Onlookers in a crowd of more than 100 tried out their best wolf howls at the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center last week.
The crowd was trying to make four three-week-old wolf pups share their tiny howls. Cynthia Watkins, of Seacrest Wolf Preserve in Chipley, brought these newborn puppies, along with skunks and groundhogs, to “empower” those gathered with knowledge and dispel common misunderstandings about the very important creatures.
Watkins said wolves’ maligned reputation stems from 16th century Europe. These animals were seen as dangerous creatures that were a bane on human existence because they’d eat precious livestock. Watkins said they became so despised, King Edward allowed people to pay taxes with wolf heads.
This irrational fear of wolves was cemented with the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood,” and the rest is history. Clearly it is difficult to shake the picture of a sneaky, menacing carnivore that would victimize a sweet old grandma.
“These myths and fears and misunderstanding for this amazing species still plagues them,” said Watkins.
She said wolves live in groups not too much different from human families.
Wolves are family centered, living in the wild and in captivity in closely knit packs. The alpha male and alpha females mate for life, and love their babies, the births of which are commemorated with a very special howl.
Like human parents, mommy and daddy wolves teach their babies the virtues of being good wolves, the first lesson being one in respect for authority.
Alicia Goddin of Freeport brought her own pack of eight to the presentation. The children, ages 8 to 11, said seeing and holding the wolves was “GOOD!” and they enjoyed interacting with the groundhog as well.
Jayce Goddin, 8, said it wasn’t his first time holding a wolf.
“I touched a big one at the zoo,” he said. But Jayce couldn’t get enough because the wolf is his favorite animal.
“We’ve lived here all of our lives,” said Alicia, “but we haven’t gone to Seacrest.”
But though she and her pack haven’t made their way to Chipley just yet, from the positive response the children gave her with the wolves, they will soon.
Seacrest is the largest wolf preserve in the southeastern United States, covering 430 acres. Visitors experience the most interactive experience possible with the wolves. On tours, adults and children don’t just view them through glass or chain link; they get to get into the enclosures with the wolves.
Because they have been widely eradicated in North and South America, very few wolves still live in the wild. As a keystone species, however, the wolves fill an irreplaceable role in the ecosystem and other species depend on the gray wolves to maintain a balance. These carnivores are responsible for keeping populations of elk, bison, and deer at bay and thinning out the populations of sick, old and young animals to maintain that balance.
“All the animals have a job to do for planet earth. They’re all important,” said Watkins, and Seacrest is vital in the partnership to ensure wolves are existing to fill that role.
“Educational opportunities like this empower us,” added Watkins, before asking the crowd of kids “Who wants to be a wildlife warrior for planet earth?”