Just south of Olympia, WA, Wolf Haven International has provided refuge for captive bred and rescued wolf breeds since 1982 in Tenino.
For years, this amazing organization has vigorously championed every aspect of wolf conservation- from advocacy efforts, to the captive breeding program for endangered wolf species, and even a dedicated enrichment program, which gives each wolf in their care a full and peaceful life.
More than 14,000 visitors tour Wolf Haven each year, which sits on 82 acres of rare mounded prairie, wetlands and woodlands.
Last week, Caffe Vita’s marketing team went down to meet with the organization’s Executive Director to discuss partnership opportunities and check out the world-renowned sanctuaries, home to more than fifty wolves in expansive enclosures.
In addition to the most common, Gray wolves, Wolf Haven also houses red wolves, Mexican gray wolves, coyotes and occasionally, wolfdogs. Except for the coyotes, these animals are all captive born and come from various circumstances – many were rescued from being pets. A shocking but real problem throughout the world, born out of a complete misunderstanding of wild animals.
Driving up to Wolf Haven’s property, we had some questions– would we really get to see these wolves up close in their habitats? How many packs are here in the Northwest and how many different species do they have?
Upon speaking with Diane, the organization’s Executive Director for a few hours, we quickly discovered the true mission of Wolf Haven is to protect and conserve wolves and their natural habitats. As of December 31, 2013 there were a minimum of 13 packs and 52 wolves state of Washington, a startlingly low figure for our large state, ripe with sprawling forests throughout.
Wolves are not only endangered around the globe, but here in Washington, various laws allow ranchers to have these beautiful animals killed if their livestock is harmed by a pack. In fact, the breeding female of the Huckleberry Pack in Eastern Washington was recently killed aerially by a sharpshooter contracted by the state’s department of Fish and Wildlife because 22 sheep were killed by Huckleberry. A detrimental blow to the health of any pack, the consequences could be significant on the longevity of this family of wolves.
Wolves are dangerous. They are aggressive. They pose a serious threat to humans. These types of misconceptions shape policy throughout the world and even in the Northwest, meant to harm and devastate a species that is a vital part of each ecosystem they inhabit.
We saw firsthand the calm and peaceful nature of these animals. Not only are they inherently timid creatures, wolves are completely dedicated to their pack – a protective and loving family unit. In most cases, the breeding male and female of each family group are committed companions, travelling and hunting together for the entirety of their lives while leading the rest of the family.
Walking around the sanctuary, we met the wolves paired in male and female companionships, living in large enclosures complete with trees, grass, logs and dirt. What was most striking about the wolves were their intense and stunning almond shaped eyes. Watching us either up close from the other side of the fence, or from afar – depending on how comfortable each wolf is with human visitors, we saw the wolves move freely, play with each and rest under the trees.
Near the end of our sanctuary tour, Diane suggested that as a special treat we could initiate a howl. What does this mean? Good question. If all of the conditions are right – the weather isn’t too hot, it’s not time for the wolves to take their daily snooze and if they are not eating – you stand in the middle of the sanctuary and start howling. What happened next, was one of the best experiences of our lives.
Caedus, a seven year-old wolfdog who has been living at the sanctuary since 2009, began howling right along with us. Then, we could hear each wolf howling from every corner of the enclosure, and for several minutes, we just listened to more than 30 animals participate.
It turns out that wolves often howl together, although sometimes you will hear one wolf singing alone when they have lost their companion. This can go on for weeks and we were told by the Animal Care specialists at Wolf Haven that these lonely cries are painful to hear and a reminder of the sentient nature of these often misunderstood creatures.
After the howl, we watched one of the animal curators throw zucchinisicles – frozen chunks of zucchini and garlic- into the enclosures for a late morning snack. At first, the wolves were hesitant and probably hoping for something with some meat, like the oyster and sardinesicles or salmon they occasionally receive from generous donors like Pike Place Fish (link). Once they realized this was their main treat for the day, the wolves picked them up and ran off to the back of their enclosures to enjoy them in private.
The Animal Care specialists, led by Wendy Spencer who lives on the property, provide enrichment like food, scent objects and puzzle feeders to keep the wolves busy in their enclosures just like the zucchinisicles. From hard-boiled eggs to fresh herbs and sheep pelts, these tactics stimulate the wolves minds and bodies, while also encouraging their natural behaviors so they are not lost in a captive environment.
In addition to the work that Wolf Haven does for animals on their grounds, the organization has gained a reputation throughout the world for their presentations, tours, eco-scavenger hunts and more. They even give Skype lessons to people in countries like Mexico as a regular part of their education department, and send their Animal Care providers to schools and companies
Once we finished our tour of the sanctuary, Diane led us on a walk around the prairie, home to hundreds of species of birds, butterflies, flowers, bats, moles and the Mazama Pocket Gopher, protected under the federal and state endangered species act. More than 97% of this highly threatened prairie habitat has already been lost in western Washington, which is why Wolf Haven works with several partners to reclaim these native ecosystems through various conservation efforts.
One of the most unique parts of the prairie is the Grandfather tree, a 300 year-old Douglas Fir with huge, swirling branches. Known as a Wolf Tree as it stands alone (a common misconception as wolves are very social), the Grandfather is a must-see when visiting Wolf Haven. Standing under its massive boughs, it was easy to see why this tree has become a favorite spot for storytelling.
As we walked back to their offices, we went through the wolf cemetery, which sits at the entrance to the Mima Mounds prairie, naturally created mounds whose origins are a source of disagreement among scientists. The care taken to make these graves represents the commitment that Wolf Haven has to their animals, from birth or rescue to death.
Once our tour was over, Gretchen, Shawn and I’s childhood dreams came true. We adopted a wolf on behalf of Caffe Vita. Yuma, Ukiah and Noelle are three wolves that do not live in enclosures visible on the public tour for many different reasons; some are uncomfortable around people and only have contact with the animal care providers. This means they aren’t adopted nearly as often as the others.
Wolf Haven’s adoption program provides vital funds for the animals. Supported entirely by dedicated volunteers, donations and grants, Wolf Haven must raise over one million dollars every year to continue the high quality care for their residents and their work in education and conservation.
One of the ways they do this is by hosting events throughout the year, like Wolves and Wine. You can also become a member to receive regular updates about wolves in the sanctuary and alerts about issues related to wolves in the wild.
Caffe Vita and sister restaurants Via Tribunali and Bourbon & Bones packages will be available for auction at Wolves and Wine on September 27 at St. Martin’s University. Tickets are still available and we encourage you to check it out.
As we continue to develop our growing partnership with Wolf Haven, stay tuned for future events and ways to get involved in this amazing nonprofit.
Photo Credit: Annie Musselman