July 2, 2016
Six-week-old brothers Raksha and Isha joined the center June 20, filling the void left by Makah and Akela Behr, sisters who had been at the center since they were 2 weeks old and died at ages 15 and 16.
"It's always hard because we get to know them; we get to know their personalities," staff member Casey Hampf said. "They're so beautiful, especially the arctics with the grace they have."
On Tuesday, a crowd gathered to watch the new arrivals as Isha licked the inside of Hampf's mouth. The motion indicates trust, Hampf said, so she lets him do it - despite the pup's smelly breath.
Though young, the wolves have developed unique personalities, Hampf said. Isha, whose white fur is rare for arctic pups, is independent and the braver of the two. Raksha is more playful.
"Every wolf is an individual," Hampf said.
For now, Isha and Raksha are kept separate from the center's adult wolf population.
Staff members introduce them gradually, first from the other side of a fence and starting with wolves with strong maternal instincts; timber wolf Sakara "melted like a puddle" when she was introduced to Raksha, Hampf said.
The plan is for Raksha and Isha to become ambassadors for the center and their species, playing a key role in educating the public through meet and greets.
Whether they'll fulfill the ambassadorships is uncertain, however, until their personalities are fully developed at age 2.
Hampf said a former wolf ambassador became too shy once he turned 2 and self-retired.
For now, staff members take Isha and Raksha in cars and interact with them in the process of socializing the pups. And while their doglike features and adorableness make them seem as coveted house pets by visitors to the center, socialized does not mean domesticated, Hampf said.
"Even these guys, how young they are, they still exhibit wolf traits," she said. "They are still food-possessive, they have a one-alpha, one-beta personality - all of that is still present, even at 6 weeks of age."
Staff members treat the wolves with respect to who they are and how they want to be treated, Hampf said, even when that means mouth-to-mouth contact. In the process, they form bonds with the animals, which is why Akela and Makah are so dearly missed.
"They all become your family at some point," Hampf said. "It's kind of like bringing them back in a way, by having (Raksha and Isha) here."