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Massachusetts wolf refuge gets up close and personal

Massachusetts wolf refuge gets up close and personal

Massachusetts wolf refuge gets up close and personal

By Annie Shooman
The Associated Press

What: Wolf Hollow.
Where: Three miles from downtown Ipswich, Mass., on Mass. 133 east.
When: Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting. Presentations at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.
Admission: $4.50, $3 children, $4 seniors.
Information: (978) 356-0216;

IPSWICH, Mass. — The wolves aimed their snouts to the sky, bared their canines and let out a territorial howl — even though there was no sign yet of a threat or an intruder.
Seconds later, two school buses pulled into the parking lot of Wolf Hollow in Ipswich, packed with 90 eighth-graders.

‘‘They knew the buses were coming before we did, and they perceived it as a threat,’’ said Joni Soffron, executive director of the nonprofit organization. ‘‘A wolf pack is a family and howling is an important communication.’’

Wolf Hollow, established in 1990 to teach people about the wolf in the wild, is a state and federally licensed education facility on one and a half acres of trees and grass 25 miles north of Boston.

It offers an unusual opportunity to view the gray wolf in something close to a natural setting — complete with the dead animals the wolves enjoy munching on. The gray wolf is an endangered species, protected by federal law.

There are nine British Columbian Timberwolves in the pack at Wolf Hollow. Tee Bee is the leader and mother to all except one, named Lyco.

Visitors are separated from the wolves by a chain-link fence. But the center also offers adult guests closer contact with the wolves through special, one-day seminars on wolf behavior.

On a recent day, Tee Bee and Geniek, another gray wolf, stretch in the morning sun as two crows and a seagull loom nearby, picking at the carcass of a deer. Ms. Soffron has an agreement with surrounding communities to bring any road kill to Wolf Hollow to help supply the wolves with their natural food.

‘Propaganda’ dispelled

The two buses of students from O’Maley Middle School in Gloucester sit on bleachers and point in awe at the lounging wolves. They recently finished an assignment to read Call of the Wild.

School groups and others are welcomed at Wolf Hollow during the week by appointment. Wolf Hollow has regular visitor hours on Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting.
An hour-long presentation for the students begins with a basic question, followed by a predictable answer. Is anyone afraid of wolves? Ms. Soffron asks. All answer ‘‘yes.’’
Part of Ms. Soffron’s mission, she says, is to dispel myths and ‘‘propaganda’’ used against wolves.

‘‘Wolves do not attack people. That’s only in fables and stories,’’ she said. ‘‘Wolves are not looking for little girls in red capes.’’

To protect the livestock industry and create a lucrative hunting industry, killing wolves became a cheap solution for the government, she said. She believes the wolves were made out to be more dangerous than they are to justify their demise.

Respected ranking

At Wolf Hollow, and in their natural habitat, wolves organize themselves by rank.

To demonstrate this, Ms. Soffron stands behind the chain linked fence and yells ‘‘cheese!’’ The wolves run toward her as she throws a handful of cheese blocks into the air.

‘‘Tail position is very important. The higher the rank, the higher they hold their tail,’’ she explains to the children. ‘‘When they come to the fence to get treats, the highest ranked gets the first treats.’’

But Ms. Soffron tells the students that the highest ranking wolf in the pack, Tee Bee, will not run for the treat.

‘‘She demands I show her proper respect. I have to hand feed her the cheese.’’ Tee Bee gently bites the treat out of Ms. Soffron’s hand.