pryor said. “You’re more likely to have issues with your neighbors than coyotes.”

Dave Conner, another caretaker at the center, has been helping to socialize the coyote puppies, which are 4 months old.
“These guys have been raised with cats and dogs,” he said. “I’m kind of like their surrogate parent. We’re trying to educate people that coyotes aren’t a danger to people.”
Wolf Mountain also has ties to the Utica Zoo, getting some of its food from there. It also has made plans for the zoo to take in any future fox babies from the union of the two Arctic foxes, Yukon Cornelius and Yana.
The foxes are especially happy when the weather turns cold, and with coats changed to a snowy white, they fit right in with colder winters than the ones of recent years.

“These guys have a little paradise here,” Pryor said. “They do love Central New York winters. When it’s 30 below, these guys are out here partying. They are awesome.”
The nature center is powered by solar and wind and only is open a few hours a week so that it can continue to be a wildlife sanctuary first and an education center second.

“Everything you see is from donations people give when they come up to see the wolves,” Pryor said. “This center was a dream of mine since I was 4 years old, and it came true.”
What’s special about Your Town? Contact Carolyn Bostick at cbostick@uticaod.com or 792-5075 to have your town featured in this weekly column.