I was lucky enough to take part in Wolf Park's Internship Programme in summer 2003. I spent 3 months working for the park and learning about wolf behaviour, ecology, recovery and conservation. I also had the amazing opportunity to work with a hugely dedicated team of staff members who are passionate about the conservation and protection of this species. They work tirelessly to promote understanding of this sometimes controversial animal with the ambassador wolves that live there. They provide a unique education resource for many and have visitors travel from all over the world to see their work and learn from their research.
Home to wolves, foxes, coyotes and bison, Wolf Park is easily one of the best facilities I have seen and had the pleasure of working for.
They provide tours, lectures and a huge range of courses to help people better understand behaviour. For a lucky few, there is also the opportunity to interact with some of the wolves at the park to further this understanding and connection.
I have revisited the park 4 times in 2007, 2010, 2011 & 2013 (travelling from the UK each time) both to volunteer and conduct research into what visitors learn from their experience there. You can find more details about my recent interviews which were conducted at the park via my blog:
Wolf Park is a very special place and one which has had a lasting impact on my life and career choices. I would not hesitate to visit again.
I was an intern for three months during 2004 and it was an amazing and very educational time. The resident staff is extremely knowledgable in the field of animal behaviour and I learned so much about ethological studies in general and canine behaviour in particular. They offered guided tours, behaviour demonstrations, wolf-bison interaction demo (which most often was the best opportunity to watch both wolves and bison eating apples (tossed to the bison) side by side, as the bison are too big for 2-3 wolves to handle in the middle of the day) and the ever popular Howl Night that attracted solid crowds every Friday and Saturday evening. I consider myself very lucky to have been given the opportunity to work and study in such wonderful settings!
After my stay at Wolf Park, I conducted an environmental enrichment study on a captive pack of wolves at a zoo in the U.K. as a part of my degree. Those wolves were non-socialized and the difference in behavioural spectra between the UK and Wolf Park wolves was striking. The wolves in the UK hardly did anything but run to the far-end of their enclosure when visitors passed by and had almost no interactions among the pack during visiting hours. It was extremely rare to see them at a full rest with their head down, lying on their sides. This was ABSOLUTELY NOT the case with the wolves at Wolf Park, where we were able to observe relaxed wolves, interactive behaviours and it wasn't until I spent time at the other zoo that I fully realised how much these animals benefit from being socialized when in a captive setting.
Having socialized animals opens up a whole new tool box for keeping captive animals from getting bored in their surroundings, something that is often painfully obvious in traditional zoos. At Wolf Park, staff can interact with the wolves and apply some training methods to keep the wolves interested and enriched and relaxed around human presence. This is key to keep stress levels low and stereotypic behaviours at bay. Cortisol analyses of Wolf Park wolves compared to non-socialized wolves also confirmed that non-socialized wolves are much more stressed. I'm glad to say that zoos in Sweden have started to catch up and the use of, for example, clicker-training based exercises to provide behavioural enrichment is becoming ever more common also among non-socialized animals.
The canine behaviour lessons and the training methods that I learned at Wolf Park have held up all these years, also in my role as a dog owner. I can recommend attending seminars and training courses that Wolf Park organizes as you are likely to come out the other end much more knowledgable and with new perspectives on animal behaviour and animal handling.
Wolf Park provides a great visitor experience, a quite unique opportunity to observe wolves behaving like wolves, and the opportunity to learn an immense amount about wolves and canine behaviour! I would recommend it to each and everyone who have ever considered going there, as visitors and/or as interns, practicums and volunteers.
When I moved to the Lafayette area in late 2004 to work at Purdue (Biomedical), I saw signs for Wolf Park and went to visit over the Christmas Holidays. In years past, I had visited and been a sponsor at other wolf-related facilities, so knew a bit about wolves, behavior studies, ecology, and more. By the time my tour ended, I was impressed enough that I signed up as a volunteer that day.
The facility has acreage not only to support it's main pack in style, but to provide a retirement community and a buffer against future urban growth. Unlike the wild, where adult wolves who are forced out of the pack (essentially to die) for reasons of age or social incompatibility, Wolf Park provides space where they can live long and happy lives. While it can't allow dispersal by young wolves to create new packs, it can provide the opportunity for evolving pack dynamics to take place. While the evolving main pack makes use of the large enclosure (app. 7 acres), those voted out of the pack have enclosures of varying sizes to allow them to form mini-packs or be by themselves. Smaller enclosures are used for those elderly or sick so they don't have to move far for food or water, while allowing staff and volunteers to monitor them closely. Larger enclosures can easily handle groups of three or even four at need; and, it should be noted that those in the retirement community get to choose their companions.
Wolf Park has also been in the forefront of efforts to prevent inbreeding not just at the Park, but at wolf facilities nationwide. Despite any ignorant comments you may read, the wolves at Wolf Park do not come from a single pair. If you listen, or do even a small bit of research online, you will find that Wolf Park is part of a network that shares both genealogical information on the wolves, as well as wolf pups, with other accredited facilities. This helps ensure a lack of inbreeding as well as helping other facilities with responsible breeding and growth.
Sadly, the wolf-bison demonstrations at Wolf Park have been halted due to what I personally regard as yet another ignorant complaint (complaint may have been filed by someone who never visited the Park). In the wild, it usually takes six or more adult wolves to bring down even a small, sick, or injured bison. At Wolf Park, the practice was to take a couple of wolves in with the bison so they could act on their natural instincts to track, explore, and do the opening phases of how they would hunt in the wild. This allowed them a more natural life, posed effectively no danger to the bison, and minimal danger to the wolves. It did not seem to stress the bison on the days they agreed to take part, and I would note that many days the wolves either preferred to explore and hunt smaller game (moles, voles, and mice) or both parties seemed to feel it was too hot to do anything other than cool off in the water. Bison watering troughs make dandy wolf swimming pools as it turns out. There is a LOT more I could say on this subject, and if you are interested the staff can go into detail on activities, studies, and more if you want facts rather than emotions.
A great deal of research does take place in the park, and if you actually listen to what is said, you can find out about those published studies. These range from studies on other canids (foxes and coyotes) to intelligence tests on the wolves. The behavior studies (ethology for the uninformed) are a backbone of the research undertaken by Park founder, the late Erich Klinghammer. In fact, if you actually listen to what is said, you might find that several leaders in wolf conservation and study efforts got their start at Wolf Park, at least one rather well-known (and respected) researcher was himself a puppy "mom" many years back.
If you want to hold to romantic and ignorant notions of wolves as paragons of virtue, monogamous, and other tripe, then Wolf Park is not the place for you.
If you actually care to listen and learn, and deal with facts, then you can learn a great deal about wolf behavior, language, and how some of that translates to other canids including dogs. We can and do get them to howl, but also note that there is often a fairly regular and set amount of time that passes between howling sessions. Want to know more about it, then ask and I'm sure that any staff member or volunteer will tell you all you want to know about what we jokingly refer to as "recharging the howl battery." In fact, if you have questions we are very good about getting those answered by people who have decades of experience with wolves and animal behavior. Want to learn even more? Then sign up for one of the many special lectures and sessions done by staff and outside experts in everything from wolves to dog training.
There is much to learn at Wolf Park if you will listen and participate. Bring a sense of humor, a sense of adventure, and be willing to consider new information, and you will have a great time and come away much the richer. If not, that's your loss and harmful to real efforts to save and protect our environment.
Oh, and to answer the question I'm most often asked at the Park: do I trust the wolves? Yes, I do. I trust them to be wolves, and treat them with the respect and care that deserves. Only a fool (or the sadly underinformed) would try to treat them as a dog, or think that we do so. To answer the second-most asked question, I personally do think they have a sense of humor, and it is low (gotcha). There have been no formal studies in this regard, so my take is purely anecdotal, but...
Come listen, learn, and make up your own mind about the Park and the questions of the day.
I was accepted as an extern in March 2013. A place with wolves, coyotes, foxes, bisons, big field and friendly people is just awesome. The staffs and senior volulnteers are all welcoming and willing to give us full assisstance. We were offered lots of chances to participate in daily park-maintaining activities, from ground cleaning to interacting with wolves. I felt considered and well-treated as an amateur and non-native English speaker (I came from Taiwan). It's a wonderful place and I have arranged my second visit!
Wolf Park is an incredible organization, and one of the only places in the United States with in-depth research and observation of captive wolves. I completed two internships here, one during the Winter Season and one during the Summer, and it absolutely changed my life, and left me with a strong dedication to pursuing scientifically-informed conservation.
All the animals are pretty much treated like kings. The park only breeds with other organizations with a good track record of socializing and taking care of their animals. Every species, save the bison, are hand-raised and smothered with love from 10 days old. Wolf Park has pursued and accomplished some amazing advances towards socializing animals, which allows interaction between all kinds of people and these fascinating predators.
On top of that, the park is focused equally on research and education. Tours and demonstrations are packed full of information. A sign of a good organization is how long its staff stick around, and most of Wolf Park's staff are in for life. The volunteers are equally dedicated, and any one of them know as much as ecology as most grad students, and are so happy to share everything they know.
The park is small, and completely independent of government funds. They do incredibly with the resources they have, and have been included in some fascinating research in the 40 years they've been open. In all that time, the park has never experienced a critical injury between humans and wolves, and continually provided an incredible opportunity for both scientists and the public.
I have completed two internships at Wolf Park, as well as travelled from Boston, MA to Indiana many times over the past 7 years in order to volunteer. That's right, my idea of a vacation is volunteering at Wolf Park. You could not find a more dedicated group of people than the staff, interns, and volunteers at Wolf Park. The park was initially started as a research facility to study animal behavior, in this case, wolves and other wild canids. Wolf Park has contributed amazing research in the field of ethology, and many wolf centers throughout the country have used Wolf Park as a model for their own facilities. It also contributes public education programs for visitors, including public and private tours. The wolves at Wolf Park are socialized, meaning they are used to having people around. This is very helpful in allowing them to be viewed by complete strangers without being stressed out, also for checking their overall health, and creating opportunities for behavior enrichment. This does not in any way mean they are pets or even that they act like dogs. If anything, dogs exhibit aspects of wolf behavior. Wolf Park did organize wolf-bison demonstrations for many years, by placing two or three wolves into a large enclosure with their bison herd. A healthy bison has nothing to fear from wolves, and while the wolves would show interest and occasionally test the bison, neither species ever inflicted any serious harm upon the other. The demonstrations ended recently after a complaint was made, and the USDA (needlessly, in many peoples' opinions) prohibited such interactions from taking place. Another neat things about the park is that the bloodline found in the most recent generation of pups can be traced back to the original wolves forty years ago. That's quite an accomplishment! Wolves have also been brought in from other wildlife centers to encourage genetic diversity, and while some wolves will mate with siblings given the choice, steps are taken (such as sterilization) to prohibit too much inbreeding. Wolf Park has contributed to wolf research in the wild through their own behavior research, and it is a valuable educational facility, as well as a great place for families to come and learn more about an animal that few people ever get to see up close.
I first learned of Wolf Park in a newspaper article. My first visit was to a Howl Night in January. There weren't many people but the staff gave a wonderful presentation. I knew I wanted to come back. I became an intern the next summer. I learned so much about wolves, their status and behaviors in the wild compared to captivity, as well as how new research of wild wolves had changed through the decades and how it compares to what we thought we knew from captive behaviors. I continued to volunteer as well as complete two additional summer internships. I had the privilege of being a "puppy mom" for the two wonderful coyotes who live at the park. Wolf Park animals are socialized to humans from the time they are small puppies. The people who are with them constantly and care for them as puppies are referred to as puppy moms. It leads to less stress during their lives since they aren't afraid of humans and many look forward to interactions. It is a great asset in their long term health care. The staff is very knowledgeable and they care greatly for the animals.
I've also had the opportunity to hear great presentations by experts like Doug Smith (the head of the wolf recovery in Yellowstone) and Ray Coppinger (biologist) at Wolf Park.
It is a beautiful and wonderful thing to be standing in the park when the wolves begin to howl. It's a wonderful place to learn not only the science of wolves, but to see them for what they are beyond the myths and the legends.
All that I learned at Wolf Park helped me reach my goal of a career in captive wildlife care.
I completed a three month Summer internship in 2013 and had an absolutely amazing time!
There are wolves, bison, coyotes and red and grey foxes. The grey foxes were still kits when I went, so I was able to help socialise them. All the animals at Wolf Park are socialised. This creates a better experience for the public, since the animals are not afraid to come up to the fence!
All the staff and other volunteers are so welcoming and I felt very comfortable very quickly. The amount of things I learnt about wolves was incredible. Educating and interacting with the public was great fun, although i must admit I was quite scared about giving my first tour. Though it was hard work, it was very rewarding and I would truly recommend it.
I will treasure these memories forever.
Thanks Wolf Park!
My first clue that Wolf Park wasn't the experience I thought it would be was when we were waiting for the tour and our guide was speaking to the couple in front of us about the bison they have on site there. She said that they used to have times where they would allow the bison and wolves to interact... they would let the wolves hunt the bison and then the bison would attack the wolves. Our guide explained that 'unfortunately' they had to stop this because someone uploaded a video to the internet and the government told them they couldn't allow incompatible species to interact. I was horrified, and the guide commiserated with the couple about how the government sticks its nose into things it shouldn't.
My next big clue, and probably more important than they way they treat the wolves like pet dogs, was that when asked where they got all the wolves, our guide responded that they all came from one original pair. THEY BREED SIBLINGS and now the latest pups were born with cataracts and a couple of them had to have surgery. I don't care if this is how wolves act in the wild, I think this is a horrible practice in a facility that is emphasizing research and education. Go rescue some wolves.
While the facility as a whole is very large, the wolves were divided up into small groups, or singly, and in relatively small enclosures.
Their idea of research is putting ground dwelling and tree dwelling fox together so 'we can see what happens.'
We were told they don't encourage the wolves to howl because they felt it 'strained their vocal cords.'
I could go on and on, but if you feel you must go there, please view this place with open eyes and I'm sure you will feel as heartsick as I still do, weeks later.
I did a 3 month intership back in 2003 at the park. It was an amazing experience that I will always remember - the interaction with the animals along with educating others through tours. It was hard work but so rewarding, I would highly recommend to anyone who is passionate about American canids to either visit, sponsor or undertake one of their volunteer programs. I return to the park when I can - an unbelieveable experience. Also a great opppertunity for photo ops as the animals are hand reared so are happy to watch their 'human TV' and come close to the enclosure fences for a better view. Aling with wolves you can see coyotes, foxes and a herd of bison. During the main open season they even do a wolf-bison demonstration where it is explained that the predator-prey ratio ensures that the wolves are unable to bring down a healthy adult bison. instead you get to see the testing behaviour of the wolf, looking for weakness and the herd in return chase off any wolf whom may come too close. This park captures the imagination of the young who may not otherwise get to see one of their countries natural predators up close - you can even ask them to howl!
I've taken my Girl Scouts to Wolf Park twice. They love Wolf Park and I love Wolf Park. There's no place better to learn about predators and prey, and the staff and grounds are impressive. I would absolutely recommend this place to any animal lover, and anyone who wants to really understand wolves and their behavior. Everyone there is incredibly helpful, and of course the girls loved their stellar gift shop. Educational and entertaining! I would definitely recommend the combo ticket so you can take the tour and then come back to howl with the wolves.