Wildlife

Comment by July 15th to Keep Wolves Protected Under the Endangered Species Act

Maki, a rescued wolf-dog at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, 2015. Photo Credit: Nikki Kolb

Maki, a rescued wolf-dog at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, 2015. Photo Credit: Nikki Kolb

Wolves create biodiversity. Contrary to the myths that have demonized them for centuries, wolves are essential to the lifecycle of their ecosystems. As a keystone species, they keep all aspects, from trees, to rivers, insects, mammals and birds in balance. Without them, things fall apart.

Evidence of the need for wolves in North American ecosystems has been well documented, and most famously in Yellowstone National Park where the species was once eradicated. In the absence of wolves, their prey – elk and deer – were free to overpopulate and overgraze, stunting new growth in the forest that led to riverbank erosion, species loss, and an overall ripple effect that degraded the local environment. But when reintroduced, the park was restored.

Knowing that wolves are crucial to the health of their ecosystems, ensuring their protection after centuries of slaughter is critical, especially now, as the federal government considers prematurely removing protection for gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act in the lower 48 states. The move would turn wolf management over to the states, likely subjecting wolves to hunting and trapping, which has already been demonstrated in states like Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, where wolves have been delisted.

“These states are not managing their wolves like other wildlife,” the Wolf Conservation Center explains. “Instead, their goal is to aggressively drive wolf population numbers down to the bare minimum required by law.” From 2011 – 2013 when wolf management was turned over to 6 states, nearly two thousand wolves were killed. Thousands more have perished since in these states and others where protections were temporarily or permanently lifted.

Once roaming the U.S. in the millions, about 6,000 gray wolves remain in the wild in the contiguous United States today. While wolves have rebounded in some parts of the country due to ESA protections, they have only recovered a fraction of their former range, raising red flags for scientists and wildlife advocates who warn that removal from the ESA would have dire consequences for their long-term survival. If delisted, it is likely the gray wolf will never achieve a viable population in places like the Northeast and southern Rockies where there is suitable habitat for their return.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s open comment period on the proposal to remove wolves from the Endangered Species Act ends on July 15th.  If you care about wolves, this is the moment to make your voice heard, ensuring that we, and future generations, can continue to admire this species as a national treasure, along with the benefits they bring to our planet’s ecology.

To comment on the proposal directly visit this link, or comment via the Wolf Conservation Center here. We invite you to use language from this article to make your case for protecting wolves, or to use the Wolf Conservation Center’s ‘ESA Talking Points to Guide Your Words.’ You can further the fight for wolves by sharing this article and spreading the word.

To learn more about the human-wolf conflict, check out Outside Magazine’s ‘Wolves and the Endangered Species Act, an Explainer.’

Wildlife Tourism Exposed: Nat Geo Uncovers the Truth About This Shadowy Industry

A tourist riding an elephant in Phuket, Thailand. Though elephants are considered domestic animals in the country, they must endure a brutal crushing of the spirit in order to serve man.

Wildlife tourism is a booming international business born out of the human desire to engage with exotic animals. Inextricably linked with the illegal wildlife trade – a black market with an annual estimated worth of $7 – $23 billion that puts 7,000 species at risk – the tourism industry has a dark side that has long been hidden from the public.

During our travels in South East Asia we had a number of unforgettable experiences with wildlife, as well as the chance to observe good and bad practices across the region. National Geographic’s recent exposé on the topic is a deep dive into this shadowy industry, and is essential reading for anyone passionate about travel, animal rights, and conservation. Below is an account of some of our experiences with wildlife tourism, our recommendations on where to go and what to avoid.

Interacting with captive elephants is very easy in South East Asia where thousands work in tourism, and where opportunities to ride elephants are widely available. We took the above photo while hiking to Big Buddha Phuket on a very hot day in Thailand. The hike took us through a jungle path along a cliff overlooking the Andaman Sea and past an elephant trekking camp on a busy road. The photo pretty much captures how elephant tourism works.

It’s easy to see that the tourist on the elephant appears overjoyed. Riding an elephant is probably a life long dream of hers because she likely has no idea of the cruel breaking of the spirit, known as phajaan, or the crush, that all elephants must endure in order to be obedient enough to give rides and perform tricks. Phajaan is a torturous event over days or weeks that usually occurs when an elephant is a baby or juvenile. The babes are separated from their mothers and beaten until they have lost the will to resist the elephant trainer, called the mahout.

The mahout sitting on the elephant’s neck in the photo uses his feet to guide the elephant by tapping her forehead with his right heel and steering her movements with his left foot on her ear. The bull hook in his hand, the tool most commonly used to control and discipline elephants, looms ominously above her head. A pink scar rings her back left ankle, likely the result of prolonged restraint. These are the things we can see.

What’s not visible in the photo are the concrete slabs connected to thick chains that line the edge of the cliff where we assumed the elephants rest at night, or the shacks in the jungle where it’s likely the mahouts and their families live. Beyond the animal cruelty that often goes unseen in this business is the human suffering of the animal caretakers who rely on the industry for their livelihoods. In Thailand, elephants are legally classified as domestic animals like horses or cows, and elephant training, like farming or ranching, is often a family tradition. In the case of elephant ownership, a lack of upward mobility often keeps families stuck in the cycle. The mahout is not the owner of the elephant camp.

We watched the above elephant in a caravan of several pass us, including one who walked with all four legs shackled together. When we reached the main road and entrance to the camp we discovered a baby elephant pacing in a small pen and a young male attached to a chain constantly pulling on his short tether. A family with a young child paid to feed him. We were asked if we wanted to feed the baby elephant, but declined, and continued on our hike unsettled by what we had seen.

Elephants carry tourists in high heat at Angkor Wat’s Bayon Temple in Cambodia. An elephant that died of heatstroke under these conditions in 2016 sparked an international outcry, including a petition to ban elephant riding in Cambodia that was signed by tens of thousands. This photo was taken in 2017.

National Geographic’s recent article covers a wide range of animals involved in wildlife tourism, from bears to wolves, sloths, elephants, tigers and marine animals spanning countries and continents. The main take away, though, is not just an understanding of the misery often involved in wildlife tourism, but the way tourists are duped. When writing about elephant camps in Thailand the article’s authors described two camps: one that offers elephant rides, and another that calls itself a sanctuary. At the “sanctuary” the animals seem free from servitude. But it turns out both camps are owned by the same company, and those elephants at the “sanctuary” also give rides.

This story hit close to home for us. One of our favorite experiences during our time in Asia was a day of snorkeling in Thailand, which we booked on a whim through our hotel. It was only later that we discovered the same company also offered elephant rides. Had we known at the time, we would have taken our business elsewhere.

We had a similar experience in Borneo when we visited two wildlife centers operated by the Malaysian government: Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, which appears to be doing great work returning orangutans to the jungle permanently, and their counterpart, Matang Wildlife Centre, which houses a menagerie of endangered and exotic animals that have been injured, orphaned, or rescued from the exotic pet trade. At Matang, most of the animals were living in cramped, small and sparse enclosures unlike their freely roaming cousins in Semenggoh.

Though Matang is not a zoo or sanctuary, not all the animals living there are releasable, causing visitors to wonder why the permanent residents are not living in better conditions. With no rangers available to answer questions, we left with the impression that Matang is under staffed, under funded, and poorly maintained, housing depressed and distressed wild animals. What we saw – pacing sun bears, an orangutan staring at the wall, rhinoceros hornbills in small confines, and a gibbon that threw poop at us – did not give us a good feeling, and it turns out other visitors shared our concerns. A slew of negative reviews on TripAdvisor have since reached the government, though it remains to be seen if any action will be taken to improve the conditions at Matang.

Orangutans at Matang Wildlife Centre in 2017.

Though not all experiences with wildlife tourism involve cages, chains, and trainers, when booking a tour out in nature you can still encounter some less than stellar guides and operators.

In Indonesia, we booked two tours around Komodo National Park that involved snorkeling with manta rays. It was surprisingly difficult to find information on most tour companies ahead of time, with many travel bloggers advising visitors to book in person. We scheduled one tour in advance with a sustainably minded company and the second on arrival, resulting in two very different snorkeling experiences.

The guides from the tour booked in person urged our group to jump into the ocean practically on top of the manta rays into a dark, swift current without any explanation of what to expect, while guides from the tour booked in advance encouraged us to calmly and gently enter the water at a distance so as not to disturb these gentle giants. Though no one was hurt with the first tour group, we felt that the experience could have been dangerous for us and the mantas.

So how can you avoid supporting unsavory organizations when seeing wildlife?

Research is your best bet. Visit the company websites and look at reviews on sites like TripAdvisor before booking. Reading blogs about others’ experiences can also be helpful. Though this will usually do the trick, it’s not always possible to know what a wildlife center, park or tour will be like until you get there. If something seems amiss, ask employees, and share your experience with others. Generally speaking, if an animal is performing i.e. being made to pose for photos, be constantly handled, do tricks, or give rides, it’s probably not a good situation. If you are able to interact with wildlife, it’s important that any contact is on the animal’s terms.

Arctic wolf, Sugar, relaxing at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in New Mexico.

Thankfully, there are plenty of sanctuaries, national parks, and reserves that offer opportunities to engage with wild animals ethically. Here are our recommendations on where to visit based on our experiences:

  • Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand – This sanctuary for elephants rescued from logging and tourism is truly fantastic. They have several projects around Thailand and neighboring countries allowing tourists to interact with retired elephants humanely. A number of tours and volunteer opportunities are offered. We volunteered on site for a week.

  • Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, Kuching, Borneo – The orangutans at Semenggoh have been rehabilitated and released back into the wild after being injured, orphaned, or rescued from lives as pets. The center is open twice a day for visitors to observe orangutans during feeding times, though seeing them is not guaranteed. Visitors have no contact with the orangutans.

  • Komodo National Park with Flores XP Adventure, Indonesia – Flores XP Adventure is an eco tourism company offering tours around Komodo National Park. On our single day tour, we saw komodo dragons, dolphins, tropical fish, manta rays, reef sharks, and flying foxes in the wild. Tourists have no contact with the animals.

  • Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, Ramah, New Mexico – WSWS rescues wolves and other wild canines from the exotic pet trade, providing lifetime sanctuary. Like ENP, visitors can choose from a number of tours and volunteer opportunities. We worked at WSWS for two years and definitely recommend a visit.

  • Wolf Haven International, Tenino, Washington – Wolf Haven also rescues and provides lifetime sanctuary for displaced wolves and wolf-dogs. They are accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and the American Sanctuary Association. Guided tours with no animal contact are available by appointment.

  • Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, Ubud, Bali – The Monkey Forest Sanctuary is home to over 600 long-tailed macaques on 30 acres of protected jungle within the city of Ubud. The monkeys are wild, but not shy. Although it is possible to touch them, it’s not recommended.

  • Bako National Park, Borneo, Malaysia – During our visit to this protected peninsula, we saw bearded boars, proboscis monkeys, macaques, a pit viper, and many other animals along the trails and beach. There is no interaction with the wild animals at Bako.

Ultimately, wildlife tourism exists because people love animals, but if we remain shielded from the reality of the industry, elephant riding, tiger cuddles, exotic animal performance, and ownership will continue. As awareness of the unethical practices involved in most animal attractions spreads, the industry will have to change, benefitting humans, animals and ecosystems alike.

*Interested in more ways to help? Thailand is planning to allow Asian elephants, an endangered species, to be exported from the country beginning June 23, 2019 for the purposes of research, study, good relations, and parts or products for academic research or as antiques/art objects. Asian elephants are a keystone species making them critical to their ecosystems, and with only about 1,000 left in the wild in Thailand, this new law, which would lift a ban on elephant exportation that has been in place for the last decade, is likely to compromise the Asian elephant’s future in Thailand and beyond. You can help by signing and sharing this petition to stop Thailand from exporting elephants.

A happy herd at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Orangutan Sanctuary: Visiting Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, Borneo

The allure of seeing orangutans in their natural habitat draws visitors from all over the world to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, a nature reserve just 20 kilometers south of Kuching City in Sarawak, Borneo. Open all year round, the Centre is home to a colony of semi-wild orangutans and is the ideal place to spot this incredibly rare, shy and endangered species in the jungle. Started in 1975 as a sanctuary for orangutans that were injured, orphaned, or illegally kept as pets, today Semenggoh is the largest orangutan rehabilitation center in Sarawak. The Centre offers visiting hours twice a day during which guests can watch the orangutans descend from the treetops to feed. 

A BRIEF HISTORY

With their name meaning ‘people of the forest,’ orangutans only exist in two places in the world: the lush jungles of Borneo and Sumatra. Tragically, deforestation, human encroachment and habitat loss continue to threaten these amazing creatures with extinction. Semenggoh Wildlife Centre exists to conserve these animals and their habitat, while educating the public about the orangutan and their need for protection. 

Run by Sarawak Forestry, Semenggoh boasts a rehabilitation program that has been so successful there are now three generations of orangutans living in the reserve. Beginning with just 11 animals in the 1970s, each rescued between the ages of 1 and 5, the sanctuary now has nearly 30 healthy adolescent and young-adult orangutans living in a population that is so strong the park cannot introduce any more outsiders. The rehabilitation program has since moved to Matang Wildlife Centre in nearby Kubah National Park.

During their rehabilitation, the orangutans undergo training to allow for their eventual release and subsequent independence in the wild. Though they spend most of their time in the jungle, they are also trained to return to the Centre during feeding times when they can receive a free meal, as needed. Since the reserve cannot supply enough wild food for all its inhabitants, the Centre offers feedings to supplement the orangutans diet. While orangutans primarily eat fruit, they also forage for bark, honey, insects, young shoots, and occasionally bird eggs and small vertebrae. During feedings, the Centre offers bananas, sweet potatoes, coconut, papayas, pineapples, sugar cane and hard-boiled eggs.

VISITING

The best time to view the orangutans is outside of the fruiting season, which lasts from November to March, when the animals may not venture back to the Centre to feed. We visited in May, which turned out to be perfect.

The Centre is open twice a day: from 8 – 10 AM and 2 – 4 PM. This is to limit potential contact between humans and orangutans. Feedings occur from 9 – 10 AM and 3 – 4 PM. The entrance fee is about $2.50/person for foreign adults. Pro Tip: Your ticket can be used for the entire day, making it ideal to visit in the morning so that if the orangutans don’t show up for breakfast, you can come back in the afternoon for a second try.

Semenggoh is a 30 – 40 minute drive from Kuching City and is accessible by public transit. We began our morning early, but not early enough to make the 7:15 AM bus, and instead opted for an Uber ($5) which got us to the Centre 20 minutes before feeding time. On the way back, we took the bus.

Upon arrival we purchased our tickets at the main gate and walked down the long road to a small gift shop and information center housing photos and bios of each of the orangutans living in the reserve. After a quick look around, we wandered on toward the viewing platform and found a roped off path leading to the feeding area where we waited in front of a sign reading ‘Sarawak Forestry.’ Shortly after, our guide for the morning, Dominic, appeared and addressed our large crowd of about 40 people.

Dominic advised the group about safety – no eating or drinking, no flash photography, and to stay 20 feet from the orangutans at all times, and of course, to remain quiet. After the introduction we ventured down a short trail to the feeding area and secured ourselves a spot directly in front of the feeding platform surrounded by dense jungle. A staff member tossed bananas onto the platform before calling to the orangutans in a melodic tone that sounded like “aaaoooo!” several times. 

Then the mesmerizing happened: the trees began moving in the distance, limbs shook and swayed until we caught a glimpse of some large orange bodies shifting through the canopy. Two sisters born in the park, each with their baby, descended long ropes to the platform to gather bananas. The ropes allow the orangutans to swiftly and easily access the feeding platform and return to the trees to eat, rather than having to move from tree to tree to get there and back. This also provides visitors with great viewing and photo opportunities. We saw Analisa, the first orangutan to be born in the park, and her young baby, and Saddamiah with her 3 year old, Ruby.

The orangutans moved deftly and quickly through the trees, at once strong, fluid and incredibly acrobatic. It was an immense joy to see them traveling through the jungle, so close to us, yet at a safe distance. Once happily fed, the orangutans departed, disappearing back into the thick forest. In all, we saw them for about 30 – 40 minutes.

By the end of the hour, only a dozen or so spectators remained. At that point, our guide, Dominic, shared with us which orangutans we had seen along with their ages, all information we wouldn’t have known had we left early.

While park staff is eager to usher everyone out after feeding, the reserve is also home to a botanical garden, a crocodile habitat, and other rare animals including the giant squirrel, pigmy squirrel, gibbons and a variety of birds. Those who arrive early may have a chance to spot some of the other flora and fauna the sanctuary has to offer.

ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

Having a chance to view orangutans in the wild was an incredible experience, and one we will never forget. Their grace and majesty is truly awesome to behold. We highly recommend a visit to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre where each ticket sold helps support orangutan conservation.

Feeding 70 Wolves on Christmas

Two Nikki’s: Nikki getting ready to feed high-content wolf-dogs, Nikki and Maki.

After giving and receiving gifts, nothing says “Christmas” quite like sitting down to a delicious feast with those you love. What will you be cooking up this holiday? At Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, a refuge for wild canines rescued from the exotic pet trade, employees get into the spirit by serving up hundreds of pounds of raw meat to animals in need.

Nikki hand feeding Arctic wolf siblings Thunder and Alice.

As staff members at WSWS, we woke up early on a white Christmas in 2016 to feed 70 wolves, wolf-dogs, and other wild canines. The morning was bright and beautiful, with deep snow, happy wolves, and an ATV filled with over 200 pounds of meat. Accompanied by two of the sanctuary’s volunteers, we delivered meals to each of the sanctuary’s residents.

WSWS’s rescues typically receive 3-5 pounds of food per feeding five days a week to replicate a natural diet (wolves in the wild can only eat when they catch food, making periods of fasting perfectly normal for them). While most rescues eat frozen meat loaves, some have special diets and feeding arrangements depending on their nutritional and behavioral needs.

Nikki separating high-content wolf-dog, Forest, from Thunder and Alice for safe feeding.

Feeding and fasting days at the sanctuary are the same every week, providing the rescues with a sense of routine. And with the holiday falling on a feeding day, we were happy to help spread some Christmas cheer! Feeding all 70 rescues was a large task for just four people, but the serenity of the snow covered sanctuary on Christmas morning filled us with merriment and joy.

Forest eating while Thunder and Alice eagerly await their breakfast.

Living With Wolves: The Joy of Giving

Lucian, a wolf-dog at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary diving into his holiday present.

“The more we are concerned about the happiness of others, the more we are building our own happiness at the same time.” – The Dalai Lama, Daily Advice from the Heart

Enriching wild animals in captivity is vital to their mental and physical well being. Enrichments promote joy, stimulate the senses and give captive animals something to do outside the norm. Like humans, wolves are family oriented, social animals that love play. At Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, a refuge for captive-bred wolves, wolf-dogs and other wild canines rescued from the exotic pet trade, enrichment is central to animal care and is provided in various forms tailored to each rescue’s desires and personality, including various treats, meaty bones, interesting scents, human contact, walks, toys, splash tubs and more.

Wolf-dog, Nimoy, showing off his present.

While the above are delivered daily, special sanctuary wide enrichments occur four times a year, when each rescue receives a seasonally inspired surprise. Boxes wrapped with colorful paper, smeared with interesting scents and filled with treats are doled out in winter. Easter baskets fitted with frozen rabbit shaped meat loaves and other goodies are delivered in the spring. Chilled watermelon meat treats are passed out in the summer, and pumpkins filled with meat are presented near Halloween.

Rain, one of the sanctuary’s shyer wolf-dogs tentatively inspecting her gift.

Many of WSWS’s long-time residents are used to receiving special treats and know just what to do, open them, grab the goodies, destroy the packaging, and pee on it for good measure. Others who are new to the pack may be apprehensive about the foreign object at first, not sure what to make of it or how to access the treats inside, and might even need a little help from a human friend to open it.

Lucian marking his territory once through “opening'“ his gift.

“Present Toss” as the winter seasonal enrichment is known, is a thrill for both the residents’ caretakers who make and deliver the gifts, and the rescues who devour them.

Caring for the sanctuary’s seventy rescues is an enormous labor of love that is often selfless. The daily work can be difficult, and anything but glamorous at times (picking up poop, mending fences, filling in holes, and sorting through 40 gallon barrels of raw meat are everyday chores).

Nimoy eagerly snatching his present.

And while many rescues were raised with some form of human contact and do enjoy being pet, going for walks, and interacting with their caretakers, an equal number shy away from any form of human interaction making them entirely hands off.

Thus, the joy in the job is quite simply the act of giving the rescues the best care possible, and being entirely present with each animal so as to be receptive to their individual needs, even if they never seem to say ‘thank you.’ This is the essence of giving, and the giving season that is upon us: to give without expecting anything in return, but to find our own enrichment and joy in the simple act of preparing and presenting the gift of our time, attention and love.

Romeo, a rescued red fox, enjoying one of his holiday gifts.

Howl-O-Ween at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary

9 year old wolf-dog, Argo, snacking on his pumpkin treat at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary.

Candy Kitchen, New Mexico

Halloween is a special holiday for many. For some, it’s even the most loved of the year! At Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, a wildlife sanctuary in rural New Mexico, an annual Howl-O-Ween party marks this spooky October date. What better way to spend a Saturday around Halloween than with wolves in the crisp autumn high desert sunshine? Added bonus: each ticket directly supports the wolves and Wild Spirit’s mission of rescue, sanctuary and education.

We had a blast working this family friendly festival during our two years at Wild Spirit. Here’s what this fun day is all about!

The event typically begins with a “pumpkin toss” enrichment tour, during which Wild Spirit’s wolves and wolf-dogs receive pumpkins filled with meat, and sprayed with smelly scents to both enjoy and destroy. This is a great photo opportunity for guests and is generally restricted to a small tour that must be booked in advance, making it extra intimate. The rest of the day usually features standard tours of the sanctuary, food, music, games, costumes, roaming ambassador wolves (with their expert handlers) and a spooky night tour.

Each Howl-O-Ween is capped with an annual fire ceremony after dark in celebration of the lives of those rescues lost during the preceding year. Rescues’ ashes are offered to a sacred fire while Wild Spirit’s staff, volunteers and friends share memories of the sanctuary’s beloved canines that have passed over. It’s a special ceremony that all Howl-O-Ween guests are welcome to attend. 

Happy and safe Halloween to all!

PS - If you’re in the area or planning a trip, visit Wild Spirit’s website to learn more about this event, sanctuary tours, and lodging. This year’s festival is Saturday, October 20th.

 

SNAPSHOTS

From Top Left to Right: Wolf-dog Nikki, Romeo the red fox, Nikki and Chadley, Executive Director Leyton Cougar with a guest, two photos of wolf-dog Skye, our friend Christine and her niece had their faces painted, volunteers preparing enrichment pumpkins, wold-dog Dakota, arctic wolf Powder, Chadley and Maddy delivering pumpkins to New Guinea Singing Dogs Reba, Bono and Princess, Yuni coyote, Dakota, Assistant Director Crystal and Ambassador Wolf Flurry greeting guests, Chadley playing music for guests, wolf-dog pup Quinn, Chadley giving wolf-dog Lucian his pumpkin, wolf-dog Kabbalah, Yuni, wolf-dog Maki, Maki scent rolling on her pumpkin, wolf-dog Cheyenne, Chadley dressed up, wolf-dog Contessa saying ‘hi’ to Wild Spirit photographer Steve, Contessa eating, wolf-dog Oni, and wolf-dog Zeus.

Living With Wolves: A Day in the Life at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary

Shaggy Pack of the greater "Westeros Pack" at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary.

From Left: Shaggydog, Jon Snow, Shae and Summer. 

We spent two beautiful years living and working at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary (WSWS), a wildlife sanctuary in rural New Mexico that rescues wolves, wolf-dogs, coyotes, Australian Dingoes, New Guinea Singing Dogs and foxes from the exotic pet trade. With a mission of rescue, lifetime sanctuary, and education, WSWS is open to the public, accepts short and long-term volunteers, and is run by a small group of dedicated staff and volunteers mostly living on site and off-grid in the high desert mountains at 7,500 feet above sea level. The sanctuary is open to visitors all year round and sees thousands of international guests annually.

This post describes a day in the life at Wild Spirit for a staff member (though most of the activities are done by long-term volunteers as well).

 

Dawn

Dawn from our cabin.

  • Waking to the howls of the wolf pack and wild coyotes singing to the sunrise is a refreshing way to begin each day.

 

Morning Rounds (Part I)

Chadley making "med-balls" as part of Morning Rounds.

  • Each day, a different staff member or volunteer is assigned to Morning Rounds and Guard Duty, tasks that open and close the sanctuary for the day, while ensuring the safety and well-being of each rescue. The assigned person heads to Wolf Kitchen an hour before the work day begins to make supplement and medication meatballs, check on the rescues, and distribute meds as needed.

 

Animal Care

Above: Program Director Nikki with Lucian. Below (L to R): Our friend Silvana, visiting from LA, filling up Dakota's water bucket. Chadley taking care of Nakota and Silva.

  • Almost everyone starts their day at the sanctuary performing "Animal Care" (which is arguably the best part of the day). Each morning, staff and volunteers care for the animals in their assigned habitats, which are chosen based on each personnel's level of experience, their personality, and the personality of each rescue. Depending on the number of staff and volunteers, this can be 2 – 8 habitats per person. Animal Care consists of socializing with animals, cleaning water buckets, filling waters, and clearing habitats of waste and debris. It is important to note that only some of the rescues enjoy human interaction, and certainly not all. Socialization is never forced on any rescue, and is dictated by each rescue with each caretaker. Some animals are off-limits to the touch out of safety measures and respect for the given rescue.

 

Clockwise from Top Left: Nikki with Contessa, Chadley with Romeo, Chadley walking Lucian (on Lucian's birthday), Nikki with Riot & Cinder.

 

Enrichment

Above: Nimoy with his "present toss." Below (L to R): Contessa out on a walk visiting her friends Rae, Nikki, Stefanie, Kailyn and Matt. Riot and Cinder scent rolling on bug spray.

  • For some animals, social time with humans can be enrichment enough, but other special enrichments to keep rescues fit and stimulated include treats, meaty bones, going for walks, interesting scents to smell and roll in, and toys like boomer balls or even stuffed animals (only approved for some).

 

Feeding

Above: Forest Pack and Powder Pack sharing elk. Below (L to R): Nikki feeding Maki. Feeding Tour guests with Teton & Shasta.

  • To replicate a natural diet, Wild Spirit’s rescues eat 5 days a week, fasting on Mondays and Thursdays. This is because wild canines do not eat every day in the wild, but only when they catch food. On feeding days, most rescues receive frozen food such us meat loaf bricks of 2 - 5 lbs each, frozen chicken (pieces or whole) and other delicacies like elk heads and organs. Sometimes entire carcasses are given to larger packs. Those with very special diets receive an individually prepared meal just for them (typically limited to the very elderly and/or rescues with serious health conditions). The Sanctuary's smaller canine rescues; like foxes, Singing Dogs, Coyotes and Dingoes each have specific diets tailored to their particular nutritional needs.

 

Clean Up

Our cousin Eric, visiting from NJ, washing food buckets after a Feeding Tour. Thanks, Eric!

  • After "Animal Care" time, each person cleans the kitchenware and buckets he or she used for food and waste throughout the morning.

 

Morning Rounds (Part 2)

Wild Spirit's courtyard, where guests gather before a tour.

  • The person who did the first part of Morning Rounds checks the sanctuary after feeding, makes sure all rescues are alive and well, have plenty of water, that habitats are locked and secured, and the tour path is presentable for guests.

 

  • After animal care, the rest of the day is filled with various projects done individually or in teams. With a small group of staff and volunteers, most have a hand in almost every aspect of sanctuary operations.

L to R: Tina and Courtney walking Australian Dingoes Glacier and Kooyong.

 

Head to the Office

Event Coordinator Chadley swamped with phone calls in the office.

  • For the office contingent, there’s always plenty to do. Answering inquiries, fundraising, scheduling animal rescues, guest activities and overnight stays, vet visits, outreach events and tours, project planning, volunteer management, and more.

 

Log Animal Observations

Assistant Director Crystal Castellanos taking care of Shaggydog in the Animal Care Office after one of his back legs was amputated.

  • Staff and volunteers are vigilant about reporting animal observations such as strange behaviors, sudden changes in mood or disposition and eating and digestive habits, pack dynamics, injuries, and anything else out of the ordinary. After animal care, observations are documented in a detailed log.

 

Go to the Vet or an Outreach Event

Above: Nimoy waiting to be seen at the eye doctor. Below (Clockwise from top Left): Flurry ready for his eye surgery.Thunder trying to escape his vet appointment. Board Member Jan with Storm at the New Mexico State Fair. Executive Director Leyton Cougar delivering a presentation with Flurry at the Jean Cocteau Theatre in Santa Fe.

  • While these activities don’t happen everyday, staff and volunteers do take rescues off property from time to time. Rescues go to the veterinarian for anything from routine check ups to treating illnesses and sudden emergencies. Going to the vet can happen anytime, but most visits are pre-scheduled. With about 70 rescues, WSWS averages $10,000 a year in vet bills, and sometimes more.

 

  • Wild Spirit takes it’s "Ambassador Wolves" on a few outreach events per year to share the sanctuary’s mission, teach people that wolves are not pets, but also not the big bad wolf we hear about in Little Red Riding Hood, and to explain the wolf’s role in nature, and why it is critical they remain protected. Venues include libraries, theatres, schools and wildlife centers.

 

Rescue an Animal

Above: Rescued wolf-dog pup Quinn relaxing. Below (L to R): Rescued wolf-dog pups Leia & Quinn playing. A coyote pup being transported to another sanctuary by Executive Director Leyton Cougar.

  • Wild Spirit’s Director, Leyton Cougar, has traveled all over the U.S. to rescue wolves, wolf-dogs, and other wild canines in need. The sanctuary is near capacity most of the time, but openings occur, enabling the sanctuary to save a life. Even when Wild Spirit doesn’t have space, staff will do what they can to find placement for an animal, and occasionally even provide transport.

 

Meat Separation

L to R: Robert, Megan, Mike and Paul unloading wolf food after a"meat run." Clarissa working on meat separation.

  • Wolves are carnivores and need a steady diet of meat to stay healthy. WSWS has several community partners who donate meat to the sanctuary such as butchers, community pantries, and individuals. Staff and volunteers separate good meat from bad and prepare food for each animal several times a week.

 

Give a Tour

Romeo visiting the crowd during Courtney's tour.

  • The sanctuary offers several guided tours per day to the public. Staff and volunteers escort groups as small as 1 person to classes of 50 school children through the tour path describing the sanctuary’s mission, relaying each rescue’s individual story, and providing facts about wolves and other wild canines. Careful attention is given to describe the differences between wolves, wolf-dogs, and dogs, and why wolves and wolf-dogs are not pets.

 

Work in the Gift Shop

L to R: Kendra, Patricia, Jenna, Megan and Meg modeling new Wild Spirit sweatshirts outside of the gift shop. 

  • The Gift Shop Gals greet guests, answer phones, stoke the fire, tidy up, and sell wolf merch.

 

Do Some Maintenance

Above: Casey teaching Courtney how to use the trencher. Below (L to R): Girl Scout volunteers clearing brush. Nikki on the John Deere.

  • The sanctuary is growing all the time, which keeps everyone quite busy. Maintenance projects can be anything from building a new habitat to weeding, updating volunteer housing, working on the rental cabins, and other habitat improvements.

 

Be Thankful

Above: Chadley, Eric, Sumitra, Amy, Eva, Paul and Mo happily pose to thank a donor for her generous gift of a shiny new Wolf Kitchen refrigerator. Below (L to R): Jaeger resting on Nikki's shoulder after scent-rolling on her head. Chadley and Contessa saying a happy hello.

  • Sanctuary life can be hectic with a never-ending workload and new challenges arising all the time. Taking time for gratitude is essential. Whether that’s a quiet moment to walk the tour path, visit a friend (human or animal), have a hug, tell someone you love them, thank a donor or a guest, or just enjoy the fresh mountain air and the sounds of raw beautiful nature, those small moments of giving thanks for the opportunity to support the wolves helps staff and volunteers recharge.

 

Private Tours

Above: Friend of the sanctuary, Shirl, with Storm. Below (L to R): Guests from South Africa with Dakota. A guest with Nimoy.

  • The sanctuary provides some Private Tours that enable guests to visit specific habitats with staff members for fantastic photo opportunities, and simply the chance to be in the powerful presence of a wolf.

 

Attend the Daily Animal Care Meeting

The Animal Care chore board is set with the week's tasks.

  • When the day is through, animal care staff and volunteers gather back in Wolf Kitchen to discuss any concerns that arose during the day, and to review the following day’s schedule.

 

Guard Duty

Clarissa distributing "med-balls."

  • An hour before sunset, the person who did Morning Rounds returns to Wolf Kitchen to make the evening’s “med-balls,” distribute medications and supplements as needed, check on all residents before nightfall, and ensure all gates are locked and secured.

 

Dusk

An evening hike in the neighborhood with our dog Ziggy.

  • It's easy to enjoy the magical New Mexican sunsets, ravens flying to their roosts, and the sounds of wolves and coyotes singing the closing of another day as you eat a nutritious meal, connect with friends, and head to bed early to wake up refreshed and ready for another day with wolves!

 

Arctic Wolf, Powder, on the prowl.

  • Learn more about Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, visiting, and volunteering here.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Clockwise from top left: Chadley with Quinn, Nikki with Cheyenne, Nikki with Sugar howling, Chadley with Jaeger, Chadley walking Lucian, Nikki with Nimoy, Nikki walking Dakota (photo by Paul Koch), Chadley photographing Jaeger, Clarissa and Courtney making med-balls, Mo doing at "ATV feed," Crystal and Forest greeting a student group tour, Eva feeding Brutus, Raven in flight, and Chadley with a baby lamb.

Visiting: Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, Bali

INDONESIA

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, or Mandala Suci Wenara Wana in Balinese, is a top tourist attraction in Ubud, seeing roughly 10,000 visitors a month. If you’re traveling in the area, it’s likely the Monkey Forest is on your list, and it should be. Here, you’ll find yourself tucked away from the hot and bustling city in 30 acres of jungle comprising over a hundred species of trees. Transported to another time, you’ll have the opportunity to cross a dragon bridge amidst temples built in the 14th century all while surrounded by moss-covered statues, and of course, hundreds of monkeys!

Male macaques begin growing their beards and mustaches after they start having babies, as early as 3-5 years old.

 

The Monkey Business

The sanctuary is home to 600+ Balinese Monkeys, also known as long-tailed Macaques, divided into five groups that live in different territories from the main temple to the cemeteries. About 100-120 individuals make up each group and range in age from infants to adults. You will see them everywhere, roaming the premises freely, and even in the surrounding streets, making it important to remain mindful and alert that you are in a wild animal’s territory.

Living in such a large population makes conflicts among the groups of monkeys unavoidable due to territory infringements. This is pronounced in the dry season when certain groups must cross into others’ territories to bathe in the river. You may see some squabbling, particularly at group borders. Though listening to the monkeys holler and watching them chase one another can be a combination of interesting, amusing and intimidating, their disagreements have nothing to do with visitors, who can skirt around the spats without incident. Though the monkeys are not aggressive by nature, they will defend themselves if feeling threatened. This is doubly true when it comes to mothers and their babies.

Seated with two juveniles, a mother holds her baby close.

Although the sanctuary expressly asks visitors not to touch, grab or disturb the monkeys, especially babies, expect to see many visitors interacting with them, feeding the monkeys from piles of sweet potatoes provided as part of their daily diet, attempting to hold hands, and coaxing them onto their shoulders for a photo op. Though this is permitted, it’s not recommended, and injuries can occur if visitors attempt to get too cozy with the monkeys. To help guests better understand how to properly behave around the residents, the staff provides a very comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts.

For an inside look at the Monkey Forest, watch our video tour.

While filming, a juvenile macaque grew interested in Chadley’s camera and started climbing up his leg, but by staying calm and following the procedures outlined below we avoided an incident.

Pro Tips Directly from the Staff: The number one rule is to stay calm, especially if a monkey jumps on you. This will be unlikely unless you’re holding food, hiding food, looking them in the eye (it can be interpreted as a sign of aggression), or anything that might interest them (including your camera) close to their face. If this happens while you’re holding food, simply drop it and slowly walk away. The monkey will jump off for the snack. Apply the same guidelines even if you’re not holding food. Just start slowly walking away and the monkey will likely get bored of you.

Regarding snacks, visitors are asked not to feed the monkeys anything outside of what is provided for them onsite in order to keep them healthy. It’s also not recommended to bring any food into the forest, and both plastic and paper bags are prohibited. This is both to temper the monkeys curiosity and to keep the sanctuary litter-free.

 

A Bit More On the Balinese Monkey

Snacking on offerings on Jl. Monkey Forest Road outside the sanctuary.

Snacking on offerings on Jl. Monkey Forest Road outside the sanctuary.

Long-tailed Macaques are native to South East Asia. The species is not endangered, but like many wild animals continues to face habitat loss. Luckily, they are very adaptable and can live in diverse environments. In fact, the largest threat to the species is hunting, as they are considered food sources and pests in various parts of the South East Asia.

The Balinese Monkey is active by day and rests at night. They are omnivores whose diet in the Monkey Forest consists mainly of sweet potato (given 3 times a day), banana, papaya leaf, corn, cucumber, coconut, and other local fruit. Though they are well fed at home, they will leave the forest to search for food in the busy streets surrounding the sanctuary where they can snag a plethora of goodies from trashcans, restaurant tables and daily offerings placed in front of homes and businesses. On average, male macaques live up to 15 years. Females can live to be 20. 

 

Planning Your Visit

A welcoming committee monkey's around the main entrance.

Have we mentioned that macaques are known for being naughty? When planning your visit it’s good to be aware of what you plan to wear and bring along with you. Definitely watch your accessories while in the forest. Sunglasses, earrings, jewelry, flip-flops, etc. are all very appealing items to steal if you’re a Balinese monkey. We probably went above and beyond in being cautious about our apparel, and opted not to bring backpacks to avoid attracted extra attention from the residents. Chadley wore a shirt with snapping pockets, which was great for storing cash. We made sure to wear the straps on our camera to avoid taking things in and out of our pockets too often. The monkeys are very curious about what visitors might have tucked away.

Hearing that a friend had her sandal stolen off her foot by a monkey in Uluwatu, we wore sneakers, and after seeing photos of women having their tube tops pulled down by the monkeys, I wore a button up shirt and shorts.

As mentioned earlier, it’s best not to bring any food into the sanctuary. The monkeys will know and try to find it. But there are plenty of restaurants and food carts outside for when you get hungry. Most people only spend 2-3 hours visiting, anyway. At the time of this writing, the Monkey Forest is open daily for a small fee. Click here for the most up to date information on hours and pricing. 

Pro Tip: Since the sanctuary hosts over a million visitors a year, it’s good to expect crowds. If you’re looking for solace, however, there are plenty of paths to roam and benches to sit where you can escape the groups gathered at the Main and Holy Spring Temples to watch the monkeys go about their day.

 

Tri Hita Karana – Conservation, Culture & Well-Being at the Core

The dragon bridge at the Holy Spring Temple sits before a wall of banyan tree vines.

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary upholds the Hindu philosophy of Tri Hita Karana as its principal mission, meaning “three ways to reach spiritual and physical well-being.” With ‘Tri’ meaning three, ‘Hita’ meaning happiness, and ‘Karana’ meaning cause or manner, this philosophy focuses on how people can maintain a harmonious relationship between themselves and their fellow humans, their environment, and god in daily life. As an international tourist destination and ‘living laboratory’ for educational institutions, this philosophy reflects the Monkey Forest’s desire to create peace and harmony with its staff, visitors, inhabitants, plant life, historic temples, local community, and the city of Ubud.

The forest is owned by the village of Padangtegal where it is located in Ubud’s southwestern corner flanked by a multitude of hotels, shops and restaurants. The village considers the sanctuary an important spiritual, educational, economic, and conservation center for its residents, who protect the monkeys and serve on the forest’s governing council.

When it comes to Balinese culture, the forest and its inhabitants play an important role in religion and tradition. Monkeys and their mythology are prominent in Balinese art, for example, appearing in the Kecak and Ramayana dance where the monkey is an important character in the story. And while the forest is home to 186 species of trees, some are considered particularly holy and are used in spiritual practices. These include the Majegan, which is used exclusively to build shrines, the leaves of the Berigan for cremation ceremonies, and the Pule Bandak, which is thought to embody the spirit of the forest and is used to make powerful masks (don’t worry, the trees aren’t killed to make them).

 

Making A Difference

Monkeys are often seen helping one another keep clean.

With a booming tourism industry resulting in increased deforestation and massive amounts of waste, Bali’s environment from its forests to shorelines is under threat, making wildlife sanctuaries like Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest critical to the eco-tourism movement. With Tri Hita Karana at the heart of their mission, the Monkey Forest honors humanity, environment, education, and religion by providing a conservation area for Balinese monkeys, rare plants and those used in ritual to visitors and city-dwellers alike, offering an oasis in an urban environment.

Knowing your visit will not only provide you with lasting memories and a one of a kind experience, but with the knowledge that you are supporting locals and important conservation efforts while you travel feels great, too. Have fun, be respectful, and watch your stuff!

 

SNAPSHOTS