Running With Wolves, Part 2
Socialized wolves regard humans as part of their social order and treat them more or less like another wolf. They don’t fear humans, which make these wolves more dangerous than wild wolves who run away from humans rather than confront them. A wolf social circle is not so different from a human social circle; there are friendly moments and there are arguments. The human among socialized wolves will be subjected to both. Paying attention to the wolves’ behavior and respecting them is the secret to a trusting, friendly relationship.
Wolves greeting each other lick faces and “shake hands” by wrapping their jaws around each other’s muzzles; humans entering the wolf compound at Wolf Park can expect a similar greeting. Intent on making facial contact, the wolf rears up on its hind legs, forepaws reaching for the human. With arms folded across and held away from one’s chest, the forepaws come to rest there rather than on one’s chest. The wolf is close enough to dispense kisses but can’t grab one’s face. Slowly lowering one’s arms gets the wolf back on all fours.
Under strict supervision, two or three wolves are released into the 17-acre bison enclosure. We watched Chinook, Altair and Aurora entering the field and playing it cool sniffing grass and scent markings, seemingly paying no attention to the dozen or so bison which included four calves. The small calves stayed close to their mothers, but when a calf moves away from its mother, Chinook went after it quickly. The mother went after Chinook who retreated just as quickly. Eventually both species drifted off ignoring each other. Healthy bison have little to fear from wolves.
Some highlights during the week-long seminar: Watching Ursa and Chinook frolicking in a huge, fenced in field and spooking a herd of cows grazing in the distance; Chinook leaping in the air when, while sniffing grass, he met an egg-laying snapping turtle, who nipped his nose; sitting in the grass next to an exuberant Ursa who, while rolling on her back, playfully grabbed my elbow. For the few seconds she held on, I felt the power of her teeth through three layers of clothing. The pressure from those teeth remained for several minutes after she let go. It was awesome. Socrates, six weeks old and already asserting rank over his siblings by securing the one plastic seat in the puppy compound.
A wolf with golden eyes full of depth and intelligence watched me intently through a chain-link fence when I arrived at Wolf Park. According to a Native American legend, someone tried to turn all animals into humans, but succeeded only in making the wolf’s eyes human. When I think of Chinook and his incredible eyes, I’m apt to believe that legend.