Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Living Desert marks Wolf Awareness Day

By Martha Mauritson
Current-Argus Special Sections
Posted:   10/22/2012 

At the Living Desert just north of Carlsbad, the topic for Saturday was wolves. Not the Red Riding Hood kind of wolf, but the kind that once roamed southern New Mexico, parts of Arizona and Texas and central Mexico - the Mexican gray wolf.

This wolf came close to extinction, thanks in part to predator control programs that began some 100 years ago.Today, recovery efforts are producing a modest growth in the wolf population. And the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park at Carlsbad has played an important role in the breeding program.

"The Mexican gray wolves are endangered," said Holly Payne, the zoo's general curator.
Because of the wide-spread misconception that "wolves are bad," the Living Desert is joining zoos across the nation in marking today as Wolf Awareness Day.
"We are trying to educate people on the aspect that they don't have to fear wolves," Payne said.
In fact, wolves would rather stay away from humans because, unlike feral or even domestic dogs, wolves have not lost their fear of man.

Efforts to increase the wolf population and reintroduce them to their former range also are a source of conflict between wildlife groups and those who raise sheep and cattle.
And while zoo staff are well aware of this ongoing conflict, they have a different focus, according to park Superintendent Ken Britt.

"We are more interested in the species and its place as a carnivore in the ecosystem," said Britt.
The wolves at the Living Desert are all
males - brothers, in fact - from a pure Mexican wolf bloodline. Thus, they are important contributors to the breeding of more of their kind.
The Living Desert is one of just 52 institutions that exhibit and care for this breed of wolf.

Wolf Awareness Day

There were activities and information for every member of the family at Saturday's Wolf Awareness event.
Docent Susan Young displayed some of the teaching tools that will help young and old alike get a better feel for the wolf.

There are wolf footprints painted on canvas, to demonstrate the animal's size and the typical pattern made by their footprints. There is the skull of a wolf, that gives a good look at the powerful jaws and canine teeth.
"Docents on the trail will use the display items so people can get the idea," Young said.
Activities were also planned for children.

And then there are the wolves themselves, who are usually visible trotting through their large enclosure or resting beneath some of the vegetation in their area.
Only four of the wolves will be at home Saturday. Two of the local wolves have been sent to other zoos as part of the breeding program: one is in Mexico and the other went to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs.

Visitors won't want to miss the wolf quartet.
They look good at this time of year, almost like large, well-groomed dogs. Their coats are thick and smooth, their steps light and effortless as they move about. Sometimes the sound of splashing water tells visitors that a wolf is visiting the water feature where he and his brothers can drink or cool down on a warm day.