There were merely seven Mexican gray wolves left worldwide in 1971. Today, the population is past 300 living in captivity, with more than 70 additional wolves living in the wild, thanks to Missouri’s Endangered Wolf Center.
Dr. Marlin Perkins, host of the former television program Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, founded the Center alongside his wife, Carol, in 1971. Originated to help the endangered Mexican gray and red wolf, the Endangered Wolf Center now houses five types of in-need canids: Mexican gray wolves, red wolves, maned wolves, African wild dogs and swift foxes.
“They are very elusive animals,” says the Center’s executive director, Virginia Busch, who explains that, throughout the years, wolves have gotten a terrible reputation culturally. The Big Bad Wolf is an example of this villainous status. “The wolf is always perceived as the bad guy. In contrast to that, out of all predators—lions and tigers and other larger predators—these guys are desperately afraid of people.”
Working under the tag ‘The Alternative to Extinction,’ the Endangered Wolf Center is focused on protection, education, research and population assistance, including managed breeding and reintroduction into the wild. Some of the organization’s animals have been released into parts of Arizona, North Carolina, New Mexico, Canada and Mexico to rejoin their natural habitat.
“There are ranchers out there who are taking a more proactive spin on having wolves in their environment,” Busch says. “There are certainly methods and tools that can be put in place so that wolves and humans can live in harmony with each other.”
The Center’s facility stretches across 63 wooded acres in Eureka, Mo. The venue itself plays an important factor, as even outside the spacious enclosures, the natural atmosphere and isolation benefit the animals. “That seclusion is what we think has made our breeding programs so successful,” Busch says. “We really think over the last 40 years—because they’ve been in this buffer zone—that they have been experiencing their natural environment.”
Streaming live video showcasing the Mexican gray wolves’ and African painted dogs’ enclosures is broadcasted online to give the public a glimpse into the sanctuary of these endangered animals. “We certainly feel that education is a very integral and large component of the center’s success. We want to teach not only about wolves, but about canids and endangered species, and how the environment is effected by the species that live in it.” This education initiative includes programs such as frequent campfires—no negatively themed wolf stories, of course—and summer camp.
“We’re making some positive progress, but it’s very slow,” Busch says. “I think it’s just a matter of time—and a matter of culture change.”
For more information about the Endangered Wolf Center, call (636)-938-5900 or visit endangeredwolfcenter.org.
Volunteer Spotlight: Shy Patel
St. Louis transplant Shy Patel, Endangered Wolf Center board member and longtime volunteer, says his love for animals is his motivation. While he wants to help all of the Center’s critters, his history with one species makes it mean a little bit more.
Born in Kenya, Patel moved to the United States in 1987. “The African wild dog has the most pull for me because I’ve seen them in nature,” Patel says. “Now you’ve got to really look for them.” He explains that these animals affect everything, from the population of other creatures to the appearance of the natural landscape. “Don’t you want your kids to grow up knowing what you knew, and seeing what you saw? It helps nature and the ecological system.”
Patel has been involved with the organization for some 13 years, and recently joined the board. “Every year, I get more and more involved,” he says.
While volunteers at the Center do not work directly with the wolves, there is a definite need for assistance, with volunteer categories ranging from art to education to maintenance. In Patel’s case, he has been able to assist the group in behind-the-scenes ways, thanks to his profession. As the GM at Brio Tuscan Grille, he estimates that Brio has catered roughly 80 percent of all food-related events at the Endangered Wolf Center, such as members’ lunches, during the past 9 years. He’s also worked to gain media coverage and financial contributions. As a board member, his impact and assistance surely will have room to grow.
“It’s part of my life,” Patel says of the center. “I want to be a part of helping the animals who don’t speak for themselves.”