Sunday, 19 October 2008

A Day with Wolves

We set of on Friday Afternoon to make the 200 mile journey down south to the Wolf Conservation Trust. There was me, my partner Jon and Stewart who trains at my dog club with me. The day was organised by Kirsty Peake, who is a tutor for The Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE). The day was arranged as part of the COAPE Wolf Behaviour Course. I was invited to attend as I am a member of COAPE.
We arrived at the Travelodge around 6.30pm and checked in. We decided to grab some tea at the services. Expensive!!!
Then we set off to find some alcohol. Luckily we found a shop and had to get screw cap wine as no one remembered a bottle opener.
The next morning we got up and set off towards the trust, hoping to find somewhere for breakfast on the way. Max’s cafĂ©. This is a proper truck stop, you can't see out of the windows because of the grease. I had deep fried sausages on a muffin ugh. I decided to give the brown sauce a miss, as it swished around in the bottle when I picked it up!! I was already feeling a bit queasy about meeting wolves, this breakfast certainty wasn’t helping settle my stomach.
We found the trust and immediately saw the wolves in their compound as we pulled up. I thought they would have been bigger that they were.
They began to howl, this is a really eerie sound when you hearing it for real and after watching dog soldiers 2 nights before.

The day started with an introduction and about the trust, the work they do to keep wolves in the wild in Europe and the wolves they have there by Toni Shelbourne of the wolf trust. We then got the opportunity to see the wolves in their compounds. The wolves are hand reared and socialised and behave quite dog like around the trust handlers. Stewart took millions of photos!
We went back and Kirsty did a presentation on the history of Yellowstone and the re-introduction of wolves into the park. Kirsty then shared some of the experiences of wolf watching in Yellowstone and wolf behaviour. This has to be the best lecture I have ever attended, Kirsty is a great speaker.

I was fascinated to learn how wolves actually kill their predatory competition such as other packs and coyotes. I thought they just hunted for food. Kirsty explained some of the hunting behaviour and how they adapt strategies for different prey. She also told us a story of how a pack of wolves set them up at the dens of another pack where there were 3 females with cubs in the dens. The females could not leave the den to feed and hunt as they needed to protect their young. Eventually the wolves left and the females emerged without cubs. The wolf expert with Kirsty believed the females had to eat their puppies to survive. This was the biggest and strongest pack until this year because they didn’t produce surviving young. The competing pack became the strongest pack.
I spoke to Toni about the pack structure of the wolves and it was interesting that the natural alphas were aloof and non aggressive. There was very little conflict or disputes and a pack lead by a natural leader was harmonious. One of the other packs had a female who was not a natural leader but was always seeking status of alpha. This pack had problems Toni said because she is a poor leader. It’s interesting that people believe they should be pinning and growling at their dogs to show them they are alpha because that’s what wolves do. Yet this is the behaviour of a poor leader. The true leader is calm confident, fair and non aggressive.
The one thing I learnt was dogs and wolves have many similarities but they are also very different. I do not have a wolf in my living room and I wouldn’t want one, not even a hand reared socialised one.
In the afternoon they brought out 2 females from the Mackenzie pack. Each wolf had two handlers. We had to line up and allow the wolves to walk down the line to inspect us. The first one walked right passed, they took interest in some people and ignored others. The second wolf stopped sniffed me and rubbed up against me, strangely like a cat does not a dog. Being so close is amazing, i was excited but a bit scared too. These animals have double the jaw strength of a pit bull.
We then walked with the wolves and were allowed to meet and stroke the wolves one at time. It was the wolves walk and we walked behind them and they were really allowed to do their thing, it was only when they stopped and relaxed we could approach. The wolves ignored some people and got really friendly with others. You were only allowed to touch the wolf on its belly. Not on the head or back as people do with dogs. The coat is surprisingly coarse like a wiry terrier coat. One of the females was definitely more sociable than the other and it was interesting to see a group of behaviourists edging towards meeting the more sociable relaxed one.
We finished around 4pm and set of back to Manchester. I was a great experience and would recommend it to anyone.

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