By Kate Powers and Cassidy Cichowicz
“You see here, Alex is the alpha male.” We peer into a large cage to see a young man in jeans and a letterman’s jacket wrestling with a full-sized timber wolf. Alex grasps onto the wolf’s canine teeth and moves the animal back and forth. It is not an aggressive wrestle, but rather the two are playing, much like how one would with a domestic dog.
We couldn’t take our eyes off the wolves as Steve Hall, owner of the Adirondack Wildlife and Rehabilitation Center, talked about the origins of wolves and dogs in human society. The wolves moved with intention and grace, each movement fluid with the next. Alex remained in the cage with them, playing chase and roughhousing.
Last Wednesday we visited the Adirondack Wildlife and Rehabilitation Center in Wilmington, New York, outside of Lake Placid. It is a rehabilitation and education center focused on animals in the North Country region. The visit was a field trip associated with Dr. Sue Wilson’s class, “Natural History and Ecology of the Adirondacks.”
We were fortunate enough to go on a “wolf walk” with Steve, Alex, Cree (a hybrid part dog-part wolf), and Zeebie (a purebred timber wolf). We followed close behind our tour guides as they led us around the property. The wolves were put on leashes and we marveled at the majestic cadence of Cree and Zeebie’s trot. Cree, the older of the wolves is six years old. Zeebie takes on the beta role in their relationship, a much younger wolf at three years old. Both wolves were bred in captivity and will remain so as educational animals.
Steve led us on a walking tour where he told us about the behaviors, characteristics, habitat and history of wolves in the Adirondacks. Knowledgeable and with a lot to say, he rarely took a breath as we followed the wolves along the river and through dense thickets of trees. In the middle of the tour Cree stopped to sniff the air. He leaned his head back and shut his eyes, letting out an eerie and beautiful howl. The haunting sound was strong but hollow, an ear ringing tenor note carried with the wind. Wolf call is how wolves in a pack communicate, but it also acts as a way for people to connect to the wolf. I understood Cree more after hearing him howl. I sensed emotion that goes beyond the predator stereotype cast on wolves. Steve told us about the misconceptions surrounding wolves. Many people fear these animals and as a result many wolves get killed because they are perceived to pose a threat to human safety or livestock. This fear has always overshadowed the ability to understand wolves and is further amplified by action movies portraying wolves as ruthless, violent, and scary creatures that prey on the lone camper or lost hiker. In reality, wolves are more scared of humans than humans are of them.
After the wolf walk we went on to visit other animals at the refuge, the highlights being a raven who could squawk the word “yogurt,” and a porcupine who would climb up its cage to greet you at eye level. It was hard to resist petting its fluffy belly. Visiting the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge gave us the opportunity to learn more about the natural world and wildlife of the Adirondacks.
Appropriately, the next night at dinner we had some furry guests of our own, specifically Sam dressed in a gorilla suit. It was Halloween. Kelsey was a “turkey clown,” wearing bright, polka-dotted spandex and a stuffed turkey on her head. Evelyn was a Smurf, dressed in a royal blue jumpsuit. Hannah was both Van Gogh and a sequined devil, changing costumes halfway through the night. Harry Potter, or as we like to call him, Kenny-O, even made an appearance at our festive feast. Two pans of fried chicken, three cakes, and three half-gallons of ice cream later no one could move, let alone cause any Halloween mischief that night. We joked and laughed instead of telling creepy ghost stories. From visiting furry creatures to being furry creatures, this week has been filled with valuable educational experience as well as typical Arcadian mischief.