My Time Among Wolves
I stepped out of the taxi at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust and caught a glimpse of my first wolf. Ever since I was a tiny tot I’ve wanted to see wolves. My Nanna used to video all the wolf programmes on the National Geographic channel when Sky first came out, and I would spend weekends glued to the screen. I’d get completely absorbed in the lives of these wolves and fiercely envy the filmmakers and people who got close to them in the programmes. My first wolf was Torak, an extremely handsome Canadian/European wolf.
I broke into a smile so wide it actually hurt. I was unable to talk for a while when I bumbled into the reception and was asked for my papers. It took me a while to compose myself and ages to stop trembling and get the right things on the desk for the nice lady to inspect. There was a large viewing window, dirty with paw marks, and while burning my tongue on a cup of tea, I watched powerfully built Torak and his beautiful Canadian mate Mosi (whose name means cat in Navajo) lope past.
I am entranced by the way wolves walk. The authority and confidence that they exude is spellbinding. I would have cut out my heart for Torak. Once the small ‘Wolf Keeper for a day’ group had assembled, we wandered down to the food preparation hut, but not before catching sight of the only Arctic Wolves in the UK.
They have been given names from the Labradoran Inuit Language. Sikko (f) – meaning ice. Pukak (m) – meaning fine snow and Massak (m) – meaning soft snow. They had been born on the 8th of March in Canada during the worst snowstorm of the winter. They arrived at in England during the summer and have to remain in quarantine until December. I was hugely disappointed. They were three of the most beautiful animals I had ever seen and I just wanted to touch them, to make sure they were really there. Honestly, that is how surreal it felt being so close to these mysterious creatures, used to living out their lives in the high Arctic. I was surprised at how massive they were at six months, but it makes sense when you think about how fast they must grow in the Arctic to have a chance of survival.
When I managed to tear myself, I found myself preparing a fish/meat ball mixed with medication for one of the older wolves, Lunca, a striking European wolf. I was told to put my palm flat against the wire fence but with my fingers bent back slightly so she wouldn’t nip them. She managed to take it from me so gently. It was another one of those painful grinning moments.
The Arctic wolf cubs aren’t the only cubs at the trust. Mai and Motomo, two Canadian wolves had had three cubs; Nuka (m), Tala (f) and Tundra (f).
We went on a walk with them around a paddock, keeping our distance at first until they became used to us. They were wonderful to watch and they led the handlers, not the other way around. They were massively energetic and playful, except for Tundra who hung back a little bit and was more cautious around new people. Nuka and Tala licked our fists and affectionately nuzzled into a few of the group members. Halfway through the walk, Tsa Palmer, the director of the trust made an appearance and the cubs went crazy for her.
We all helped in clearing out the pup’s enclosure, which was littered with pieces of pumpkin and, yeah, poo. At Halloween, pumpkins had been filled with meat, fish and cheese and had been left in the enclosure for the wolves to get at.
Next wolf stop was to see Mai and Motomo. They’re both Canadian wolves and are the parents of Tundra, Tala and Nuka. The cubs needed to be separated from their parents before their eyes opened, because otherwise it wouldn’t be entirely possible to socialise them. They both stunned me into silence.
After lunch (which was spent watching wolf DVDS) two of the female adult wolves Lunca and Duma were taken out of their enclosures and attached the chains. According to health and safety, it has to be two handlers to each wolf, in case one were to fall over. There was a brief meet and greet, where Lunca and Duma were introduced to us all.
A lot of licking and sniffing. Once again, the wolves led the handlers and we followed. We hiked around fields and wooded areas with the wolves, with two lookouts in front watching out for dogs. It was on the walk that I was able to properly stroke my first wolf. Lunca was so calm, and stretched her leg back when I rubbed her tummy.
I could have stayed like that forever, with my hands on a wolf. But others wanted to touch too. We came across two baby goats in an enclosure and the wolves were amazingly calm and composed, walking off without even making an attempt to get at them.
Back at the trust site, it was time to get dinner ready. One of the handlers hacked up a road kill deer that had been bought in, and the group divided bits of beef and chicken into buckets.
Most of the wolves were fed a kilo, but the big males, Torak and Motomo were given a bit more. I threw some food over the fence for Tundra and then fed Mosi through the fence. I had to hold the meat in a fist and shove it through the fence until she gripped it when I immediately had to let go. It was a amazing and intense few minutes. We walked back past the Arctic wolf cubs to see them still working on their pieces of deer. Their jaws haven’t reached their full strength yet, so it’ll take them a while longer than the adults, who bolt theirs down, an instinct from the wild where they eat as much meat as they can quickly and then have nothing to eat for about five days or so before they hunt again.
After dinner, the day was over. The hours had rolled over so quickly. I wanted to hide in the woods and stay there overnight, but I didn’t act fast enough. On the way home, I must have looked over my pictures twenty times or so, just to quietly prove to myself that I had really been among wolves.