Sunday, December 9, 2012

Who's Preserving Whom?

My wife and I went out exploring on a pleasant Saturday afternoon. Leaving the house with no particular direction, we somehow would up on Milwaukee's south side and drove past a place in the shadow of the Greendale's Crystal Ridge Ski Area: The Timberwolf Preservation Society (map).

Driving past, we said, "What the heck is that?" With only one way to find out -- we turned the car around and pulled into the preserve.

Our first 5 minutes on the the grounds may have been the most interesting. A fellow cloaked in Packers gear immediately told us that no photography was allowed and that we should stay away from the fence as Washo -- the Alpha male -- was agitated.

Inside of a small building we handed a lady $5 each as our guide suited up for the walk around the preserve. 

Exiting the building, Mr. Packer kept waving us to keep moving. Standing about 15 yards from the cage Washo and Loki call home, we quietly discussed the preserve with our guide. Silently, the Packers-garbed fellow kept waving us to move farther away from the fence. Any further away and we would have been back to the parking lot!

Our guide moved as along to another row of fenced cages where we weren't permitted to get any closer than 10 yards. Again, she kept talking about the wolves being agitated. 

We were the only ones visiting the preserve. I failed to see how we were agitating the wolves any more than the busloads of student groups that visit there on occasion. And I asked what was going to happen if the wolves became agitated. Were they going to hop the fence and attack us or what?

Apparently they'll just stress out and pace around a lot. And if one wolf does this, the other wolves will too.

Finally the wolves' keeper approached us. Moments earlier we saw her feeding large chunks of chicken jerky to the wolves. She would also reach through the fence and scratch their backs with vigor. 

She explained that she had been with the five sibling male wolves every single day of their 11 years. Just a few days after they were born she was bottle feeding them, and since then has been the only one allowed to clean the animals' fenced pens and inspect the wolves. She makes certain to wear the same clothes, clean herself with the same soap and use the same shampoo so that her scent is always familiar to the wolves.

One time, the guide explained, that the keeper had returned from a public event to which she wore mascara. Upon entering one of the wolf's pens, the wolf approached her, sniffed her, sniffed her face, and then proceeded to take its front teeth and gently, systematically remove the mascara from her lashes.

No way would I ever let that happen! I'd be outta that pen faster than you can say "Big, bad wolf!"

It was clear to us that this place does care about their wolves, but after leaving, and having a chance to ruminate a bit, we wondered, what are they preserving there? The timberwolves? Or their own little hobby? Call it a "preserve," charge visitors $5 and use patrons' dough to help feed your pets. I mean they've got 5 male wolves, all brothers separated by fences, with no chance of procreating -- I don't see how this is preserving the species. 

Maybe 45 years ago, when the preserve was founded, it made sense. Timberwolves then, were greatly endangered. However today they have been successfully reintroduced and are again roaming Wisconsin and Minnesota's northwoods. In fact, there's enough now that there even is a hunting season for them. 

My thought is that this "preserve" has run its course. If may have helped successfully preserve the species during their leanest times. However, today it serves little purpose as an amusing hobby for its proprietors. And it does seem to be a rather inhumane way of treating this noble, albeit fierce, animal.

Let the 5 wolves currently captive live out their lives and call it a day for The Timberwolf Preservation Society. No need to pen up anymore wolves.

That's my opinion, anyway.

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