Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Friend of the wolves- Arctic wolves in Oregon

Coastal sanctuary provides home for those rescued from illegal captivity

By THERESA HOGUE - Corvallis Gazette-Times

TIDEWATER - Wolves sometimes trigger primordial fears in humans, with their eerily piercing eyes and heart-wrenching howls. On the other end of the spectrum, humans sometimes forget that wolves aren’t tame dogs with which to frolic.

The six purebred Arctic wolves that live at the White Wolf Sanctuary in Tidewater have never experienced the freedom of their northern cousins. Born illegally into captivity, their histories are varied but equally sad, from Ventana and Nepenthe, who were destined to be slaughtered and turned into fur collars at age 6 months, to Havoc, who was being intimidated by his owner, who used a crowbar to make him cow.

Throughout the years, these wolves have made their way into the care of Lois Tulleners White, who says they have turned from fearful sad creatures into joyous, humor-filled scalawags. “All these wolves were born in captivity and were in dangerous situations,” White said. Without the skills to hunt and survive in the wild, re-entry into native habitat is impossible. These wolves will have to remain confined for their lives, but White is making that confinement as pleasant and as natural as she can.

White first fell in love with wolves 23 years ago, when her boyfriend adopted a wolf-canine hybrid. She was at first fearful of the hybrid, but learned to love him, and through him learned about wolf behavior. Long after the boyfriend departed and the hybrid became her canine companion, White began working at wolf sanctuaries in California, and began dreaming of the day when she could open her own sanctuary, and help some of the captive wolves she knew needed rescuing.

“I just became obsessed, and realized they are the most persecuted animals on Earth,” she said. “I started volunteering to do anything around the wolves. I’d pick up scat and was thrilled. I left my other career and gradually got more and more into it.”

White left behind a job making exercise equipment as well as a life as a musician, and threw her whole attention toward wolves. “I guess if you live long enough you can have several careers,” she said with a laugh.

Eight years ago, White found the perfect location for her sanctuary, 45 acres nestled in the Oregon Coast Range, surrounded by national forest and far away from neighbors who wouldn’t like the sound of wolves howling all night. “We have wonderful howling choruses between the wolves and the coyotes at night,” she said.

The sanctuary can only be reached by a two-mile, one-lane gravel road with a locked gate. At the top of the property are the enclosures, each holding one of three pairs of Arctic wolves. The pairs include clowning Odot and his shy sister Journey; lazy Havoc and his cautious mate Willow; and smiling Nepenthe and his regal sister Ventana. Willow is the newest arrival.

On Easter Sunday, White’s first and oldest wolf, Kyenne, passed away. White keeps the group at six wolves, just enough to stretch her resources and not crowd the enclosures, which each include enough acreage for them to run at full bore.

The wolves are not altered, as that would change their scent and cause the other wolves to attack them. Instead, during the brief period of estrus in February, the males and females are briefly separated to prevent more little wolves from appearing. Because Arctic wolves are an endangered species, White said, someday scientists may wish to breed her wolves, but for now she’s keeping them pupless.

The reason one of the wolves is named Odot is because of the relationship the sanctuary has with the state Department of Transportation and other agencies. White has a permit that allows her to harvest deer and elk road kills from nearby highways to use as part of the wolves’ diet. “The dead deer make up about 10 percent of the wolves’ daily diet, and the ongoing partnership between ODOT and the White Wolf Sanctuary has inspired similar cooperative efforts between the sanctuary and other state agencies,” notes ODOT’s Web site.

White makes sure the wolves rotate through their various, expansive enclosures so they don’t get bored with their surroundings, and each enclosure has ponds, trees and wolf houses for lounging.

Oddly enough, she said, the wolves’ favorite possessions are their blankets. “They use them for tug of war; they’ll put their meat on them. The only place they won’t take them is in their houses,” she said. “Ventana and Nepenthe have a game I call the magic carpet ride. Nepenthe will lay down on the blanket, and Ventana will grab it and pull him around the habitat and give him a free ride.”

The sanctuary operates solely on donations. Volunteers help staff the sanctuary. Visitors are welcome and help provide donations to run the sanctuary, and wolf education is a crucial part of White’s program. However, visitors are not allowed within the wolf enclosures, as any bite, however minor, from a wolf, would mean that the wolf would have to be killed, and the sanctuary shut down. A locked gate across the sanctuary’s only entrance also prevents strangers from interfering with the wolves or allowing them to escape.

White lives on the property within view of the enclosures and seldom leaves. Vacation isn’t a concept that she embraces anymore. “A volunteer asked me last week, ‘If you could go anywhere you could choose, where would you go?’ and I said, ‘Here.’ I traveled a lot when I was young, so I’m pretty much done,” she said. “I’m pretty happy with my plight.”

  • Corvallis Gazette-Times