Florida sanctuary gives wolves a second chance
Wolves are controversial creatures. Some people revere them, others want to hunt and eliminate them.
At the Seacrest Wolf Preserve near Chipley, Florida, wolves are bred to be "ambassador animals" for the thousands of people who visit each year. Diane Clark is a longtime and loyal volunteer at Seacrest.
She has absolutely no problem howling away with the wolves, she's practically part of the pack.
"She made eye contact and there's just a very spiritual connection," explained Clark.
On her first tour of Seacrest, more than five years ago, Clark met the alpha female of the main pack, Gray Cloud.
"She just laid on her back, totally submitted and gave me this look. Looked up at me and made this goofy smile," Clark remembered.
Clark leads tours with fellow experienced volunteer, Vicki Waterman. Waterman said that Seacrest wolves are introduced to humans when they are just ten days old.
"They're born, bred, raised to be ambassadors, and if we didn't do that, you would never be able to bring people in this close to wolves," she expanded.
Hunter Johnson really has been raised with wolves. His grandmother bottle feeds the wolf pups for months on end.
"She stays up all night with'em. Every two hours she feeds them and has a little basket she sets'em in beside her in the bed," grinned Johnson.
At around six months old, the wolf pups are reintroduced to one of the three Seacrest packs.
"They're unbelievably tight unit, extremely devoted. A wolf pack social unit is very complex," Clark said.
She said the first thing pups are taught by the pack is respect for their elders. Two long-legged and gangly seven-month-old puppies wander up and start horsing around.
Their uncle, a lower status wolf named Liberty, steps in and puts the upstarts in their place. The pack's alpha male checks in from afar, but Liberty has them handled.
Clark emphasized how aging or sick wolves are never cast out of the pack.
"They will be the ones that lead the pack on the hunt because they set the pace of the hunt, so that they never get left behind," Clark said.
Seacrest began as a wolf rescue in 1999. Their pack of white Arctic Wolves came here after a movie they were bred for got canceled.
Seeing them up close, much less getting to touch such animals is a quite rare and sought after experience.
"Two ladies from Switzerland. People from Switzerland. Two weeks ago, we had people from England come over," Johnson said. "People from South Africa come over."
Only 10 states now have wild native wolves, that meager number is up from seven. Their future is uncertain in North America as their endangered species designation has become a political hot button issue among and between ranchers, hunters and environmentalists.
Trials and topics Hunter said they try to tackle one wolf encounter at a time.
"I want people leaving here knowing they're wonderful animals inside and out," Johnson said.