Thursday, October 15, 2015

Get to know Big Bear’s wolves

By Jonathan Riley Reporter

Often seen as nothing more than vicious, dangerous animals, wolves are among the most misunderstood creatures in the animal kingdom.

Big Bear Alpine Zoo is doing its part to change that. National Wolf Awareness Week is the third week in October, and Wolf Awareness Day at the zoo is Saturday, Oct. 17.

“Our guests will be able to see and learn about some of the adaptations that these amazing apex predators use to make them successful as hunters,” said zoo curator Bob Cisneros.

Despite their ferocious reputation, wolves are closely related to dogs, also known as man’s best friend. Wolves are social animals, hunting in packs of six to 10, but their social order is also hierarchical, allowing the pack to function better. This is somewhat similar to how human communities are often arranged.

Wolves also have played prominent roles in human mythology and folklore for thousands of years. Wolves are the villains in famous fairy tales like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Three Little Pigs” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” 

Gray wolves, also known as timber wolves, were once the most widely distributed mammal on Earth, according to the World Wildlife Fund, although their range has shrunk by a third. Big Bear Alpine Zoo has nine gray wolves, which are the most common type of wolf, despite being classified as endangered.

Once found all across the northern hemisphere, gray wolves were hunted to near extinction in many places. Although they don’t attack humans often, wolves are known to go after domestic animals.

Wolves can go up to two weeks without a meal, but when they do eat they can consume up to 30 pounds of meat in one sitting. When wolves target livestock for a meal, they have often been targeted by humans in retaliation. Luckily, wolf populations have been on the rise again in the US since they were listed as endangered in 1978.

Cisneros said that while previous Wolf Awareness Days at the zoo have focused on the connection to wolves in fairy tales and human culture, this year’s event will be more centered on the comeback wolves have been making in recent years, and the positive future role they can play in the ecosystem.

“Wolves are often referred to as bio-engineers,” Cisneros said. They prevent deer and elk from overgrazing by keeping herds on the move, and cull out the weak and sick animals. Although wolves had a historical presence in California, there was no wild wolf population here for almost a century.

“By the 1920s wolves were eradicated in California, but now are on the verge of a comeback,” Cisneros said. In August, a group of wolves that’s been named the Shasta Pack crossed over the Oregon border and is now living in Northern California.

Big Bear Alpine Zoo has two older wolves, Nova and Navarre, which were relocated to the zoo in the early 2000s from a breeding facility that serves the movie industry. Younger wolves born in 2009, named Logan, Noelle, Bayou, Spirit, Blair, Lucien, and Truck, make up the new generation of Big Bear Alpine Zoo wolves.

Big Bear Alpine Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wolf Awareness Day presentations and activities will be between noon and 3 p.m. Oct. 17. Regular admission costs apply, $12 for adults ages 11-60, $9 for seniors 60 and older and for kids ages 3-10. Children under 3 are admitted free.

Big Bear Alpine Zoo is at 43285 Goldmine Drive, Big Bear Lake. For more information, call 909-584-1299 or visit


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