Andy Fitzpatrick , Battle Creek Enquirer
Where a pack of wolves once roamed near Battle Creek, there’s been some quiet for a while. It’s about to hear howls again.
Staff members at Binder Park Zoo are planning on bringing two male Mexican gray wolves to the wolf enclosure, which has been empty since 14-year-old wolf Phoenix died in September. He was the last member of a group of four males that were born there in 2002.
Zoo spokeswoman Kari Parker said there are a lot of costs associated with transporting wolves across state lines to Binder Park. Luckily, the wolves have 12-year-old Mackenzie Couch of Kalamazoo backing them.
Instead of Christmas presents, Couch decided this year to raise money for the zoo’s efforts to get new wolves. A fundraising website, www.gofundme.com/mackenzieswolves, has been set up. By Thursday afternoon, Couch had raised $680.
The cost to bring the two new wolves, who are brothers, to Binder Park is about $10,000. They could arrive by the end of the month and are coming from California.
Couch met Phoenix when she moved to Michigan from Arizona last year and visited the zoo.
“For the very first time, I saw Phoenix and I really loved him,” Couch said. “Wolves are one of my favorite animals, and also they’re very endangered in the wild.”
When Phoenix died, Couch said she cried, but she also got to work.
“I decided that we should have a fundraiser to help bring back the wolves to Binder Park Zoo,” Couch said. “Because the wolves are endangered, they can get more wolves and increase the population.”
Parker said that’s the purpose behind zoos: conservation and helping re-establish declining wildlife populations. She pointed to the bald eagle as an example of an animal that has rebounded thanks to the efforts of zoos.
“It’s just really exciting that young people are jumping on board and want to help, and it’s really about raising this generation to be the next generation of wildlife ambassadors,” Parker said.
In fact, Parker said, a wolf born at Binder Park Zoo was released into the wild in 1998, in Couch’s home state of Arizona. There, the wolf became one of the first to give birth in the wild in a long time.
Couch’s mom, Mindy Kloka, said Couch has been charitable since she was very young, having given to the World Wildlife Federation, Locks of Love and an Angel Tree program. That’s because Couch received charity from others.
“She was in the hospital with a burn when she was very young, and she was in the hospital for about 11 days,” Kloka said. “There was a lot of donations that were given to that hospital. She got quilts and toys, and people came in just to see her that we had no idea who they were. So we just started doing anything that we possibly could.”
The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has established a Mexican Wolf Recovery Area in parts of Arizona and New Mexico, and the agency is tracking populations those areas. The department said there were at least 97 wolves in the area at the end of 2015, a 12 percent decrease from 2014 levels.