Sunday 10 May 2009

My day at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust seminar.

Today, 10/05/2009, was the first time for twelve months that I have been to the UK Wolf Centre. I was quite uncertain about going, but in the end curiosity got the better of me, so I went.

Little in the overall layout had changed. There were different things on sale in the shop. Some fences had been extended to take into account things that had been highlighted as safety hazards even before I left. A water feature graces the bottom enclosure, something that had been pressed for over the years. There is a viewing platform over the kennels of that enclosure also. I am told there is a wildlife pond though I never went far enough to find it. There were many new faces and some of the old ones still around. It all looked very tidy, as you would expect for an open day and a fair bit of money has been spent on the additions, far more than in Roger's day when it was "make do and mend".

Torak, Mai and Mosi were on the photo mound. When I spoke to Torak there was a moments hesitation and then memory kicked in and he came to the fence whining and wanting a greeting, joined shortly afterwards by the two girls. A nice episode.

I went to see the Europeans in their enclosure, but me being outside the safety barrier meant that they couldn't get to me or me to them so we just greeted at distance. Alba seemed to be walking quite badly and not nearly as well as when he was getting hydrotherapy.

It was good to see Chris Senior, Eva Love and Ola again. I was pleased to see Ola looking much happier than the last time I saw her, when she was separated from 'her' wolves.

Food was not included so you had to purchase your own. I cannot complain as I had a complimentary ticket for the seminar and Eva bought me soup and a roll, but the food on sale was certainly a big step down from that which was provided at other seminars. There was also no walk with the wolves and so no meet and greets, this also was a departure from the format at other seminars.

The location for the talks was easily found following the directions. Luckily the audience was not large because I think parking would have become an issue if it had been larger. The speakers were known to me, in fact I gave a talk at the same seminar as Claudio Sillero some years ago and I know Marco Musiani quite well.I had heard of Alistair Bath from people who had attended a talk by him some time before.

As always I found both Marco and Claudio interesting once you were able to get into the accents, Argentinian Italian and Canadian Italian can be a bit hard to get into, especially when one followed the other without a break. I must admit that I found Alistair Bath interesting, but as he didn't make clear how long he had been working with this philosophy I didn't realise that he was a pioneer in propounding it and putting it into action which was a shame. I looked him up on the web and found out all about him.

Several years ago at a seminar this same philosophy was being put forward by Carter Neimeyer, one time hunter and at the time the Wolf Recovery Coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Now retired, his job was to listen to complaints from farmers about wolves killing their stock. In some cases it was necessary to kill wolves if they were a problem, though not in every case. He felt that by listening and letting the farmers know that they had a voice and were being listened to by the government it lessened the illegal killing of wolves. If the government took care of problem wolves then they didn't feel that they had to take things into their own hands, killing wolves indiscriminately. He was of course hated by certain members of the 'no wolf should ever be killed' and the 'all wolves should be killed' factions. His view was that if they were condemning him in equal measure he was probably getting it about right. In the mean time the other wolves prospered and multiplied.

Free drinks and biscuits were on offer at the venue and were much appreciated. All in all it was a nice seminar but I would have to say, not a great seminar.

Sunday 26 April 2009

Distraction techniques when dealing with socialised wolves.

There is nothing more dangerous than forgetting that socialised wild animals are just that, wild animals. They work at a completely different level, both mentally and physically, to their domesticated cousins. Being knowledgeable about dogs is a poor starting point when deciding on a satisfactory way of dealing with wolves. You have to unlearn everything you know about dogs and start from the other end, applying what you learn about wolves to help with dealing with dogs. Trying to treat wolves in the same way that you treat dogs is a very dangerous concept. As well as being over three times more powerful than most domestic dog breeds, the wolf is also more intelligent. Unlike its domestic cousins the wolf matures to full adulthood. It does not feel the urge to ingratiate itself with humans as dogs do. It thinks for itself, it is a problem solver and it comes to its own conclusions.

When trained, and sometimes even when not properly trained, a domestic dog can be made to come when called. It is conditioned to come without thinking. This is not so with a wolf. The wolf comes if it wants to, and if it thinks it might gain from coming. Even then it might not be what is on offer that the wolf has decided it wants, it could be something the handler least expects the wolf to take.

Wolves that have been socialised by methods learned and taught by the founder of the UK Wolf Conservation Trust have a certain amount of respect for the human handlers able to apply the methods properly. Once this respect has been gained, other means can be used, though you always need the more in the face methods when things start to go wrong.

Given that the sense of smell of a wolf is many times more powerful than that of a human, the carrying of treats into an enclosure containing wolves is a total none starter as they will detect them from distance, and once detected they will want them. Trying to fend of a wolf which has no respect for you one handed while you struggle to get distraction treats from your pocket will just result in losing your pocket, or worse. This is if the incident is relatively low level, in a full blown attack treats for distraction will be about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Animals in general and socialised wolves in particular, and people.

Over the years of being around animals I have come to recognise certain things about the way they view humans. Once, many years ago we had a mongrel called Tia. She was beautiful, having whippet and smooth coated terrier in her. We had her before we had any children and she grew up with them as they came along. She was with us for 17 years before we had to have her put to sleep. During all that time I only ever knew her lose it with one person, a man who came into the local pub. As soon as he walked in she had her hackles up and was growling at him. The landlord was a dog person and was so shocked at Tia's reaction that he would only serve the man one drink, then asked him to move on. In his view Tia could see something that we could not and on this basis he would rather not have the man around. I have seen this reaction in animals many times since, both with my own and with others.

Some humans seem to have an empathy with animals and others do not, it is not something that can be learned. It does not matter what these unfortunates do to try to win animals round, once they have decided that a given person is not to be liked or trusted that is it. Do they see something that other humans miss? Wolves are included in this, maybe being even more perceptive than most animals due to their wild nature and to the persecution they have experienced at the hands of man. I have seen people spend hours with wolves, trying to get them to like them, and all they have succeeded in doing was to make the wolves nervous and mistrustful around them.

After being made to leave the UK Wolf Conservation Trust I went to Paradise Wildlife Park as a volunteer. They have two socialised wolves and I had the great privilege of being allowed into their enclosure with them under strict supervision. They are not wolves that I had had anything to do with prior to this, though I did ensure that I had wolf-smelling trousers on! They were fine with me, with even the more nervous of the two coming for a fuss. I think I must have learned much from the wolves at the Trust about how to approach wolves and to present myself to them.

I long held the view that it was the way the wolves viewed the person making the introduction to them that formed their first opinion of the person being introduced. If they had respect for the person making the introduction then they would, in most cases put up with the person being introduced. This might only be for one visit, with them showing disapproval on the next visit. I felt that the first visit enabled the wolves to form their own impression of the person and if this was negative then they would show it on a subsequent visit.

I noted many times that the way to lose the respect of the wolves was to forget that they are wolves and to start treating them like big dogs. Terms like wolfies, fluffies and cute pet names show a lack respect when you consider the nature of these animals. I think you have to be strong around wolves. When you start treating them in a soft manner they will take advantage of what they see as a weakness and stop looking to their human pack members for reassurance. Every new experience will become stressful for them, and the more the humans fuss and fret, the more will the wolves panic. I am not advocating brutality, far from it, but it is no good being soft with them if you want them to be properly socialised as they will become unworkable as ambassador wolves.

As an example of this I have seen people for whom the wolves have little respect trying to get them into, or out of a situation. The handler is obviously not happy and the wolf is detecting this and will not cooperate. The right person comes along, takes the lead and the wolf trots happily along because it has complete faith in the handler, a handler who has always shown strong leadership.

Sunday 5 April 2009

An evening at the Moderation.

Some of the old (yes that's in years for some of us) UK Wolf Conservation Trust ex-patrons of the Spring Inn found the place where Andy and his team went after leaving the Spring. It is a pub in Caversham, Reading called The Moderation. The menu is very similar to the one at the Spring Inn...well it would be as the staff mainly went with Andy. It is well worth a visit if you remember the food at the Spring Inn, and the beer's good too. A review of the pub can be found at

Wolves were off topic for the evening. Highlight of the evening was the young, blonde, lady at an adjoining table saying "excuse me but my paper's on fire". She was standing in the middle of the bar with a blazing newspaper in her hands. She had put it too near the candle on her table. The earsplitting wail of the smoke detector was soon joined by the sound of stamping feet as the fire was extinguished. The glowing embers were only matched by the colour from her cheeks! We felt that the barman was somewhat lacking in a sense of humour by the look on his face.

For those who read my last post, the link to Porfell is
while the link to Secret World is

Secret World is only open to the public on special days so check out their web site. Secret World seek to boost their funds on their open days, so go along and support British wild life. Porfell welcomes visitors as you will see on their site, and is well worth a visit if you are in Cornwall for your holidays, with the credit crunch removing the option of foreign holidays for so many.

Saturday 4 April 2009

A quick bringing up to date.

I have been very busy recently, too busy in fact to keep the blogs going in any sensible way. To bring things up to the present I am going to the seminar in May, having been given a ticket "for old times sake" so I am looking forward to seeing the wolves again. I met Mai and Mosi when I took my dogs to the woods for a walk and arrived before they left. Both girls remembered me very well.

I am saddened to hear that taking the wolves to shows by the UK Wolf Conservation Trust may be coming to an end. It was something that was held to be a most important part of the work of the Trust. Attendance at shows meant free access for the Trust to some of the biggest and best shows in the country and gave volunteers a chance to talk to people not actually interested in wolves, with a view to getting them interested. It enabled the Trust to be part of the wider conservation community as the stand was usually put in the "conservation area" at shows and were among the bat, badger, county wildlife and all the other organisations that go to make up the wildlife conservation ethic of Great Britain. In the parlance of today it "put the Trust out there" in a big way.

The volunteers met some of the movers and shakers of British conservation; like Chris Packham, Derek Gow who is a big player in the efforts to re-instate beaver, Pauline Kidner and her team from the much televised Secret World who do so much for badgers and other British wildlife, the team from Porfell in Cornwall that helps old and unwanted zoo and circus animals, and many more, too numerous to list here. It even extended to that sometimes overlooked area of conservation, rare breeds. All these contacts extended horizons and gave a much less parochial view of things.

It was also an opportunity to meet professional animal keepers and to talk to them about their animals and problems. During visits to shows the Trust built up an enviable reputation for it's animal husbandry among the vast majority of people in the industry and visitors alike. Of course there were a few dissenting voices because there will always be someone who disagrees with something. In the main however volunteers were able to talk to these people, and in most cases satisfy their concerns. When Alba, the European wolf broke his neck, the Trust was applauded for its efforts in rehabilitating him, a fact that in the view of many people set it aside from other, less caring organisations.

It was a challenge, but wolf conservation, or any conservation for that matter, will always engender controversy. At least we only faced verbal comments, some conservationists have people shooting at them and even killing them. Thankfully these people are made of stern stuff and do not back away from the threat as they work for their particular project, be it wolf conservation or protection of the rain forest.

I often hear the wolves howling as I slave in my vegetable garden and it helps to keep me digging as I remember the good times, because no matter what has been taken away, no one can take away the memories.

Saturday 1 November 2008

Not a happy time

Following Roger's return from the ravages of a riding accident things became quite manic. Roger obviously felt he needed to get the Trust onto an even footing in case anything happened to him so he went at it with a will. In the main I think we understood why, but the people who had most thrust upon them when he was away, tried to keep things manageable. The trouble was that he had the ideas and the powerful personality to take people with him, whether they wanted to go or not. We had gone from 2 wolves to 7 in no time. We had built a new enclosure and we knew that his objective was to breed from the European wolves that he had imported. We couldn't believe that the Europeans would breed. They had been kept in holding cages in Europe waiting for the accommodation to be built here then when they arrived Roger insisted that they learn to go into sheds at night. We tried everything we knew to achieve this and it has to be said that I am not proud of the part I played in some of the attempts.
To give some idea of the extremes gone to, Roger had cables rigged from his bathroom window to the trap doors on the Euro's enclosure and he sat for hours during his convalescence trying to get them to go in for food so that he could trap them. It didn't work!
The longest he left them without food was ten days. I had spoken to the vet and been told that this was wrong and so had insisted on feeding them. This was to come back to haunt me later. In the end Kezia Wilder and I managed to get them in one night. The next morning the kennel was a disaster scene. They had tried to eat their way out of the shed and blood from their cut mouths was everywhere. The bucket holder had been ripped off the wall and they were clearly terrified. That was the last time we tried to get them in..