HOWL Colorado

21 Years of Ambassador Wolves Teaching the World about Wolves

The International Wolf Center has been educating the public about wolves for 25 years! Part of this education is the Ambassador wolf program, which has now been in place for 21 years.

The International Wolf Center was founded in 1985, on the belief that coexistence with wolves is possible when people are presented with the facts about wolves. The Center’s mission is to support the survival of wolves around the world by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands, and the human role in their future. The Center’s captive ambassador wolves located in Ely, Minnesota, since 1989 have played a prominent role in accomplishing this mission.

The history of the Center’s ambassador wolves starts with a litter of four pups born at the Oxbow Nature Center in Rochester, Minnesota. These pups came to the Center in spring 1989 and served as educational ambassadors for the 1989, 1990 and 1991 summer exhibits. The litter included two males, Jedadiah and Ballazar, and two females, Raissa and Bausha. At this time, the Center’s exhibit was only seasonal, which meant wolves were only on display from May through September. During fall and winter, the wolves spent their time in a large wooded enclosure at the home of the curator, where educational lectures about the wolves continued for Center adventure programs.

Ballazar later became a member of the captive pack in Stanley, Idaho, named the Sawtooth pack, filmed for Jim Dutcher’s ABC production The Wolf: Return of a Legend.
In 1993, the Center completed construction of a new year-round facility, and a 1.25-acre wolf enclosure. With the new enclosure, a new Exhibit Pack was formed. The members of this pack were born on April 28, 1993, at Bear Country USA, a drive-through wildlife park in Rapid City, South Dakota. The new pack included females MacKenzie, an all black wolf, Kiana and Lakota, both grayish brown, and the lone male, Lucas, also grayish brown. Their behavioral dynamics taught many visitors about the complexity of wolf behavior and the aging process as they developed from pups to adults, to eventually become the first retired wolves at our facility in 2002.

To add new life to the Exhibit Pack, the Center developed a management strategy to raise wolf pups at another facility and then integrate them into the adult pack. The first litter integrated into the pack included Shadow and Malik, arctic wolf pups born May 8, 2000, in a captive facility in southern Minnesota. The introduction of Shadow and Malik to the existing pack was very successful, and the management strategy was modified to accommodate wolf pups on a four-year rotation.

In 2004, the Center made arrangements with the Minnesota Wildlife Connection in Sandstone, Minnesota, for a litter of pups. On May 5, 2004, Grizzer and Maya were born, and on May 12, 2004, an additional pup named Nyssa was born. All three were integrated into the Exhibit Pack with Shadow and Malik.

As the 2004 litter reached maturity around the age of two, the Exhibit Pack continued to flourish and the Center prepared to integrate the next set of pups. The Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake Minnesota was participating in a reproductive study and agreed to provide two pups representing wolves from the Northwest. On April 28, 2008, Aidan and Denali were born, and joined the ambassador wolves at the Center, creating an unprecedented pack, with three regions and three age structures represented.

The focus of the Center’s captive wolf program is to increase public understanding of wolves in the wild. Our ambassador wolves provide a glimpse into the complex world
of wolves and wolf behavior. In turn, this helps visitors to the Center better appreciate and understand this controversial predator.

To follow the progress of the pack, log onto www.wolf. org, for weekly wolf logs, a monthly podcast and YouTube videos. A DVD Highlights of the Ambassador Wolves, which portrays the behavioral dynamics observed over the last 21 years, is also available from the Wolf Den Store.

By Lori Schmidt, wolf curator – International Wolf Center – www.wolf.org

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