MICHIGAN CITY | Northwest Indiana's only zoo now has among its exotic animals three baby timber wolves, whose howling could turn some heads. The major reason for bringing wolves to Washington Park Zoo in Michigan City is to promote them as an endangered species worth protecting, but the high school sports teams being nicknamed ''Wolves'' also didn't hurt.
It's the first time the zoo has had wolves since the 1980s. "It is neat to have them back after so long and the fact that the school does have the wolf as a mascot is pretty awesome as well," said Jacquelynn Schmalzried, a zookeeper and education curator at the lakefront zoo.
Two of the wolves are sisters born just 10 weeks ago in Tennessee while the 13 week old male wolf was brought in from Ohio. The timber wolves, native to North America, Europe, Asia and parts of Africa, won't be out for public viewing until their exhibit directly across from a facility that contains three White Bengal Tigers is finished before the end of summer.
However, visitors can now catch a glimpse of the wolves if they happen to be near a fenced in grassy area where they're occasionally brought out for a short time to exercise. Schmalzried said the wolves have grown immensely since coming here last month and they're now on more of a meat diet, but they like other things including sweet corn. "Since they're young and they're teething they like to chew on that," she said.
Zoo Director Jamie Huss said the focus at the zoo is on all endangered species and to educate how the population of certain wild animals diminish and what can be done to restore their numbers. Over hunting is among the reasons cited for timber wolves being endangered along with factors that impact the population of wild animals, in general, like man through development infringing on their natural habitats. "Our hope is that the exhibit will bring some awareness of the wolves' plight," said Huss, who while caring for the wolves has had their traditional howling.
Timber wolves being ancestors of domestic dogs are also known for barking, growling and whining.
The public is invited to take part in naming the wolves by offering suggestions over the phone and on the zoo's webpage.
Huss said three names can be offered by each individual for $5 and half of the proceeds will go for conservation and the remainder for caring for the wolves. Judges will narrow down the list before the end of June then decide on names for each of the wolves on July 25. "It's really exciting to have the public being able to get in on this," said Schmalzried.