With a bite that equates to approximately 1,500 pounds of pressure per square inch, yellow eyes and razor-edge claws, wolves may seem scary, but one organization is seeking to change this common perception of the animals.
The Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary hosted “Wolves: Myths and Mysteries” on Saturday where dozens of people attended for a chance to learn about and interact with live wolves.
The sanctuary, owned and operated by the Natural Science and Mathematics Department at Cal State Fullerton, serves as a research center for college students, and also promotes science and environmental education for K-12 schools.
As part of an outdoor education program, the event was presented by Kimmi Kraus, a representative for Wolf Totem Ambassadors, an organization which aims to educate and dispel misconceptions of wolves as a form of wildlife. She began working with wolves, bears, foxes and other animals in 2006 through a volunteer program.
Kraus, accompanied by her two male gray wolves, 2-year-old Damu and 17-month-old Cael, discussed cultural mythologies associated with wolves before discussing their behaviors and physiology in front of an engaged audience of adults and children. She wanted the presentation to be a fun experience that would also provide people with valuable information.
Damu and Cael are high-content wolfdogs, said Kraus. Pure wolves are incapable of interacting with humans due to innate shyness.
Although they are not wild wolves, the selectively bred wolfdogs offer people a unique hands-on experience.
The presentation gave the audience a chance to learn about the origin of the werewolf as a mythological creature and also about the mythology surrounding wolves in Native American, Norse and Turkish culture.
However, Kraus said there’s a lot more to wolves than the myths and legends surrounding them.
She said they have drastic impacts on their surrounding ecology as evidenced by some of the problems experienced in Yellowstone Park in Montana.
The park eliminated its gray wolf population from the early 1900s until the ‘40s, when people didn’t understand how the absence of one species might affect others. By the ‘90s, the absence of wolves was visible, as ungulate populations increased and caused soil erosion through the excessive consumption of plants. “When you pluck one string of nature’s web, everything else feels the reverberation and effects—when you remove wolves out of the environment, there are other animals who depend on them for various reasons that are impacted,” Kraus said.
Following the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone, a more natural balance has been reintroduced and vegetation is returning to areas where it had once become scarce, she said.
There are now positive developments on the horizon for California, according to Kraus, which recently placed the gray wolf back to its endangered species list after removing it in 2011.
The move was made after a gray wolf temporarily made its way into Northern California. “(They did that) in hoping that if one wolf would have come down all the way from Oregon to Northern California that there’s hope that we can have another wolf population like we did before, which will drastically help our coyote situation,” Kraus said.
The presentation inspired many of the younger members of the audience to ask questions. Young children sat in awe as Kraus recounted a wide variety of facts and information about wolves. “I thought it was really good because you’re learning about different wolves and how they live, how they eat, what is their natural habitat and all of these different things that are really exciting about wolves,” said Will King, an 8-year-old elementary student.
Marcella Gilchrist, the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary site manager, said one of her favorite parts of the show is the experience they offer to young children. “The most gratifying aspect to facilitating presentations is seeing people’s faces light up—watching as individuals are hit by that spark of inspiration or when they interact and meet our Ambassador Wolves,” Kraus said. “Shakespeare said that ‘one touch of nature makes the world kin.’ When people allow themselves to nerd out with nature, it is the ultimate reward we can reap.”
Visit www.tuckerwildlife.org for future events. The sanctuary will host the sixth annual Bat Night on Saturday Oct. 18.