Are You Aware?
Cleveland MetroParks Zoo
Wolf Awareness Week An Education In Caring
They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul, that they reflect the true inner being. What do you see when you look into these eyes?
When the conversation turns to wolves, what do you picture in your mind?
Is it the Wolf of European superstitions?
The savage killing machine the ranchers insist it is?
The playful animal that “looks just like a dog”?
The “trophy grabbers” the hunters compete with?
Well, all those pictures are overstated and they’re over simplified. The wolf … is simply a wolf.
First and always, the wolf is a predator. That means that it kills and eats other animals to survive. However, it is also a social mammal, and as such maintains a complex set of relationships within the pack — traits that are also necessary for survival. So you might say that sometimes, it’s a “bad” wolf and sometimes it’s a “good” wolf. But these are merely terms that man has applied to an animal that is simply trying to be what nature intended it to be.
The history of the wolf is a long and controversial one that started in the mid 1600’s and still rages on today. When the Europeans came to America, they brought with them their superstitions and their fears. The settlers cleared land for their crops and the ranchers needed land to graze their livestock. The hunters wanted their trophies. With so many people competing against the wolf, it wasn’t long before the wolf became the scapegoat for all of man’s problems. What followed that line of thinking was an all out war against this predator. (now, if you were afraid I might be about to lecture you ……relax. I won’t go into all that here it’s not the main purpose of this presentation and there are plenty of books that cover it in great detail if you’re really interested. They’ll give you a better insight on wolves and a clearer picture of the horror that we wrought on them).
Except for Alaska and Canada, man in his unreasoning fear and hatred pretty much wiped out the remaining wolves of the lower 48 states. Then in the 1970’s, public opinion began to turn around as we entered an “enlightened” age an environmentally concerned age. Suddenly the wolf went from villain to saint. And while we still didn’t have it quite right, it was a start.
It was during this time that public opinion began reversing itself and various groups began springing into existence, educating the public about animals, habitat, the environment and so on. Specifically, in 1987, a dedicated group of individuals based in Wisconsin formed the Timber Wolf Alliance in line with the goals of the Wisconsin Wolf Recovery Plan. From there, TWA became a program of the Sigurd Olsen Environmental Institute at Northland College located in Northern Wisconsin. TWA’s efforts covered both states of Wisconsin and Michigan. Their mission has been to promote and assist in achieving a sustainable population of gray wolves in the Upper Great Lakes Region through public education, by using sound, scientifically based information.
In 1990, the Governor of Wisconsin signed a declaration proclaiming one week each October to be observed as Wolf Awareness Week. By 1992, the states of Minnesota and Michigan were included; and for the first time, the entire wolf population of the Upper Midwest was recognized. TWA then urged the Governors of those states to also declare a Wolf Awareness Week. In 1996 Defenders took an interest in TWA’s efforts and urged Governors throughout the nation to recognized the third week in October as Wolf Awareness Week.
With the assistance of federal and state agencies in 1990, TWA created an annual wolf poster, distributing the few thousand printed copies to schools and libraries free of charge. It was an instant success. TWA has continued to create a new poster each year through the support of over 15 sponsors, distributing copies around the Upper Great Lakes Region.
Then in 1998, TWA created the first-ever National Wolf Awareness Week poster. Over 25 sponsors including federal, state, and various non-profit organizations supported the poster, distributing it throughout communities nationwide. In 2000, TWA expanded their reach to include a children’s activity companion guide to go along with the poster, which will again be offered in 2001.
As public awareness grew, states and zoos around the country began to get involved. In 1999, 21 states participated by declaring National Wolf Awareness Week. That number grew to 31 in the year 2000. Zoos also joined the campaign with 15 participants in 1999. Unfortunately, that number decreased to 14 in the year 2000.
Where to begin? It can seem so overwhelming. Depending on the chain of command at your facility, there may be many options available to you. You should always start with your immediate supervisor. In my case, that was our Volunteer Coordinator who was very supportive of my idea. I then formally submitted a proposal letter to my supervisor, our Curator of Education and our Curator of Marketing. There can be a lot of red tape, even in a zoo or aquarium, so be sure to follow up. I was lucky because my superior was able to arrange a meeting in which I was able to present my outline explaining how we could make it work, how it would be to their advantage/benefit, and how little they’d need to contribute (I really wanted this to happen).
You’ve got to be prepared. Decide what you want to do. Ask yourself the questions you think they’ll want answers for and have those answers. Anticipate objections and have solutions.
Do you have a wolf exhibit? How can you use it? What space would be available to you? Will there be any budget dollars available to you? Assume there won’t.
Do you sponsor a Halloween event? What dates does it run? What dates can you use to work around it? How many days do you think you can handle? What is your zoo’s normal attendance? What do you hope to accomplish by the event? What about advertising?
After our initial meeting, my next assignment was to put together an agenda, and a resource plan for people, supplies, etc. I was to plan for two days the Saturday prior to and the Sunday beginning Wolf Awareness Week. We met again and I received preliminary approval for the plans. The only requirement was that any of the informational material that was to be displayed must first be approved by the Education Department. You must remember that whatever is done will be seen as being promoted and supported by your facility. You never want to do or say anything to misrepresent them to the public with regard to their mission.
3. On With The Show
So what are our plans? You’d be amazed at what you can do with little or no budget. Even though I was loaning a lot of my stuff to the zoo, there were still plenty of things to be obtained. We are fortunate enough to have an exhibit hall at the main entrance of our zoo, while our wolf exhibit is at the opposite end of the zoo. In front of the hall we set up a poster display along with the agenda for the weekend. Inside the hall, we run wolf related videos and set up the informational displays, skulls and pelts. There will be a game board set up to help show the importance of scent to a wolf. There is also a table where children can pick up a crossword puzzle (the answers to which are found in the displays in the hall and at the exhibit).
Finally, there is an area where children can make a wolf bookmark to take home with them. There are chalked paw prints that lead them through the zoo to the wolf exhibit, where they can see our wolf pack and view more informational displays for crossword puzzle answers. At posted times throughout both days, there will be storytelling at our Wolf Lodge. In addition, we have an employee who has created two characters for our Wolf Wilderness Exhibit and will make scheduled appearances. Informational handouts about wolves will be available at the Wolf Lodge throughout the week. Service Volunteers and Docents will be posting as much as possible to fill all slots, help with storytelling, crafts and questions.
You’re probably saying to yourself “It’s a great idea, but this is already September! I’ve only got about 45 days to pull it together. What can we possibly do at our facility?” You’d be amazed. The reason I’m giving this presentation is because there IS time for you to put something together.
The first thing to do when you get back home is get a hold of your supervisor and get approval even if it’s only going to be for one day. If this is your first event, one day is probably plenty. Ask your volunteers if anyone has any videos check your library or video rental stores. Do the same for stories North American, Mythology, Children, whatever you can find. Check with whomever is in charge of biofacts see if they have or can get anything. Visit the web sites to pull up pertinent information and make some display posters. Contact Wolf organizations and ask them for handout literature. If you have no advertising budget, put posters in the local libraries, or schools. Ask local craft stores what they do with
damaged/opened goods If you are fortunate enough to have a budget, activity books are full of ideas for crafts and games. Many novelty places sell stickers or temporary tattoos, or you can make your own buttons/pins with kits.
It’s “do-able” on any scale if you want to badly enough.
The wolf does not stand alone in nature. No one creature or habitat is so important that it is deserving of 100% of our attention. Nature had a plan for each and every part of this environment a balanced system. Each part is dependent upon some other part always having an effect on one or more other parts. No matter what part man chooses to dabble with — be it predators at the top, habitat at the bottom, or the prey species in the middle, all changes have consequences. Ripples work their way through all aspects of Nature, distorting that original balance in so many unforeseen ways. Eventually, it will come full circle and rest back at the beginning with man which is as it should be since we created those ripples. The question we must ask is how much will be lost to us and to future generations because of those actions and is it worth it?
For instance, man decided wolves destroyed all livestock, took all the good trophy animals, and was an evil and dangerous animal. The solution? Remove the wolves. The result? Ripples. The removal of the wolves In Yellowstone created many ripples:
a. helping to contribute to the overpopulation of prey species deer, moose, and elk.
b. the lack of leftover scraps from the wolves’ kills, meant many scavengers (big and small) starved and
c. by the very absence of wolves, other predators like the coyote became a new problem.
d. overpopulation of the herbivores caused destruction of aspen groves and overgrazing of riverbank brush.
e. when their food ran out, the herbivores began starving
f. and the habitat they destroyed trying to stay alive displaced many smaller animals, eroded riverbanks, muddied clean rivers and redirected their waters’ flow.
While wolves are my passion, this is just one example of a chain reaction caused by unforeseen ripples when man believes that he knows best.
For instance, most western ranchers hate the little Prairie Dog. He’s accused of destroying the grazing for their livestock and causing many a cow to break a leg when a hole is stepped into. Yet even this little creature is important to its surroundings. He offers nutrition to other predators and homes to many smaller animals that inhabit his neglected burrows. Both above and below him in the pyramid there are others that depend on him.
US Geological survey studies show that the Black footed-ferret and the Swift Fox, the Horned Lark, Burrowing Owl, Mountain Plover, Ferruginous Hawk and Golden Eagle, as well as the Deer Mouse and the Grasshopper Mouse all thrive in areas where the Prairie Dog builds his colonies. Remove the Prairie Dog and not one but ten more parts of nature become distorted ripples. Add in the creatures and habitat affected by those originally affected and you see how quickly the ripples begin to multiply.
There are so many more animals and/or habitats in need of our help. National Wolf Awareness Week is simply a vehicle available to us to promote education about, and responsibility for, the future of the wolf and all nature around us. As volunteers we are the best ambassadors to carry this message because we can reach so much of the public. So I encourage you to create your own Awareness Week, Weekend, or even a Day. Surely there are animals and habitat worthy of your efforts. Whether they are directly in danger of extinction or simply misunderstood and maligned, we have the means and more importantly the obligation to do what we can to help change that. The Black Panther, Cougar, Grizzly, Tiger, Lynx, Bobcat, Trumpeter Swan, Golden and Bald Eagles; as our speakers, Dr Karen Lips and Robert Benson, have or will have informed us, bats and amphibians also need our help. The marshlands, wetlands, forests, and
rainforests are also in danger. The list is extensive, so while I hope that you would support the wolf, if that were not your interest, then surely there is some animal or habitat in that list you can get passionate about.
Never give up on something you are passionate about. Don’t let anyone discourage you, even when they say it doesn’t matter, or that you can’t make a difference and believe me, many will. Don’t let anything discourage you, even if the task seems bigger than you if you care, DO NOT GIVE UP!
Start a spark and see where it takes you. Watch the blaze. You’ll be amazed at what one person can begin and what a few like-minded individuals can accomplish just because they…. Care! It’s our nature.