Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 11, 2002
A woman who howls with wolves
By SUZANNE ELSTON
Late last Friday night, I had one of those experiences that change your outlook on life forever. I howled with wolves.
To put the experience into perspective, a few details are required. It was sometime after 11 p.m. and I was cold and soaked with rain. I was standing in the middle of a field, surrounded by about 60 Brownies - not the lovely chocolaty kind you eat - but the two-legged kind that like to scream a lot and sing campfire songs. The great howl-in was the climax of one of the most amazing nights of my life.
It began several hours earlier when my daughter Sarah, her friend Reilly and I arrived at Jungle Cat World in Orono, Ont. I had reluctantly agreed to be a parent chaperone for her unit's fall camp. As much as I love my daughter, I find the collective voices of 60 screaming seven and eight-year olds rather taxing.
As much as I love nature, I'm not a big fan of camping out in it. More importantly, I had always had a fundamental dislike of zoos of any kind. Wild creatures I had long believed belong in the wild - not in cages.
I was relieved to discover that we weren't camping out in tents, but rather sleeping in large house trailers. After fighting over who got what bunk, we gathered together for what I assumed was a bedtime snack of pizza and juice.
I was wrong. At 9 p.m., we were ushered into a portable classroom for our lesson. A few minutes later, two young women sporting Jungle Cat World sweatshirts and safari pants joined us.
As Jungle Jen began our zoology lesson for the evening, her partner, Amazon Ashley, began hauling creatures out of the various cages and passing them around the room. The girls squealed with a mix of horror and delight as they came within inches of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, a tarantula spider, a giant scorpion and a variety of snakes. The girls were also introduced to a wolf cub and a number of wildcats, including a baby bobcat and a nine-month old Amur leopard.
Amur leopards, we soon discovered, are one of the most endangered species on the planet. There are fewer than 40 amurs living in the wild. The cat we were introduced to is one of 60 of these rare creatures living in captivity. Jungle Jen explained that the Amur leopard's only chance for survival is through zoo breeding programs like the one at Jungle Cat World.
By the time we were guided through a night walk of the zoo's 15-acre compound, the rain had really started to pour, but nobody seemed to care. We visited lions and tigers and other exotic cats and ended our tour at the wolf enclosure. After watching the animals for a few minutes, our guide led us to an open area and instructed us to howl like wolves until we were given the signal to stop. Brownies, I have discovered, have the unique ability to produce sound well beyond the capacity of their petite stature. The night was soon filled with the yelping and howling of their voices.
Resistance was futile. I tilted my head back and began to howl. It was a delicious sensation. All of the frustration and tension of the week seemed to melt away as my voice rose to join my smaller companions. I was just beginning to really get into it when we were given the signal to stop.
After a few seconds of silence, a lone wolf answered our howls. Moments later, the plaintive song was joined by other wolves and then faded into the rainy night. We howled again, this time with even greater abandon. Again, our calls were answered. It was magic.
Later than night I lay in my bunk thinking about the Amur leopard. With over six billion people on the planet, and fewer than 100 Amur leopards worldwide, these beautiful creatures are outnumbered by humans at a rate of 60 million to 1. I wondered if my sleeping charges realized how privileged we'd been to have seen one. Somewhere outside our trailer, a lone wolf cried in the distance.
Recommended websites:Jungle Cat World (located 45 minutes east of Toronto on Hwy. 115/35) is recognized for its successful breeding programs and participation with various international Species Survival Plans (SSP) and Population Management Plans (PMP), including the critically endangered Amur leopard. Visit Jungle Cat World at www.junglecatworld.com.
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival (www.cites.org).
International Society for Endangered Cats Canada has fact sheets on 37 different species of cats. Go to www.wildcatconservation.org.
The World Wildlife Fund's Living Planet Report 2002 can be downloaded from www.panda.org/livingplanet/lpr02/.
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