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The Telegram
  • Ambassador Wolf visits HCCC

  • Herkimer County Community College students and members of the community had a chance to see an unusual visitor to the campus Tuesday afternoon.



    The Wolf Conservation Center, from South Salem, N.Y., brought Atka, an Arctic gray wolf that serves as a traveling ambassador for the organization, along as part of the program the group presented at HCCC.

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  • Herkimer County Community College students and members of the community had a chance to see an unusual visitor to the campus Tuesday afternoon.
    The Wolf Conservation Center, from South Salem, N.Y., brought Atka, an Arctic gray wolf that serves as a traveling ambassador for the organization, along as part of the program the group presented at HCCC.
    Maggie Howell, of the Wolf Conservation Center, pointed out that while Atka is a great ambassador for the organization — he travels well and is not afraid of people or unfamiliar situations — he is not a typical wolf.
    Atka was brought in after the initial presentation. A chain was used as a leash and he walked back and forth across the stage while audience members took pictures.
    Unlike the wolves in fairy tales and fables such as “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Peter and the Wolf,” most wolves are afraid of people. “Wild wolves do an excellent job of staying away from people,” said Howell.
    Unfortunately for the wolves, immigrants from Europe brought along their fear of wolves and they hunted and killed many of them as well as other large predators. At one time there were more than 250,000 wolves in the lower 48 states, Howell said. After years of this killing, there were only about 500 wolves left, mostly in Minnesota.
    “In the 1970s, people started feeling differently,” said Howell. The passage of the 1973 Endangered Species Act gave wolves a chance to recover. There are now about 5,000 wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. There are wolves in Washington state and Oregon as well and one wolf, tagged with a GPS collar, travels in and out of California, possibly in search of a mate.
    There are two species of wolves in the United States: The gray wolf, which can weigh up to 140 pounds and has several subspecies, and the red wolf, which is smaller and not as shaggy. In the 1970s, there were only 14 red wolves left, all in captivity. Today, there are about 300 with some 100 living in the wild in North Carolina.
    There were only seven Mexican gray wolves left by the 1970s and five of these were chosen to breed in an effort to bring back the population. There are still fewer than 400 of these wolves.
    The Wolf Conservation Center participates in the Species Survival Plans and Recovery Plans for both the Mexican gray wolf and the red wolf.
    Interested groups have been working to reintroduce wolves to various areas, including Yellowstone National Park.
    Howell pointed out that the lack of wolves has had a negative impact on the ecosystem. In Yellowstone National Park, for example, when the wolves were gone, the elk population grew unchecked. Because there were no wolves to chase them and keep the population down, the elk would graze in one area until the vegetation was gone and move onto another area and do the same thing.
    Page 2 of 2 - “The habitat was being destroyed by elk,” said Howell. Wolves were brought back to the park in 1995-96 and now, 17 years later, the landscape is rejuvenated and is again able to support other animals such as river otters and beavers.
    Howell said wolves in the wild hunt every day, but are unsuccessful more often than not. They also risk being injured or killed in a hunt.
    “A healthy elk can run 40 to 45 miles per hour,” said Howell. “A healthy wolf can run about 35 mile per hour.”
    For this reason, the wolves, which hunt in packs, try to separate the weak, sick or slow animal from the herd. When the wolves are successful in killing a large animal, they eat as much as they can — sometimes 20 pounds of meat. Then they pass out — meat drunk, it’s called — and other animals come and eat what is left until the bones are bare.
    Howell said the WCC has two other ambassador wolves besides Atka. Ambassador wolves Alawa and Zephyr arrived May 27, 2011. The other wolves are raised with an eye to introducing them to the wild.
    The Wolf Conservation Center was established in 1999 as a private, not-for-profit environmental education facility.
    For more information, visit www.nywolf.org.
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