Andy Fitzpatrick, Battle Creek Enquirer
The new wolf brothers at Binder Park Zoo were cautiously testing their new home Monday, but one person was positive they were in the right place.
Mackenzie Couch, 12, watched the wolves roam the enclosure at the zoo but she had already met them about a week ago.
“It feels very amazing,” Couch said. “I cried a little bit when I first saw them.”
The Kalamazoo girl had raised $1,710 as of Monday to help pay for the cost of bringing wolves back to the zoo, having sacrificed her Christmas presents to get as much money to the cause as possible. Donations can still be made at www.gofundme.com/mackenzieswolves.
The zoo’s last wolf, Phoenix, died in September and was the last of a group that was born there in 2002. The four females in that group went on to other facilities while the males lived out their lives in Battle Creek.
The new arrivals, who are 2 years old, came to Battle Creek from a wolf breeding program in California. The wolves have no names yet, but the public can suggest names during the first day of this year’s ZooLights event, which is 5 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 16. There also will be zookeeper presentations about the wolves.
The wolves are new additions to Binder Park Zoo and have the possibility of being released back into the wild. (Photo: Stephanie Parshall/For The Enquirer)
While Couch stood on the walkway that overlooks the habitat, one wolf was doing laps around the perimeter. He rarely took his eyes off the humans watching him. His brother was playing it safe and staying inside the attached structure, but occasionally would get brave and poke his snout through the opening.
Lead Zookeeper Kathryn Sippel said the wolves ideally will get more relaxed over time. They’re not used to humans since they came from a 2-acre habitat where they rarely saw people at all. Zoo spokeswoman Kari Parker said the new wolves will have limited contact with humans in case they’re able to be released into the wild some day.
“Wolves will either spend most of their day either foraging for food or sleeping, so ideally we’d like them to relax and lay down,” Sippel said. “But they’re still just a little bit nervous. These guys are curious but they’re still reserved.”
Sippel said wolves are a staple of Binder Park Zoo.
“So it’s very nice to have them back again,” Sippel said. “Those few months we didn’t, we missed them. It’s nice to hear them howling again.”
It’s about more than having some interesting animals to look at, though. There are fewer than 100 Mexican gray wolves left in the wild, Sippel said, and about 300 in captivity. The zoo participates in the Mexican Gray Wolf Species Survival Plan. In 1998 a Battle Creek wolf was released into the wild and became the first known Mexican gray wolf to give birth in the wild in over 50 years.
A February report from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service said there was an abrupt decline in Mexican gray wolves in 2015 after the population saw growth in the preceding four years.
“Who knows if they’ll still be left in the wild as time goes on,” Sippel said. “It just gives you a chance to learn about these animals and what you can do to help conserve and fight for these animals not to be hunted, and how we can get them back into the wild.”