Walking with wolves is something that everyone should try at least once in their lives. It is one of those experiences that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Our experience took place as part of a photography workshop at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust.
The wolves were housed in pairs in separate enclosures. This surprised me as I always thought that wolves were pack animals and so I thought they would all be in one great big enclosure. This turned out to be impractical for several reasons. Firstly, the Trust was home to 2 different species of wolf and to prevent cross breeding hybrids, the breeds were kept apart. Secondly, North American sisters, Mosi and Mai had begun fighting for the crown of alpha female and to protect both of them, the sisters had to be separated.
The first pair of wolves that we were introduced to were Torak and Mosi. Torak is a hybrid wolf – his father, Cheza (of Anglian Wolf society fame) is a European Wolf and his mother, Sefka was a North American Wolf. Sefka was very young when she was introduced to Cheza and Peyto, however, as the guys and girls of the Anglian Wolf Society later discovered, she was still old enough to breed. As you can see, Torak is very much his father’s son.
He has the long legs of a North American Wolf and the triangular wolfish face that is the trait of a European Wolf. Torak is the alpha male of the pack and the largest wolf at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust.
This is Mosi. She is a North American wolf and Torak’s mate. Mosi was not supposed to be the alpha female. That role was supposed to be fulfilled by her sister, Mai. However, Mosi came into season first thereby deposing her sister, backed up by a very excited Torak. She has softer features than her sister and in the Navajo language, Mosi means “cat”. Maybe this is why I felt like I had a special affinity with her.
The next pair we met were Motomo and Mai. After the sisters were separated, it was decided that Mai needed a friend to keep her company. A new wolf was needed. Enter Motomo, another North American from Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park.
Unlike the other wolves at the Trust, Motomo was only hand-reared for the first two weeks of his life. As a result, he will never be socialised enough to participate in the Walking With Wolves program. Nonetheless, I think you will have to agree with me when I say that he is a most photogenic wolf!
This is Mai. Although Mai and Mosi are litter mates, as you can see, Mai’s colouring has started to change and she now has more silver than black.
Duma is the oldest wolf at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust and the perfect ambassador wolf. Calm, tolerant, amenable and adaptable, she loves to go for walks. We were privileged enough to have Duma choose us for our Walking with Wolves session.
Prior to the walk commencing, we all had to stand in a line with one fist held out for her to inspect us. We were warned to keep our cameras and any “dangly bits” either at our sides or behind us and any foodstuff was to be left in the canteen. In short, we were not to give Duma any excuse to become overly interested in us.
Once Duma was satisfied that she was familiar with our scent, we set off for our walk. The biggest mistake anyone can make is to think that taking a wolf for a walk is the same as taking a dog for a walk. Despite the wolves being socialised, they are still wild animals and extremely strong. Duma may be 12 years old but it still took two handlers to hold onto her leash to keep her in check.
As we left the Trust, I took one final look back at these magnificent wolves. The Trust exists to enhance public awareness and knowledge of wild wolves and their place in the ecosystem. To challenge any misconceptions and show the wolf as it really is. Knowledge is key to understanding wolves and meeting one is probably the best way to dispel the myths surrounding them.