| Kevin Doran
KSTP's Kevin Doran takes us on an adventure that has been several years in the making.
There are few places where you can get as close to wolves in their natural surroundings as you can at the International Wolf Center.
"The mission here is to teach the world about wolves," Lori Schmidt, a wolf curator, said.
Almost a million visitors have watched the "Ambassador Wolf Pack" through enormous windows and learned about one of North America's most controversial animals.
However, Schmidt says there has been a huge void here since the pack's beloved Arctic wolves, Shadow and Malik, died in 2014.
"They passed away at the age of 14 from cancer,” Schmidt said. “They were incredible ambassadors for their species, for Canada, for North America."
Arctic wolves are rare, so finding replacements wasn't easy. Two years later when newborn pups became available, the International Wolf Center turned to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS for help. Hubbard Broadcasting donated the use of a plane and pilot to fly to an accredited facility in Eastern Canada. Wolf Center Co-Founder Nancy Gibson, and Wolf Specialist Cameron Feaster traveled with us. The pups were born in early May.
There is a lot of red tape to cut through when you are taking two rare Arctic wolf pups out of the country. After several signatures on Canadian export papers, we finally got to see them. Gibson was thrilled.
"Meet the newest members of The International Wolf Center."
The fuzzy little pups are brothers. They are only 23 days old but Gibson says they are already alert and learning.
"Everything they see right now, we don't want them to be scared or try to fear us or move from us. So we're really trying to make sure all those behaviors are proper. So that they can make good adults and that we can socialize them."
The pups were never alone the first night. They slept in a crib, ate three times and had their vital signs checked often.
In the morning, after a bottle of formula, we hit the road and drove to the airport. The flight back to Minnesota was spectacular. We flew over the beautiful northern shores of Lake Huron and Lake Superior and crossed the U.S. border in northern Minnesota. Ely was in sight.
Hubbard Broadcasting pilot Thomas Nelson says this trip is different than any he has ever been on.
"I've never carried wolf pups on the airplane before. That's a first for a passenger I should say!"
There was a large group waiting for us at the Ely airport. That included U.S. Customs and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials.
After a quick examination by the veterinarian and a few moments to pose for pictures, we left for the International Wolf Center.
The pups are living in a new den, which is part of a just completed expansion of the Center's Wolf Lab. Executive Director Rob Schultz says the four other members of the Ambassador Pack already know they've arrived.
"Humans have about five million smell receptors in our noses; they have about 280 million. They're pretty excited because they can tell that Nancy just brought in some new animals."
Schmidt then entered the wolf enclosure with a blanket the pups were in. This is an important step in getting the pack to accept them.
"So I don't want them to grab the blanket because then it becomes a tug of war, but I want them to smell it. And so we would not bring the pups in with this kind of chaos. These wolves are going to adopt those pups but it's a slow process of socialization."
The Arctic wolf pups will grow fast, gaining up to a pound a day. Two weeks later, their dark coats start changing color. They will turn white by the end of summer.
And one month after they arrived, the pups have grown even more. Their natural instincts are taking over.
It won't be long before the Ambassador Pack is whole again. The two wolf pups will join the pack in August.
You might wonder why the International Wolf Center would go to such great lengths to find these animals. They tell us they are in the business of education. In Minnesota, environmentalists consider the reintroduction of wolves a success story. But if you're a farmer in northern Minnesota and losing livestock, you have a different opinion.
The International Wolf Center says it doesn't take sides. It tries to provide the most accurate wolf information possible to help people to make their own decisions.
For the past several weeks, our viewers have been participating in a contest to name the Arctic wolf pups. We are happy to announce that "Axel" and "Grayson" are the new names. Ray Leonard from Custer, Wisconsin, and Martha Cole from Duluth each win a prize package worth more than $300 and a trip to Ely to see the pups in person.
You can find more information on the International Wolf Center here.