Bonding With Wolves At Wolf Park
MRV: The Buzz, Your RV Lifestyle Insider. Written By: Olivia Richman
Where Humans And Wolves Bond: Wolf Park
A Nonprofit Research Center In Indiana With Wolves, Foxes, Coyotes And Bison Founded In 1972 By Dr. Erich Klinghammer
There are two types of people: Those who think wolves are big and bad, blowing houses down, posing as a little old lady they ate earlier in the day. And those who think wolves are perfect, like big, smarter dogs, maybe even their spirit animal.
Wolf Park in Battle Ground, Indiana is the perfect educational experience for both types of people. A beautiful, forested sanctuary, Wolf Park is a nonprofit research center with wolves, foxes, coyotes and bison founded in 1972 by Dr. Erich Klinghammer, who brought two wolves to his property for ethology research. The wolves came from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois.
A professor at Purdue University, Klinghammer had been studying animal behavior. He had done previous work with pigeons and other species and was looking into getting a different animal to study.
“He had a lifelong fascination with wolves,” said Event Coordinator Katie Judd. “This was in the 70s, when there wasn't much known about wolves. He wanted to get two wolves and just put them in a natural setting and watch their behavior, see how they communicated with each other.”
So he studied their behavior, their pack structure, breeding behavior, fights, predator and prey relations, pup rearing... When people heard he had these wolves they wanted to see them. The park started off as a research center but shifted towards education. Now, Wolf Park offers numerous programs, seminars, camps and other special events.
There are tours of the facility throughout the week, but Howl Night on Friday and Saturday night is one of the most popular times to visit the park. Not only do guests get to learn about wolf communications and why they howl, but they get to listen to the wolves howl and howl back at them. Said Judd: “The wolves are really good at howling back at the audience.”
Other popular activities at Wolf Park include watching the wolves get fed on Sundays, when the wolves gnaw on deer carcasses. There are also holiday parties, like the Pumpkin Party in October, when the wolves all got a carved out pumpkin to chew on.
Continuing with their goal of educating the public, Wolf Park also offers day camps and overnight camps for children, so they can learn more about various wildlife at the park. There are countless seminars for adults as well, from nature photography to dog training courses.
At this time, Wolf Park has nine wolves, two coyotes, seven bison and four foxes, most of which were born at the sanctuary. Judd – who began working at Wolf Park 13 years ago – came to Wolf Park because of her passion for wolves, but found it was the two gray foxes who she truly bonded with and has an “excellent relationship with.”
According to Judd, having that close connection with animals is “wonderful” but also “painful.” She explained: “It's a species that doesn't live nearly as long as we do. You're watching their entire lives. The babies that were here when I started are now in their teens. It's interesting to watch them go through their entire life span. They're always surprising, doing the unexpected. It's interesting to learn how to keep them entertained and fulfill their needs and build relationships with them. They treat people differently.”
An obvious major difference between the wolves in Wolf Park and wolves out in the wild is their relationship to people. Wild wolves will hide the moment they know humans are nearby. The wolves – and other animals – at Wolf Park have been raised around people from a very young age and, according to Judd, it's very easy to socialize them.
“We had a scientist out here studying how long it takes to socialize wolves as opposed to dogs. It takes about 2,000 hours with a wolf to get the same amount of socialization as you would with a dog,” recalled Judd. “Time spent with is everything with wild animals, especially wolves. By the time they're born, they're around people 24 hours a day for first several months of life. We continue to maintain that relationship their entire lives. We try to take them out on walks and do fun things with them so they feel people are fun and interesting. Our wolves are curious about us. They are interested in what we're doing.”
Wolf Park has been the site of many other experiments and studies. One more controversial study was their predator-prey demonstrations. For 20 to 30 years, Wolf Park would place a couple of wolves into a herd of bison that were brought to the park and let them chase the bison around.
“Nobody ever got hurt,” said Judd. “Wolves are always looking for the prey that's easiest to take down. So a healthy herd has nothing to worry about.”
The study was finished a few years ago. Since then, the bison have been in “semi-retirement.” Weary or curious – nobody can know for sure – the bison do watch the wolves through a fence.
There are a couple of places where the wolves and bison get “fairly close,” said Judd, who remembered an incident a few years ago when one wolf and a couple of bison would “fight each other,” chasing each other down the fence. When the wolf was permanently moved, the bison went looking for him. Judd and other employees at Wolf Park believe that the bison may have actually enjoyed the demonstrations.
Is this just Judd personifying the animals? Many people have questioned if animals think. Are they mechanical beings who go through life doing what it takes to survive? Throughout the years, researchers have visited Wolf Park to test if wolves – and other animals – have the ability to problem solve, something that they realize to be true right upon visiting Wolf Park. “It's cool to see how the wolves figure out the tests, or how they even manipulate tests or choose not to do them,” said Judd.
While Judd and others have the rare opportunity to work with wildlife closely every day, for many people visiting Wolf Park is their one chance to see wolves and truly understand them, especially since wolves do not exist in Indiana.
The area does have a large coyote population. Wolf Park tries to talk to people about co-existing with the coyotes and foxes in the state, advocating for non-lethal methods of predator control. Said Judd: “It's possible to co-exist with these critters without resorting to violence.”
At Wolf Park, it's more than possible: It's a place where humans and wolves bond, forming lifelong friendships. It's a place where people can howl at the moon and hear a pack of wolves howl right back, where wolves are excited to see the humans that visit their sanctuary. Wolf Park is not only educational, but a unique experience many people only dream of.
A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia
has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among
others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.