One of the best-kept secrets in Missouri
Although Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection states that the fittest of all species survive the test of time, today even the strongest of them all cannot always escape screeching tires, gunshots, traps and land clearing.
The Wild Canid Center is working to reverse the trend to extinction for multiple species of canids through captive breeding, research and education. And this captivating mission is going on right under our nose. Open since 1971, the Wild Canid Center is a silent destination. With little funding, this facility seems to fly under the radar, although it is the premier breeding canid facility in the country.
A trip to the Wild Canid Center is an eye-opening, beautiful experience and the perfect place to take the family or any animal lover.
Commonly known as “the wolf sanctuary,” the Wild Canid Center doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the zoo, and you can’t cuddle with the little pups. But this facility touches visitors in a real way, connecting humans with nature and their canine earthmates.
On Oct. 2, visitors have the opportunity to watch the wolves in action from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the facility’s annual open house, “Rendezvous with the Wolves.” The open house is one of three major yearly fund-raisers for the non-profit organization and the only time throughout the year that visitors may tour the facility without prior reservations.
Located near Eureka, Mo., the Wild Canid Center is on 65 acres of land within Washington University’s Tyson Research Center.
Here, the organization works to carry out their mission of repopulating multiple dying species of wolves. Mexican Gray Wolves, Red Wolves, Maned Wolves and African Wild Dogs can be seen from viewing platforms or from the walkways between fenced enclosures. The Center consists of 12 to 15 enclosures that range from one to three acres, each equipped with the landscape and topography native to the wolf.
The Mexican Gray Wolf and the Red Wolf seem to be the center’s current primary focus of attention. These species hinge on the reintroduction of multi-generational packs into the wild, and the Wild Canid Center leads the country in getting this done.
When Assistant Director Kim Scott started working at the Wild Canid Center in 1994, there were only 62 Mexican Gray Wolves in existence. Now there are 250 to 300 due to the efforts of the center’s work along with other similar organizations within the Fish and Wildlife Service.
During a traditional tour, visitors will view the wolves’ behavior while a docent tells them about the species, their origin and interesting behaviors. Visitors can compare these wolves to their descendants, man’s best domesticated friend.
However, unlike the common household pet, these dogs do not receive loving human interaction. Wolves naturally fear humans, and it is necessary for them to have this fear when reintroduced into the wild, according to Scott.
Some of the wolves at the center came from zoos, and therefore must be broken of their human tolerant behavior. Employees and volunteers at the Canid Center work hard to have as little contact with the wolves as possible to promote their future success in the wild.
She said it can be most difficult to avoid a “cutesy” relationship with the wolves, but it is necessary for their well-being.
One of the hardest times, Scott said is when the staff must bottle feed a pup, yet not get emotionally close.
“It’s hard when you’re bottle feeding them to keep from saying, ‘Oh, you’re so cute’ and snuggle up to them,” Scott said. “You have to show restraint.”
But all of this work pays off.
It is fair to say that the Wild Canid Center has single-handedly saved the Mexican Gray Wolf population from extinction, and that is just one step in their efforts to put an end to canid extinction.
“I would love someday to close this place because we wouldn’t need it anymore. They’re such majestic, beautiful creatures,” Scott said.
Before that day comes, the Wild Canid Center would like to purchase their own land and build a more suitable facility to breed and observe the canids. The new enclosures they build will include rounded corners to avoid wolf injuries, visual barriers between the different species to avoid “fence fighting” (verbal scuffles between wolf neighbors) and the facility expects to be open to the public daily.
But this will only happen after the Center raises a few million dollars to facilitate the move. This weekend’s open house is one of few fund-raisers to help the Wild Canid Center meet its goal.
At the open house visitors will not only have the opportunity to view and photograph the wolves, but will also enjoy Native American dancing of the Kahok Dancers and demonstrations by St. Louis Metropolitan Police Canine Division, Gateway Sled Dog Club, Gateway Search Dogs and Missouri Disc Dogs. Children’s activities, games and face painting are also on the agenda for the day’s festivities.
Admission for the open house is $15 per carload.
In addition to the open house, the Wild Canid Center offers two fall evening programs on Fridays and Saturdays from September through December. The Wolf Programs begin with the “Discovery Box” which allows visitors to touch wolf pelts and other unique wolf related items, view a slide show about wolf communication and join the wolves in a howl.
The Camp Fire Program is conducted around a campfire where guests will listen to “good” wolf stories and later take a walk to howl along with the wolves.
Program fees are $10 a person, regardless of age. Children under 5 are asked not to attend. Campfire programs for Halloween may have special pricing.
For more information, a list of activities and directions to the Wild Canid Center visit www.wolfsanctuary.com. Reservations are required for regular tours and may be made by calling 636-938-5900.