Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mission: Wolf A safehaven in Southern Colorado

During the late 1800’s fur trappers dominated the landscape of the west. Seeking their fortunes by killing fur bearing animals like beavers, coyotes, foxes, bears, buffalo and wolves. As the beaver, buffalo, and fox populations in the west fell the hunters turned their guns and traps to wolves. Anti-wolf sentiment grew across the US, as wolves were portrayed as being malicious hunters intentionally stalking and killing farmers and ranchers livestock, while simultaneously killing off the deer and elk populations in the west. Former President and conservationist Theodore Roosevelt was quoted from a book he published in 1902 as saying "The wolf is the arch type of ravin, the beast of waste and desolation. It is still found scattered thinly throughout all the wilder portions of the United States, but has everywhere retreated from the advance of civilization." The US government endorsed the eradication of wolves from the US and by the 1960’s wolves were almost completely extirpated from the lower 48 states, with only about 300 wolves seeking refuge in the heavily wooded areas of northern Michigan and Wisconsin. In 1974 the Grey Wolf was placed on the endangered species list and received federal protection from being hunted and killed and re-population efforts of the wolves was started, which brings us to current day, southern Colorado.

  Nestled comfortably between the Great Sand Dunes and Colorado City, in the Wet Mountains sits one of southern Colorado’s hidden gems, Mission: Wolf. Mission: Wolf is a sanctuary for
Garden, greenhouse, and tipi at Mission:Wolf
wolves and wolf-dogs. Mission: Wolf was founded by Kent Webber in 1984 as a means to save wolves and educate people about them. Kent opened the sanctuary with just a couple of wolves and when he reached 52 he realized that the problem of people owning wolves and wolf hybrids was much larger than expected and that he can not save them all. Before becoming a full-time wolf conservationist Kent was an architect. While being an architect may not seem relevant or related it goes hand in hand with Mission: Wolf. Mission: Wolf is completely self-sustaining; solar panels provide electricity, a well provides water, the staff grows their own food, a truck was converted to run off of vegetable oil, the food for the wolves comes
A staff member greets visitors before a tour.
from road kill and local farmers and ranchers that have donated dead livestock or horses. The staff at Mission: Wolf are all volunteers that give up a minimum of six weeks to work at the refuge. When asked about paying the staff Kent said “We don’t have the resources for that. People work here because they want to make a difference for theses animals. As an all-volunteer force, the staff is more willing to help each other, and there is not much completion between individuals, it is all about the animals." Mission: Wolf has very limited housing for its volunteers, most volunteers sleep in one of the tipi's provided or in their own tents in the small camp area.

Mission: Wolf is free and open to the public 365 days a year from 9am-4pm. There is no fee to visit the wolves but a donation is always welcomed. Camping is allowed at Mission: Wolf, free of
Staff members lead volunteers to feed.
charge but they would like a some help working on a small project from campers in exchange for using the camping area. During a visit to Mission: Wolf guest will be given a tour by one of the volunteers, that shows the wolf enclosures, tells you about the wolves, shows the green houses and gift shop. Wednesday’s and Saturday's are the “big feed” days, on these days large amounts of livestock are chopped up, put in buckets carried to the enclosures and fed to the wolves.  The highlight to a visit at Mission: Wolf is when all the guests sit around Kent and listen to him talk about the wolves, their behavior, and how human behavior is vital to changing the relationship we have with wolves. After sitting with Kent and hearing his instructions the guests are taken inside an enclosure to meet the three ambassador wolves, Magpie, Abraham and Zeab. It is here in this enclosure that people see a wolf, touch a wolf and are greeted by a wolf licking inside their mouths while staring them in the eyes, at that moment a connection is made. The wolves do this day in and day out, it's the humans that make a connection and have experience that can not be replicated in a book, watching a video or found on-line, it is real and it is yours, it can be told and retold but until it is experienced it will not be understood. As Kent said all the wolves want to do is live. After all the exhaustive efforts humans have done to eradicate them the least we can do is dismiss these old notions that all wolves do is hurt ecosystems, and target peoples livestock and pets and embrace them as the beautiful creatures they are and leave them be in the wild.

Magpie greets a guest during a visit.
A staff member (right) explains how the greenhouse works to visitors.
A group of Boy Scouts waits to be separated into groups for a tour.

Raw meat that has been chopped and is waiting to be fed to the wolves.
Staff members wait before grabbing the feeding buckets and heading to feed the wolves.
Visitors toss raw meat to the wolves.
A staff member feeds a wolf inside its enclosure.
A wolf carries off some food.
A staff member (right) and volunteers clean the feeding buckets.
A volunteer places the clean buckets on the drying rack.

Kent talks to visitors before they are allowed to meet the wolves.
Visitors are all smiles as Magpie, Abraham and Zeab greet them.
Magpie receives attention from a guest.
Magpie moves from visitor to visitor as a staff member watches.
Magpie gives a visitor a true wolf greeting.

An almost full moonrise over the camping area at Mission:Wolf.

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