Artic gray wolf makes positive impression

Sunday April 8, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- An Arctic Gray Wolf is not your everyday, or any day, sight at the Berkshire Museum, or anywhere in Berkshire County for that matter.

But, before a rapt audience of 226 in the museum's auditorium on Saturday afternoon, Atka, the 9-year-old, born in captivity, one-and-only "Am bassador" from the Wolf Con servation Center (WCC) in northern Westchester County, N.Y., was put through his paces.

Appearing before about 150 audiences at schools, museums, libraries and nature centers in the Northeast region each year, Atka -- looking for all the world like a well-trained white Siberian Husky -- seemed to enjoy, or at least patiently tolerate, the attention of oohing and aahing kids, teens and adults.

Before Atka made his dramatic appearance on stage on a chain, led by his handler Rebecca Bose, WCC presenter Maggie Howell asked how many in the crowd were frightened of wolves. Only one small hand went up.

For plenty of other folks who grew up on classics such as "Little Red Riding Hood" (grandma is eaten by a wolf), "The Three Little Pigs," "Peter and the Wolf" and "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," the animals have an unjustified reputation, Howell said.

Actually, "wild wolves are very shy, elusive creatures, they think we are the scary ones," she explained. "They do an excellent job staying far away from people."

During a presentation en hanced by a multimedia slide and film show featuring wolf cubs and yearlings that elicited admiring expressions of approval and amusement from the crowd, Howell listed the close relatives of the wolf in the Northeast -- Eastern Coyotes (a few have been seen in New York City's Central Park), foxes and dogs -- the closest wolf relative.

Howell detailed the sociable traits of the Canadian Rocky Mountain, Arctic Gray, Mex ican Gray, Plains and the Eastern (Algonquin) Wolf -- teaming up in packs, staking out their territories by "marking rocks ... for wolves, these rocks are like Facebook," and being led by an Alpha Pair that breeds annually.

She also demonstrated how effectively the animals communicate through huffs, yips, growls, barks and howls that can be heard up to 10 miles away, as well as body language.

The warmly-received presentation -- which helped educate the audience on the vital role wolves play in a healthy ecosystem -- is part of the Berkshire Museum's "Animals Up Close" series.

The Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, N.Y., also offers on-site educational programs that include status reports on efforts to sustain the population. The private, not-for-profit environmental education facility houses a selection of rare and critically-endangered red and Mexican gray wolves.

The center is about to add eight live webcams for virtual visitors: In for mation about the WCC mission and programs is also available by calling (914) 763-2373.


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