Renki, a 10-year-old male wolf, stares at guests Thursday during the official opening of the Roy Whistler Wolf Habitat at Wolf Park near Battle Ground. / John Terhune/Journal & Courier
The McAllister Foundation also funded Wolf Park’s newest endeavor. The Roy Whistler Habitat will soon be home to a new pack, which will allow researchers to conduct comparative studies among the packs.
While some might question the validity of research stemming from wolves in captivity, Wolf Park manager Dana Drenzek said methods and observed behaviors are legitimate. “The problem when you’re studying wolves out in the wild is you never see them. You’re actually only studying the things that they leave behind, like the howling, the scats, the scavenger kills,” she said.
Studies were scant until wolves made the endangered species list in the 1970s. Wolf biologist Erich Klinghammer created Wolf Park shortly after, dedicating his life’s research to wolf behavior and providing a host site for other scientists.
Currently, Wolf Park’s 6.5-acre enclosure is home to 10 wolves. A litter of pups is expected in the spring. “We have big romantic view of wolves: the animals that mate for life or the alphas that lead the team ... they’re a predator,” Drenzek said, discussing how research dispels myths. “They’re neither good nor bad, but it’s what they do as a part of their ecosystem. What we’re finding out is that their behavior, and honestly how they problem-solve, really affects their environment.”
That relationship was discovered in the mid-1990s when 31 wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park, Drenzek said. Before wolf reintroduction, Yellowstone was at an ecological crossroads. “There were no trees, no bushes, streams were full of algae. The elk were basically eating themselves out of house and home and destroying the environment,” Drenzek said.
The rewilding of wolves shifted the dynamic, forcing elk herds to split and spread across the park and allowing wolves to pluck out the weaker members, thus encouraging the transfer of healthy genes to the next generation of elk.
Similar studies, though on a smaller scale, are conducted at Wolf Park, and the new enclosure will provide more opportunities for researchers and more space for wolves.