Introduction

Featured

Tags

,

Hi there,

Welcome to my blog, and thank you for visiting :-). I’m not sure how this will go as while I enjoy keeping personal records I’ve never done it in such a public way. I’ve created this blog with the aim of sharing and exploring adventures, experiences and passions close to my heart. I’m hoping it will give any readers something they can take away for themselves whether it be inspiration, ideas, awareness, new perspective, or simply just enjoyment from reading the posts.

Firstly, my name is Samantha. I’m currently living Auckland, New Zealand. I was born and raised here, and I know New Zealand will always be home no matter where I may find myself. Since I can remember I have enjoyed the company of critters great and small. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Science (Wildlife Management and Animal Welfare), and I have always strived to work in some animal field or other from shelters to zoos to rehabilitation centres to veterinary hospitals.

When it comes to ‘To Do’ lists of experiences, I have two or three. There is the bucket list of things to do in my lifetime – things like visit Antarctica, go on a hot air balloon ride in Europe, see a soccer match in an English stadium – and then there is the list of things I want to achieve sooner rather than later. The latter is a list that came into fruition not too long ago and focuses mainly on exploring the things I am most passionate about – wildlife and their conservation and welfare.

Since I was little, non-human animals have been my fascination and main interest. I grew up in a house backing onto a reserve in the suburbs, and we’d always be out feeding the ducks and other birds. One thing I learnt more and more as I grew up is that animals cannot speak for themselves. Like human babies, they are dependent upon others to stand up for their welfare when it is in question. Animals have all levels of intelligence and a lot of the time I think it is forgotten how sentient they really are. We all have complex nervous systems, different methods of reproduction, brains of various sizes and function, and unique designs that give us the ability to fit into certain ecosystems. Different species work into different niches and through all these connections thus life on earth progresses. We are all important to each other in some way.

As species have niches in different ecosystems, another thing I have learnt ‘growing up’ is that as individuals we are encouraged to find our own personal niche too. I think this can be a struggle in different ways for different people – there is so much to be passionate about, but sometimes people are unable to follow their passions, or they spend their life without one. I find myself drawn to people who care about what happens to the world and who strive to personally contribute something positive. I talk about it often with a friend of mine who views the earth as doomed/a ticking time bomb. She gets exasperated because she sees there is just so much to do; human rights, individual and species health, ecosystem wellbeing, the environment in general – these are examples of things I care about too, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by it all. But I’ve decided that the best thing to do is stick with the things you feel most strongly about. There is so much I want to do, but sometimes you just have to take it one step at a time, and prioritise and plan where need be. With our individuality and uniqueness we thus have individual and unique passions, and I really do feel that if each person contributed something to an issue they felt strongly about, the world would be better off.

So I suppose that is why I have set up this blog; to be able to recount and set up journeys of contributing to and exploring things that matter to me. I’m grateful to anyone who takes the time to read it, and hope it encourages others to share and think about their own journeys and adventures. My latest expedition was in Thailand where I volunteered at an elephant rescue centre for some time, and I am currently in the USA working with the arctic wolves I did an internship a few years ago – keep an eye on the blog for updates!

Sam.

Note: All the photographs used in this blog are my own unless otherwise stated. If you would like to use them please be polite and contact me for permission. :)

Join me on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Blameitonmywildheartblog and Twitter – https://twitter.com/wildatheartblog

Samantha Boston

*

White arctic wolf kiss Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog

America – Wolves: 2010

*

Thailand elephant walk Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog

Thailand – Elephants: 2013

*

Articles and my writing have been published with permission at:
– Foundation, for the Adoption, Sponsorship and Defence of Animals: Responsible Tourism blog; see article here.

Donations

Featured

Tags

, , , ,

I am currently fundraising for one of the next journeys: the Sepilok Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre in the forests of Borneo. Here I will be spending several months caring for resident rescued animals – mainly orphaned orang-utans, but the Centre also cares for other primates, bears, rhinoceros and the occasional elephant. Most animals at the Centre have been brought in after being affected by illegal logging, deforestation, the black market and wildlife pet trade. Countless animals lose their habitats and quality of life due to these industries, and I aim to make a difference to those that I can. Many rescue establishments such as SORC require donations to ensure they are bringing truly passionate people on board – this is also one of the only ways they receive funding. As part of my excursion there next year I have been asked to pay a donation, which will go directly towards the health and welfare of the animals in SORC’s care, but also to my food and accommodation during my months in the forest. If you would like to help support my journey I would greatly appreciate it – it is a wonderful way to support a worthy cause. You can visit www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk/about-us/sepilok-rehabilitation-centre for more information on the Centre.

To donate, please see my Givealittle page:
www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/orangutanconservation

Donation thank you’s for past fundraising efforts are including in the comments section of this post. Below are thank you’s for donations to the Borneo journey Thank you also to all those who support me and my work by visiting and reading this blog!!

Sam.


Thank you SO MUCH:

Andi (USA)
Shirley Hall
Brett Walters
Anonymous USA supporter
Brian (NZ)
Debra (NZ)
Jonathan (NZ)

Your contribution is incredibly appreciated, and thoughts of your support keep me going when things get a bit tough!

Shutting down a temple

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

A few days ago, the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, a wildlife rescue organisation I worked with in 2013, posted some photos of a very emaciated-looking sunbear that they had found in a temple in the Prachuap Khiri Khan province. This little girl, who they affectionately named Kwan, had been found all alone in a bare, cell-type room at the temple. They uplifted this malnourished creature and provided what veterinary treatment they could, placing her in intensive care back at WFFT’s veterinary clinic. Sadly, though, they just could not save her, and she passed away shortly after her long-overdue rescue.

Assessing Kwan - photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Assessing Kwan – photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Animals held at temples in Southeast Asia are a common occurrence. Probably the most infamous is the widely-promoted “Tiger Temple” in Kanchanaburi province. This is a very popular tourist destination, and attracts floods of people daily even in the off-peak season. As a major travel attraction, animals at this temple generate significant business for Thailand, which means the animals need to appear happy  and healthy to visitors. So what of lesser-known places that keep wildlife?

This is half the point of WFFT’s mobile vet clinic (set up and maintained with the help of the Born Free Foundation) – to travel and assess the conditions of animals kept in public and private establishments. Three years ago WFFT visited the particular temple little Kwan was held at, and found several species of animals (bears, primates and more) in appalling conditions. Edwin Wiek, the director of WFFT, personally handed a complaint to the DNP (Thailand’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife), but it seems that direct action was not taken. Six months later, WFFT re-sent this complaint (with full information, including veterinary assessments and photographs attached), but again did not hear back. Last year WFFT once again traveled to the temple, only to find new animals held in the same unhygienic conditions. Please note that WFFT itself has to be extremely careful with how they conduct themselves. The team cannot simply go and uplift animals without permission from authorities as this could lead to their own sanctuary being shut down. They are dealing with an unbelievably corrupt environment, so care must be taken to ensure they do absolutely nothing that could be deemed as unlawful. WFFT is an incredible organisation that does invaluable work, but you can probably imagine that their aim of rescuing wildlife from dismal situations has made them more than a few enemies.
Finally in August last year, WFFT received communication from the DNP that this particular temple had been charged with illegal wildlife possession and had been shut down. However, in the following months Edwin discovered that the DNP’s actions were not swift enough – he received information that not only were many animals still held by the temple, but that a bear had passed away from illness and was being skinned for its pelt. This ongoing saga finally resulted in WFFT gaining permission to treat remaining animals at the temple – which is when they came across little Kwan.

Treating Kwan - photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Treating Kwan – photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

As it stands, yet another bear had also died in the confines of the temple. WFFT helped remove the remaining four bears from the temple – unfortunately WFFT does not currently have the capacity to house these animals, but they have pledged ongoing support for the bears at the rescue facility they had been moved to, and will provide food, veterinary treatment and enclosure upgrades where necessary. At least for a few of the temple’s animals there was a positive way out.

While in discussion with friends and family members about this situation, the question was asked: “Why?” As in, why hold animals in a dark room?

The main, obvious reason to use animals is for money. Those beautiful, enticing holiday places in southeast Asia that boast daily elephant rides are using their animals as a lure to make money. Tourists just love it. They will gladly pay money for this sort of experience, and tell their friends how wonderfully the animals are treated. The reality, however, is that baby elephants are poached from the wild for these ventures, and that their greater herds are killed. Babies go through the elephant ‘domestication‘ process, and the end product is a submissive, empty animal that will live its days to serve. Those subdued tigers at the Tiger Temple will never be released to the wild; there is no conservation effort there whatsoever. Once again, it is simply a way of attracting foreigners to spend their coin.

So what is the point of having animals at the temple mentioned in this post? These animals were not making anyone money. Little Kwan could not have been skinned for her pelt – she was so malnourished that most of her hair had fallen out.
People I have discussed this with back home have been absolutely horrified. The endless Facebook comments WFFT has received in regards to Kwan’s story show that there are so many people who have been mortified by her ordeal. And yet, this sort of abuse happens everywhere, even in first world countries (blasphemy I know!). People neglect their animals. They come into possession of living things and end up putting them somewhere where they are “out of sight, out of mind”. I shudder to think of the state of some pets I’ve seen at friends’ houses. It’s everywhere.
Traditionally, and very generally-speaking, there is a typical difference in the way animals are viewed in places like Southeast Asia; less companions, more servants to our wants and desires. But the world is [very slowly] changing, and I do not personally believe ‘culture’ is a good enough reason to mistreat an animal in one’s care, or poach from the wild. As always, I can only implore travelers to carefully choose their travel destinations and activities. If you really want to get close to beautiful wildlife, support a conservation effort like an ethical national park, or help out at a sanctuary such as WFFT.

Edwin Wiek and Kwan at WFFT - photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Edwin Wiek and Kwan at WFFT – photo by Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Sam.

www.wfft.org

Keep in touch with me on Facebook or twitter

Comic relief

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Things have been pretty same-same back home. I’m working far too much (I have, what, three jobs that I’m staying on top of now?) to savesavesave for the ongoing overseas volunteer travels, our tanks at the farm I live on have been filled a bit by rain recently, and the weather is getting progressively colder much to my dislike. Cooler temperatures tend to hinder some of the plans I make with good intentions to keep myself busy while I’m not working. Yes, I know – for my friends reading this I know it exasperates you to hear that I have this strange urge to ‘keep busy’ with little projects when I’m not off overseas or working silly hours. “But you don’t have time as it is!” While I consider myself a quiet person I suppose I also have this desire to feel productive in my life. But with winter steadily coming along I can guarantee I’ll be more inclined to keep cosy inside when I can. This girl is a Summer baby, I don’t tend to thrive in the cold.

I like to think that I have at least one or two interesting hobbies that seem to satisfy this hunger I have for a vibrant life when I’m not traveling. I have talked a bit about my earliest experiences with LARP (Live Action Role-Play), and have mentioned a few times the enjoyment I get from being a part of creating interesting images (see my sea-nymph post or earlier scribbles about these image collaborations in general). I seem to have put the two together, in a way, and by doing so have opened myself up to a whole new world altogether. I’ll tell you what I mean:

I’m not sure when I opened a comic book for the first time, but I knew it was something I took a liking to straight away – despite it being a ‘weird’ thing for a girl to like in most of the social circles in school. Thankfully I’ve been out of school for a long time now and have more than embraced the old playground tauntings of “geek” and “nerd”. Geekery really does seem to be in fashion these days, especially for females. Since moving in on my own about a year ago I found I no longer had to cater for anyone else’s tastes but my own. It also gave me extra opportunity to explore these hobbies of mine, and that’s something I seem to be enjoying more as time goes on.

One of my favourite ‘superheroes’ is Batman. I’m not too sure why his stories appeal to me more than so many others that are out there – I don’t relate to the guy, but I like the way he is currently portrayed to uphold his air of mystery and how he conducts what he does. Naturally, being partial to adventure/story-based video games here and there, I ended up playing a couple of recent Batman video games (Arkham Asylum and Arkham City), and really enjoyed them. In these games one of Batman’s most well-known enemies, the Joker, is prevalent – and he’s not alone. His female side-kick, Harley Quinn, is also part of the show.
To be honest I didn’t know much about Harley Quinn before playing these games. I had heard her name, seen her picture – I knew about her, but never took much interest in her. For some reason, though, this poor, misguided, terribly enamored ex-doctor really grew on me. She is epitome of a fool in love, and will do absolutely anything for the Joker – he is, of course, the reason she became a ‘villain’ in the first place. She follows him blindly with a larger-than-life personality, but instead of pitying her I almost view her with a kind of strange respect. Though I do need to point out I’m no expert on comic book characters by any sense, and the opinions I’ve formed of her have come from the limited amount of resources I’ve encountered.

Well anyway, one day I decided I wanted to bring her to life in my own way. I spent some time slowly piecing together an unconventional costume involving a tutu, and finally chatted to my friend Brett at Creative Photography who I have worked with in the past. He loved the idea, and so we made it happen; we took over a couple of different locations around Auckland city, and Harley came out to play. Scroll down to have a look – there was a huge selection of photographs, but I have included some of my favourites for you in this post.

Of course, that wasn’t enough for me. I love the creativity inspired by LARP, but I think deep down having a character to play is also a way of hiding behind a safe mask; something that is not myself and helps me decrease my vulnerability to the outside world. Over the weekend that has just passed there was the first of several expos this year in NZ that is dedicated to so-called geekery. Here in New Zealand we don’t get those huge, incredible conventions like we hear about from overseas. But we do have something at least! Armageddon is its name, and I had only been to one or two of its events previous to 2015. I remember walking around, seeing video games on display, seeing people in costume, learning to play different card games – but this year I decided to don my Harley outfit and see how it went.
And I can’t begin to describe how much of a buzz it was! It was nerve-wracking at first; of course I was worried my less-than-accurate costume would come under scrutiny. But I very quickly discovered that the people I was meeting were warm, welcoming and extremely encouraging. This was part of NZ’s cosplay community, a community I had never been involved in before now. Suddenly I was meeting all these people – other characters – the Joker, Batman, other Harley’s – it was a blast, and the people were wonderful. However, I don’t see myself as a cosplayer. Over the weekend I met some incredible cosplayers, and I wouldn’t think to count myself in their ranks. My costumes are less accurate, more artistic takes on particular characters. I’m not sure if the definition of cosplay includes accuracy – I’m very new to all of this – but perhaps readers could shed some light on it for me. :) In summary, though, I think I can say I have found another hobby.

Below are some of the shots from Harley’s day out about Auckland. I hope you enjoy them.


Harley Quinn sitting on wall


Harley Quinn city skyline


Harley Quinn brick wall


Harley Quinn corridor Samantha Boston wildatheart


Harley Quinn


Harley Quinn cartoon poster


On aHarley Quinn and Deadpool convention wildatheart side note – I really, really, really think if Harley Quinn and Deadpool were in the same universe that they would make a pretty hilarious/amazing couple (that’s if Mr J. wasn’t around…). So, of course, Deadpool was one of the characters I had hoped to run into at this weekend’s Armageddon. There were a few Deadpools out there, but here’s one low-quality snap from my phone.

Sam.

Creative Photography Ltd.

Keep in touch on my Facebook page!

America – The Wolves of WWS: Sakarri and Modoc

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Left: Sakarri: Arctic wolf, female, 7 years - Right: Modoc: Arctic wolf, male, 7 years

Left: Sakarri: Arctic wolf, female, 7 years.
Right: Modoc: Arctic wolf, male, 7 years.

If I was to describe the perfect wolf from memory, I would probably draw on the images I have of Modoc. Modoc is this huge, white beast with sturdy paws and gloriously haunting eyes. I’m six feet tall and if he stands on his hind legs he can easily throw his muzzle into my face. He has a large, powerful body and manoeuvres it effortlessly like thunder through the trees. Wolves like Modoc really illustrate the draw many people have to his species. And despite him being an impressively strong creature, he has the most gentle personality – anyone who’s worked closely with wolves will know that this is not an anomaly.

One of my first photos of Modoc

One of my first photos of Modoc

Self-proclaimed wolf-lovers often earn notoriety for expressing their passion in a highly emotional way. They can be perceived as revering wolf species and regarding them higher than some human life. Those who hate wolves might see the creatures as unstoppable killers until each one is wiped out, believing them to have no purpose in the modern world. Every time a wolf-focused news article pops up on the internet you can be sure an extremely heated online argument will ensue. As with most controversial topics, there is no reasoning with a vocally emotional party of either side.

One thing I can, however, guarantee is that a bit of quality time with a wolf like Modoc or his sister Sakarri will give even a non-wolf-lover a slightly changed perspective (even if it is only slightly). In my time working with the White Wolf Sanctuary I have witnessed more than a few people come up for a visit to the mountain accompanied by obviously more wolf-enthusiastic guests, and they have left at the end of the day just as spell-bound as their enamored peers. The Sanctuary staff are wonderful and do their utmost to educate and inspire, but nothing beats getting a wolf ‘kiss’ to truly demonstrate that these creatures aren’t the beastly, aggressive, monstrous things you hear about in fairy-tales. I’ve seen staunch men and women simply crumble in the presence of sweet Sakarri who won’t let you leave until you’ve given her some one-on-one attention.

Sakarri at 3 years of age

Sakarri at 4 years of age

The White Wolf Sanctuary holds solely rescue animals. None of the wolves were born at the Sanctuary, and it is highly unlikely that they will be made to spend their days anywhere else. They are not sold, bred or swapped, and they will never be released into the wild – this is because they wouldn’t survive, nor are their most suitable habitats safe enough. Sakarri and Modoc were delivered to the Sanctuary after being intercepted on their way to a low-welfare captive institute. Their other siblings, Nike and Tehalin, were also rescued and brought to the Sanctuary. Seven years on, they are still here, running through the dozens of acres of safe wolf habitat the Sanctuary contains. If they want to come and say hello to people, they can. If they prefer to be lost in the dark forests, they can do that too – nobody tells them what to do.

Something I really, really want people to consider is the idea of more conscious tourism. When I was making arrangements for my Thailand work I was faced with many, many ‘offers’ of different tours and attractions I could see along the way. When a high-ranking travel agency is spouting lists of destination-related ideas to choose from, it is easy to not think about researching these ideas yourself. For example, a travel agent I have worked with closely for the last few years suggested I take a look at the Phuket Fantasea show, which I found absolutely appalling. I recently saw an article on the Daily Mail Online about elephant massages in Chiang Mai being a must for anyone’s bucket list – when exploitation is being promoted in such a positive manner it is no wonder most people don’t put more thought into what they support when they are traveling abroad.

The captive establishment Sakarri, Modoc and their other siblings were destined for has been shut down. The use of wild animals for entertainment is hugely popular in the western world, and the WWS Director is constantly inundated with snippets of information of a wolf being held or sold unlawfully. Even when traveling around your own country, don’t forget to consciously think about what you support. None of the WWS wolves were poached from the wild, but supporting tourism ventures using even captive-bred species of this kind does fuel the illegal wildlife trade and demand in the black market. I do like to encourage people to also consider the suffering of the individual animals in the venture they are supporting. No wild-at-heart animal would choose a life of confinement. And while no Sanctuary is perfect, there are plenty of ‘good’ ones out there doing incredible work while providing a safe, spacious and stimulating home as close to nature as possible. If you want to get up-close and personal with your favourite animal, choose to support a decent Sanctuary instead of lower-welfare alternatives – by doing so you can help greater conservation efforts, and in my mind seeing happier animals is a far more rewarding experience than being able to get a photo of something being very obviously mistreated.

Sam.Modoc white arctic wolf nose

www.whitewolfsanctuary.com

Little things

Tags

, , , , ,

Occasionally people make jokes that I must get bored to tears in New Zealand with its lack of wolves and monkeys and such. We do have amazing, unique wildlife here though, and when I was going through university I did think about joining our Department of Conservation but ended up deciding it wasn’t quite for me for the most part. While I was doing my degree I began working at a zoo up in Auckland, and was there for six years or so. That gave me some invaluable experience working with exotic species, and while I loved the animals I did slowly find that more and more I craved to work in a setting where animals were there because they needed to be; i.e. because they had been rescued, and/or were going to be rehabilitated back into the wild. There are some incredible zoos, though, and I believe the better ones do raise some very important awareness about the plight of species all over the globe. New Zealand zoos focus heavily on raising funds for conservation efforts and even send their employees across the world to do work on different projects, which I think is fantastic. They care greatly about the welfare of their animals, and do what they can to construct species-appropriate habitats, encourage natural behaviours and promote intellect use (so having an animal that sits around all day in its cage depressed would be deemed as unacceptable). There are so many terrible zoos and captive institutes around the world, though, and I would like to see those stopped.

People are forever asking me, “Why do you care so much? They’re just animals.” Let me explain my side a little bit. I see it like this: all living things have nervous systems that help us detect certain stimuli; heat, light, movement, etc. The complexity of these nervous systems vary between species, but most animals have some kind of pain-receptors that, as you can probably guess, help them detect pain. Thus, most animals are capable of feeling pain and physical distress. They can suffer. Some can even experience emotional suffering. Non-human animals cannot speak, but many have the same intelligence levels as a human baby. Some even have the intelligence levels of a human toddler. So this is part of the reason why I care: if an animal is hurt, I can recognise the fact that it is suffering. When I see an animal ridden with disease, I can recognise the fact that it is suffering and that it is not living with the quality of life it could have. When I see a great ape stuck in a roadside cage for the amusement of tourists, I recognise that this animal is suffering, its mental health is not being encouraged, and it is not living with the quality of life that it could have. No animal would choose to be in pain, distress or a life of mental suffering. So despite understanding that non-human animals may not be as high up on the intelligence ranking as our own species, that is why I care. And in my opinion the world would be better if everyone had more compassion.

New Zealand has the fairly noteworthy problem of a high population of stray and feral cats. These guys spread disease and prey on local wildlife, and of course do not distinguish between native or introduced species when they kill. For the kitties themselves, they are often riddled with disease, full of parasites, and tend to live in heightened anxiety and distress. Stray and feral cats are a problem for our wildlife and environments, and the individual animals themselves are most likely suffering – when it doesn’t need to be this way. A lot of these cats are out there because 1) people have let their own pets breed without control, and 2) pet owners have abandoned or ‘dumped’ their house cats. Unclaimed or unwanted litters of kittens go on to continue the breeding cycle, and this ensures the number of stray colony cats stays strong.

As I’ve talked about before, I do some foster work for an Auckland charity, Lonely Miaow. Lonely Miaow takes stray or feral cats and kittens, places them in foster care, gets them appropriately vet checked and then rehomes them once they are desexed, microchipped and fully vaccinated. I have rehomed a few litters with Lonely Miaow now, and it is always a rewarding experience. I can’t afford pets of my own plus I am often off on some excursion or another, so fostering is the perfect way to combine my love of ‘rescue and rehabilitation’ plus my desire for some kind of fluffy companionship at home.

The last bunch I picked up (only a day or two after I flew home from America, no less) was a litter of four plus their mum, Grace. I have always fostered kittens or cats on their own, never with their cat mum in tow, so this has been a different experience for me. Even the most feral of feral kitties I have socialised to some point of genuine affection towards humans, but it has been relatively slow progress with this lot. They rely on their mother as their primary source of affection and hardly need a thing from me, so it has been harder for me to teach them that interaction with humans can be a positive experience. Grace, however, recently got to the point where she was sick of the kittens constantly tumbling all over her, and has started giving them a smack with one paw if they got too close too often. This is a good sign that they ought to be off on their own, learning life lessons more independently as adolescent kittens should.

Despite them being less affectionate towards me at the beginning, each kitten has found a home and I am just left with Grace at this point. She’s a gem and has done really well raising her babies. I look at them – and think of the hundreds of other cats and kittens Lonely Miaow rehomes – and know that they have been saved from a life on the streets, so to speak, where they would probably have lived diseased and hungry. Reducing the number of stray animals is important work, and I encourage anyone who has considered fostering to give it a go – it’s a really rewarding way to help out. It’s also only temporary, so you can try it once and there’s no obligation if it doesn’t work out for you.

Here are some snaps of the most recent bunch. I expect Grace will be with me for a while (the demand for adult cats is far lower than that for kittens as you can probably imagine), so you might hear snippets about her here and there later on.

2014_Bohemia 2014_CP 2014_Grace 2014_Murri 2014_Zephyr

Bohemia – a typical tortoiseshell; feisty but a real smooch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CP – so, incredibly shy. He was adopted by one family, who returned him 36 hours later because he was too timid for them. He has only just gone to another lovely home – and they adore him! I think this will be the family for him :)

 

 

 

 

Grace and the babies.

 

 

 

 

Murri – a truly affectionate lad, he warmed up to me the quickest – and consequently found a home the quickest. He and his sister Bohemia were adopted together, which is neat.

 

 

 

 

Zephyr – he still has remnants of his “cat flu” here (that slightly gunky eye), but now he’s a healthy little mischievous terror (in the best possible way). He has turned out to be incredibly affectionate, which is great for his new owners.

 

 

 

Sam.

www.lonelymiaow.co.nz

Tale of a sea-nymph

Tags

, , , ,

I love creating stories. I get lost in written words on paper, and would love to say that I express myself well through colourful brushtrokes on canvas but painting is definitely not my greatest forte (and I’ll be the first to admit it). Over the last few years I have unknowingly been part of creating stories through a different medium – photography. I say ‘unknowingly’ because although I have been doing different projects for some time now, it’s not something I ever recognised to share with an audience other than those on my personal Facebook. Seeing each project as a tale in its own right has only been a recent expression.

I adore, admire and envy photographers – the few times I borrowed a top-quality digital camera proved to me that there is a lot of technical knowledge required to capture a truly beautiful shot. I make do with my little point-and-shoot camera for animal work, but to possess that technical understanding and actually be able to put it into practice to produce a work of art would be incredible! But, I’ll leave that up to the real photographers.


There are old legends that tell of feminine sea-nymphs – mermaids, sirens, Nereids… all manner of beautiful creatures dwelling in the ocean or within watery elements. Some serve as watch-women of the sailors, ensuring they have safe passage across the seas. Some others take pleasure in luring these sailors to their doom. These nymphs are strewn throughout art and ancient tales – powerful, mystical creatures; sometimes symbols of hope and motherly care, sometimes depictions of dangerous beauty.

A few weeks ago, with the weather warming up in New Zealand, a photographer I know took to the beach with camera, assistants and this wild girl in tow to bring a sea-nymph to life. What was created was a seemingly tranquil creature – a lonely sun-basker, delicate and careful. We picked her home to be the entrance of a cave where light still bleeds into the darkness. She appears watchful, wary and serene. But is she protector, or hunter?

I hope you enjoy these images as much as we enjoyed shooting them :)


 

Sea-nymph mermaid photography wallpaper Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog


Sea-nymph mermaid photography wallpaper Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog


Sea-nymph mermaid photography wallpaper Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog


Sea-nymph mermaid photography wallpaper Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog


Sea-nymph mermaid photography wallpaper Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog


Sea-nymph mermaid photography wallpaper Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog


Sea-nymph mermaid photography wallpaper Samantha Boston wildatheart Blameitonmywildheartblog makeup face

Sam.

Please note that these images have been edited by myself. You can view images edited by the photographer on his website below.

Photography: Graham Meadows at Graham Meadows Photography
Makeup and air-brushing: Jessica Seo at Jessica Seo Makeup Artistry

Loss

Tags

, ,

Today we farewelled a family friend. He passed away extremely suddenly, without any warning; a completely random, freak accident at home. He left behind a beautiful daughter, two wonderful sons and three gorgeous little granddaughters. And, of course, his incredible wife. His children spoke the most touching words of his passion for life, his heart, the lessons he taught them – I can’t imagine their pain. This is a family separated too soon.

When we moved house for the first time I was in primary school, and we ended up in a little abode down a no-exit street within walking distance of my school. Our home happened to be next-door to that of a boy my sister’s age and his family. Our parents became fast friends, as did us kids. His siblings were a little bit older than us, so it was us three (him, my sister and I) who spent time together the most. I have the best memories of us running around our backyards, hiding in trees, having tea parties outdoors, swordfights, sleepovers and storybooks, trampoline competitions, playing derby in his wooden cart, nonsensical games of children’s pool in the dark downstairs room by their garage, fireworks with the other neighbourhood kids, water fights, Sonic the Hedgehog and other video games, terrifying ourselves on that infamous skateboard, giant New Year gatherings, tyre swings, splashing around their pool after they transformed one of their gardens into a relaxing summery retreat. That’s how childhood should be; playful, fun, and carefree with friends.

And our parents were often together. Our mums especially. They both had a fondness for chatter and wine. I didn’t even think of them as my second family, just an extension of my own, and I assumed they would always be there in my life. I remember the time they got that pool. It had been a bit of an ordeal with sorting out underground pipes that were already there, and they also needed to upgrade their fence. Once there had been a gate between our two houses for the kids to run through mercilessly, but now we had to be a little more civilised and use the front door. I remember thinking at that point things were changing out of my control. We were all growing up and making plans for the future.

My parents renovated our house into this beautiful homely thing that now had a small second storey on the top with a distant view of the ocean. I would drag a mattress out of one of the top windows (with difficulty) at night and watch the moon over the water, and listen to the familiar quiet of our street. Us kids were much older, and spent far less time together, but we were still there within reach of each other.

When things with my parents fell apart, so did life in the house. I knew we couldn’t stay; it was too painful. And I also found it too painful to see my treasured neighbours – that extension of our family – as much. We would have to leave. And it would be hard. A few days ago Margie, the wife of this dear man we said goodbye to today, told my mum that when we left a part of her heart went with us. It was never the same for either of us. This was the first point in my life where I wish things had gone so, so differently.

Now we have, of course, all grown older. Their eldest daughter has three incredibly beautiful children of her own. Their eldest son has been living in the UK for some time now. And their youngest, whom I still consider my brother, has developed into a man to be admired. We have all been living our own lives. Today, a horrible tragedy brought us all together again along with many other people who have shared life-changing memories with them. I can do nothing but sit and think of their strength, and am grateful that they have such a close family and unwavering support system.
Just over a week ago life was normal for them. Margie went to bed having no idea of what she would face the next day. Neither did their children or grandchildren, or siblings. This man was taken from their lives in literally an instant – there was no lead-up or alarm. One moment everything is as it was, and the next it has all changed forever.

How do you deal with something like that?

This year a beautiful young lady in one of my social circles also passed away. She had been fighting against cancer for months. She was only twenty-one. She left behind a beautiful baby girl, a wonderful husband, an incredible family and a grieving community. And it doesn’t matter if there was warning – the loss is still too great to bear for all who loved her. Nothing makes it easy to accept, or to deal with. Life is so fragile. This year I’ve had several friends who have lost people close to them. The giant pain in my heart I feel for them doesn’t change or help their situation at all, and yet it is uncontrollable and will not subside. Why do we grieve? Why do we feel pain, and loss? We love people so fiercely, though they can be taken from us at any moment. This goes well against self-preservation and survival; it does show that there is so much more to us than that. Perhaps, then, a quiet blessing in grief is that it proves we have loved and been loved back – enough for us to feel such sorrow and anguish when someone close is lost.

Tonight I’ll lay awake and think of you and your family, Murray. I will remember the perfect times I had with you all – those are the years I wish had never, ever ended. I will think of your strong, yet heartbroken children, and your simply wonderful wife and how amazing they all are. And how much I miss our lives together, and how grateful I am that you, your wife and my parents created this little safe world for us to grow up in. I think of how much things have changed, and how much pain we have all gone through, and how much pain there is to go through still. My heart is with you, and with your family. And as they said today – I hope you rest not in peace, but in happiness and pride knowing that you have raised an incredible family who are out in the world doing their own remarkable things. They will never completely recover from this loss, but you have filled their hearts with so much love that they will also carry this with them always. You changed my life, too, and helped shape it in a way that I look back on the years we were with you and remember them as my best so far.

“Today we farewell a true gentleman.
A man who lives fully is prepared to die at anytime.”

In memory of Murray Raymond Brake, 17 November 1949 – 7 December 2014

To Canada and away

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Serenity. Warm air. Trees rustling. Ravens calling. An echoing mountain range – our secret cradle of trees. This is my heaven; the warm earth, white wolf bodies stretched across it with fluffy ears pricking up at the sounds of tiny squirrels tapping their toes along the wooden deck of the visitor’s centre. Turkey vultures circling, stellar jays dancing. The rich smells of the forest; a fusion of diverse life. Calm; peace; contentment.

Months ago I was talking about finding this calmness; my quiet place. So much of working-class life is about searching for a job niche to fill, and surviving on the occasional opportunity to recharge. But I like the belief that there is magic in every living moment, as whimsical as that sounds.

I find Stillness up that mountain with the beautiful White Wolf Sanctuary beasts, and I can assure you that when you are in it the whole feeling of those moments simply encompasses you – although I am again back in New Zealand, I can sit here and feel exactly as I did when I was crouched beside those great white wolves. I am trying to grasp the concept of Time a bit more. My little fast-paced heart races if I allow myself to think, “I can’t believe that experience has been and gone already, how could I let it slip away so quickly?” But that is the reality – time comes and goes. And in truth I did not let all those weeks slip by at all; they are cherished always, I hold them close and they help shape the woman I am. I also know that there will be more.

Admittedly this year’s trip was rather impromptu. Not in the sense that I planned it suddenly, but in the respect that many of my exact intentions and expectations changed frequently. Emotional trauma reared its ugly head at a few points this year and I was incredibly close to calling the travels off completely. I was enveloped in this horrid, suffocating blanket of anxiety and didn’t feel I was capable of doing anything on my own. When I travel I love the feeling of being lost and adventurous, but I honestly didn’t believe I could cope. It took me a while to stand tall and face things head-on, but the best thing I did was work through it as much as I could (even though it felt impossible) and venture back to those great white beasties. Because I changed flights etc. a bit during the process of finalising everything, there were several financial consequences – but I figure money will always be there to be made, whereas the opportunity for experience can be fleeting. Besides; giving yourself to a cause in need is utterly invaluable.

So again in September I lived and breathed Oregonian life, learning more about the wolves (and myself) perhaps than I did the last time. I think I was more open to it all this time around, and of course I also knew what to expect. I love venturing to places I have never ever seen before, but I think this year it was really good for me to go back to my spiritual home so to speak. As always, the animals proved themselves to be true testaments of strength and possibly even forgiveness of some kind – despite their sad stories and the abuse they have suffered, they live on with a kind of light-heartedness, approaching every day with curiosity and contentment. Imagining where they may have come from – a life’s sentence of a tiny concrete cell before being skinned and sold as a coat, or a short chain tethered to the ground where daily beatings are routine – and seeing them still able to enjoy life and put trust in certain beings around them does change one’s perspective.

I did not write nearly as much as I meant to while I was away, but we will catch up on things as time continues to carry us along. A few days into October I said a temporary goodbye to the wolves and my Oregonian friends, and headed up to Canada for the first time in my life. For some reason when I go overseas now I don’t feel like I have completely fulfilled the trip if I don’t end up going somewhere new. My sister moved away from New Zealand a year or so ago with her partner, and after impressive travels of their own they ended up in Vancouver, British Columbia. So after spending some more invaluable weeks with those beautiful fluffy wolves I adore, I traveled to Vancouver city to see my indescribably wonderful sibling.

Those of you who were here on this blog a few months ago may have read pieces here and there about personal depression and anxiety. Traveling – the logistical part – does have the potential to catalyse my anxiety – it usually starts right at the airport and worsens once I’m seated on that first flight, increasing right up until I reach my final destination no matter how many stops we have along the way. I am so much better now, and no longer feel like I’m having a constant panic attack from the moment I leave Auckland (maybe just sporadic ones), but I still don’t find this part of travel pleasant. Waiting in airports is a drag; flying is an uncomfortable combination of “Don’t think about anything bad that could happen,” boredom, lack of sleep and cramping legs; and don’t get me started on rushing to catch flights if your previous one was late. I must admit, though, this year things went mostly to plan (mostly…!), and the big scary airports were nowhere near as intimidating as I have found them in the past. I guess I’m getting used to this international transport thing.

When I flew from Oregon to Seattle to Canada, heading to Vancouver was a mixture of excitement and apprehension. The flights only took a few hours but the time seemed like a stressful eternity. It didn’t help when the airport staff asked me why I looked so nervous and asked to search through my things. None of the silly nerves or anxiety mattered as soon as I walked out of those security gates at Vancouver International Airport, though, and spotted my sister and her partner there waiting for me. It had been over a year since I’d hugged her, and it was awesome. Something incredibly rare, unique and invaluable to me is having people in my life who know me completely. I’d say my sister is the one person on the whole planet who knows me the way she does. She’s been there from pretty much the very beginning of my life and unfortunately for her you can’t choose your blood family so she’s stuck with me! It was so good to see her again.

My sister and her partner are thriving in Vancouver. I could tell straight away how excited they were to show it off to me – we caught the Sky Train from the airport to the city, and along the way they were pointing out different areas and landmarks. I am so glad they love it, and proud that they made their way there after years of talking about relocating. But it wasn’t the place for me. After spending my days on the top of a secluded mountain with only the company of wolves and a select few people, the sudden rush of Vancouver city was a little much. It’s vibrant, it has culture and there is so much to do there – but I missed the forest and the quiet Oregonian coast. I know Canada is extremely beautiful, and I think I should have strayed out of the city more than I did to see that natural beauty – but spending time with my sister was what I wanted to do while I was there, and we had the perfect time together.
I spent the first few days with my overwhelmed eyes widened, seeing so much but not wanting to take it all in for fear of overloading myself. By the end of the few weeks I spent there I had a much better handle on public transport and how to get around (my sister and her partner work full-time so I had plenty of opportunity to go by myself on mini excursions) and definitely didn’t feel as terrified of the city as I had when I first arrived. This has been good for me back home – I even used to steer clear of Auckland city, but now I don’t find it so daunting.
I also caught up with an awesome girl I met in Thailand last year at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand Elephant Rescue and Education Centre – we ate sushi, talked about life post-Thailand and plans and dreams, and she took me on a tour of the city. We hadn’t spent too much time in Thailand together, but she’s one of those people I’m sure I’ll get along with no matter what the situation. I also met up with an incredibly inspiring man who does work with Sea Shepherd – it felt so good talking to someone who cares so much about the natural earth. Surrounding myself with people who share a certain ferocity of spirit really uplifts me. I love collecting travel friends along the way of whatever journey I’m on – I know there are so many people I will be welcome to stay with if I’m ever in their area, and likewise the door to my little country studio flat is open to them if they find themselves in NZ.

Saying goodbye to my sister was really, really difficult (though we both did a great job of pretending it would only be a short time until I saw her again), and touching down on NZ soil after it all was a relief – I guess I must have been ready to come home after a month in the smoggy city. As always, I miss the wolves every single day, but I feel somewhat spiritually refreshed after spending a little bit of time with them. I’m hoping to make it a far more frequent thing (certainly not leaving it four years until I visit them again!), so we shall see how that goes. And although I knew before I visited that my sister was happy in Canada, it meant a lot for me to be able to see that for myself in person. I’m proud of the differences she has to me; her ability to thrive in this environment that I perceive as hostile and intimidating; the way she can grasp any situation and make it her own. And we aren’t different in every way; we both care about the people and environment around us – I reckon our parents raised a couple of good kids.
Love you, sis, and see you soon x

Sam.

America – The Wolves of WWS: Hope and Goliath

Tags

, , , , , , ,

White wolf arctic Blameitonmywildheartblog Hope wildatheart

Hope: Arctic wolf, female, 15.5 years

White wolf Tundra wolf Goliath Blameitonmywildheartblog wildatheart

Goliath: Tundra wolf, male, 11.5 years

My first day back at the White Wolf Sanctuary last month was, as I have mentioned, full of nervousness and excited anticipation. After I navigated the mountain’s forestry road hidden amongst jungle-like national forest, I reached the wolf-proof fences marking the beginning of the Sanctuary. I was, of course, on the look-out for fluffy white creatures effortlessly navigating their ways through the tall pine trees – and, as expected, I saw several. After four years of being away from them I couldn’t quite recognise the individual animals at that distance though, so I kept driving up to the informal car-park outside the WWS Director’s house and officially began my first shift.
As soon as I stepped out of my car I noticed one mature-looking wolf trot across his enclosure to gaze inquisitively at me from the fence-line. In the time between my last internship, five of the ten wolves I had met in 2010 have sadly passed away and WWS has rescued five more. I was certain that this fellow looking at me with great interest was one I had not met before, and as I went over to introduce myself to him I was told that he was indeed one of the newest additions to the White Wolf Sanctuary family. This great, gorgeous beast in front of me was named Goliath, an 11-year-old male Tundra wolf. Tundra wolves – like Arctic wolves – are a possible subspecies of the grey wolf (Canis lupus), the main difference to Arctics being that the Tundra’s native habitat stretches from Finland to far-east Russia, whilst the natural range of the Arctic wolf is found in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (a group of islands north of the Canadian mainland).

Goliath is a stunning example of his species, that’s for sure. Tall, lean and handsome with a coarse, thick white coat and ginormous padded paws. I knelt down beside him for the first time and held out the back of my hand for him to sniff – almost at once he turned to the side to let me scratch him. “He’s so trusting,” I remember thinking to myself – though I do not doubt that they have an excellent ability to judge a person’s character. It is always an honour when you know a wolf has ‘accepted’ you.

The wolves at the White Wolf Sanctuary tend to arrive at the centre with their reproductive organs intact, and WWS does not like to have them speyed or neutered because having an animal carted off to the veterinarian is extremely disruptive to all of the wolves. However, the Sanctuary does not breed animals (with wolves being killed all over the globe, the greater environment isn’t currently safe for release); instead they are generally kept in male-female pairs. A very interesting thing about pure wolves is that breeding pairs only produce pups once a year – typically, mating only occurs for one week or so during February (it coincides with our Valentine’s Day!), so WWS wolves happily coexist in their decided pairs (and yes, they choose whether they bond with a particular wolf or not; they could never be forced to live in harmony) until this particular week in February comes along and they are separated for a few days.

White wolf arctic wolf drink Hope Blameitonmywildheartblog wildatheart

Hope having a quiet drink

Goliath arrived at WWS from an establishment that was very tourist-focused. He was kept in a concrete pen, and people would pay to take photos of him. When he finally arrived at the White Wolf Sanctuary he was introduced to a beautiful older wolfie lady named Hope. Hope is a 15-year-old Arctic wolf, and had been living at WWS alone for some time since her previous mate passed away. Hope had been lonely, quiet and subdued. And then Goliath came along.
Goliath – this not-so-young male – was suddenly free of his concrete pen. He had grass to play in. Fields to run through. Ponds to swim in. And he was given careful meetings with this graceful, quiet older lass Hope. I’m going to let myself be completely anthropomorphic here and say that Goliath simply fell for her. Hope, also, seemed to find charm in this younger man and eventually he was teaching her to play like a pup again – Goliath, the wolf who had been contained his whole life, was teaching his older mate to rediscover exploration, playfulness and curiosity.
While I sat there with Goliath during our first interaction, Hope herself wandered over to greet me, this stranger she had never met before. My first impression was that she was a very gentle girl – being older she did not move with quite the confident strength and force as the others; she was slower, but no less bold or self-assured. Hope brought her muzzle to my hand and sniffed it very quickly, and proceeded to cover it with dainty wolf licks. I felt honoured.
During this stay at the White Wolf Sanctuary I found that Hope wasn’t one for prolonged cuddles with me, but would often come over to greet me with a few graceful kisses before she went on about her day. Goliath seemed to be the one of the pair who liked to hog the attention – and he would be obviously unimpressed if he didn’t get his fill. I loved spending time with these two, almost as much as I loved seeing them spend time together.

Hope and Goliath's favourite "strolling" spot

Hope and Goliath’s favourite “strolling” spot

Goliath treats Hope as any true gentleman should. She sleeps a good portion of the day, especially in hot weather, and you can be sure that whatever Goliath is up to he will not be far from her side. When the pair is moved into another enclosure, as utterly eager as he may be to explore their new area he always makes sure Hope has successfully come through to the new habitat with him – and if she lags behind Goliath will trot around her in encouragement as if to say, “Come along, dear.” Every evening as the heat of the day settles, Goliath and Hope go for their routine “stroll” – it is an adorable sight; the pair wander across the field of one of their favourite enclosures, into the trees and all the way back to the most farthest fence. It is their nightly routine, and because Hope is over 15-years-old (which is an incredible age for a wolf to live to) WWS has set things up so that the special ‘seniors’ have access to this favoured strolling enclosure as much as possible.
The White Wolf Sanctuary holds over 50 acres of wolf-friendly habitat. Enclosures are separated by two sets of chain-link fences, and wolves are rotated around habitats so that they often have a new area to explore. As much as Goliath and Hope love their nightly stroll, sometimes they can’t make up their minds about which area they exactly want to be in. For example, there is one enclosure in which Hope spends a lot of her time resting – it is a relatively small habitat but has her favourite “wolf cabin” inside, and is opposite the Director’s house, makeshift car-park, Visitor’s Cabin and lies along the driveway up to the Sanctuary – in other words, it is the centre of attention and she gets to see everything that is going on; every car that passes, every person walking to and from the Visitor’s Cabin, etc. The pair always has access to their favourite strolling area, too, but Hope really does love it near her little cabin. Just to give them a new environment during the day, sometimes they will be moved across the driveway to a different habitat. To do this, large metal fences are swung across the driveway to connect the two enclosures and their gates are opened, allowing the wolves to run (or amble) through to the new habitat. In the evenings in time for Hope and Goliath’s stroll, the enclosures are reconnected and the wolves can head back to their favourite habitats. However, sometimes one of them just doesn’t feel like it. Sometimes they would rather sit down and make life a little bit more difficult for the WWS staff – and I am sure the wolves realise it, which you can’t help but laugh about. The photo to the left shows what I am talking about. There is Hope, sitting smack-bang in the middle of the raceway between the two enclosures we have connected. With other habitats it wouldn’t be a problem, but because this particular raceway lies over the WWS driveway, no cars can get in or out – so depending on which side you’re on, you’re stuck until she decides to move! And there she sits, happily missing out on her stroll while she makes up her mind about which enclosure she would prefer for the evening.

The wolves’ personalities constantly amaze me, and are such a joy. Goliath is always making me smile at his antics. Tundra wolves have been known to show significant tear-staining under their eyes, so you can often see evident brown streaks on either side of Goliath’s face. He is prone to allergies – not surprising, since he came from an enclosed space and now has the freedom of nature all around him. Because of this, though, and due to his age, he gets regular medication and supplements – that is if we can get him to eat them. Wolves are, as you can probably imagine, not silly creatures and have an incredible sense of smell. If you want to sneak medication into food, you have to be very careful about it. Even if you are extremely careful, and offer the tastiest morsel of a wolf’s most favourite treat, they can still tell and may simply refuse what you are giving them. Goliath is hilarious – instead of simply refusing to eat something he mistrusts, he carefully holds the little bite-sized piece of treat in his mouth, walks off into his habitat, digs a shallow hole with his paws, unceremoniously drops the prepared treat into the hole and swiftly covers it up with his nose. Then he will come back to you to see what else you have to offer. I learnt the hard way that I had to be very particular about how I presented Goliath’s laced treats to him – after a couple of times having to answer, “No, Goliath didn’t get his medication…” I figured out a tactic that was successful… at least some of the time!

The heat in September had Hope acting very lethargic. She had Sanctuary staff worried. In the wild it is rare for a wolf to make it past even six or so years old, so 15 truly is an extraordinary age – even for a captive-born Arctic wolf. It is one of those things, though, about mortality; at some point you do have to say goodbye. The wolves sense sadness, too – if you approach a day with dread in your heart, they will be able to tell. Despite inevitable goodbyes, it makes more sense to treasure each given moment; savour the precious time granted. Not relishing those positive moments is simply impossible when you are spending them at the Sanctuary, that’s for sure.

White wolf arctic wolf Hope Blameitonmywildheartblog wildatheart

Darling Hope

Sam. www.whitewolfsanctuary.com

America – Wolves: An introduction to the rancher vs. wolves controversey

Tags

, , , , ,

When I was younger and developing this obscure passion for creatures I had never even seen with my own eyes, I began to recognise that wolves certainly were a hated species by many. To this day they get some extremely bad press – just look at the recent film ‘The Grey‘. Despite any good exposure wolves may get, the bad always seems to outweigh it. Fairy-tales like Three Little Pigs, Little Red Ridinghood and Peter and the Wolf portray the ‘bad’ character as a big, scary, intimidating wolf. Tuck your children into their beds tightly, or else the scheming, evil wolf will come to gobble them up in the dead of night.
The reality? Wolves aren’t man-hunting, merciless killers. They don’t catch the scent of a human and track him for mile and miles, psychologically terrorizing him as they do so. They are naturally shy, cautious creatures. Aggressive? No. Not unless you corner one and take away its preferred option of ‘flight’ as opposed to ‘fight’. I can guarantee most stories you hear about a “wolf attack” will actually be based on a wolf-dog hybrid (which have far less ‘fear’ of humans than pure wild wolves do), a captive animal, or a diseased, starving or threatened wild animal – not a healthy, unprovoked wild wolf. The only recorded cases of wild wolves killing a human in North America were in 2005 (Saskatchewan, Canada) and 2010 (Alaska, USA), and I will add more information to the blog about these events at a later date.

So, you see, all of this fuss about the “big, bad wolf” is actually misguided urban legend. And yet, when most unfamiliar people think of wolves, they automatically associate the creatures with something aggressive and to be feared. Shouldn’t we be over this by now? There is more than enough information to liken the wolf to a cautious, shy traveler who takes only what he needs, yet we still insist on portraying them as ruthless, terrifying, greedy monsters.
One group of people who generally see themselves as ‘against’ wolves, so to speak, are ranchers. In many states of the USA, agriculture is a high-grossing industry. Where I’m from (New Zealand) our agricultural industries are a huge part of our national economy, and we are the world’s largest dairy and sheep meat exporter. Our ecosystems, however, are very different to those of places such as the United States. We have no native large mammalian land carnivores, thus our livestock is generally free to graze without the pressures of such (although domestic dogs and the like – introduced species, of course – have been known to injure and even kill livestock occasionally).
One of the things I find most fascinating about the USA is it’s incredibly diverse wildlife. While New Zealand’s only native land mammals are bats (the long-tailed bat and the short-tailed bat), the United States has countless. These species range from tiny, hibernating herbivores to large apex predators. The wolf is one such native predator, and their populations were surviving until humans declared war on all wolves in the lower 48 states (“the lower 48″ refers to the continental states of the USA excluding Alaska). They were very successful, and brought indigenous wolf numbers down from a potential +400,000 pre-European settlement, to less than about 500 animals in the whole of the lower 48 states in the 1960’s. Years later, legislation changed and wolves were listen on the 1973 Endangered Species Act, and were slowly reintroduced to certain areas with incredibly ecosystem-beneficial results (I will go into this in more depth in further posts). You may have heard of documentaries such as How Wolves Change Rivers’ – information like this is now being shared in the mainstream population, and is helping the general Joe Bloggs to start understanding the principle that indigenous species are all important to their natural habitats in some way.

“Livestock”, as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture, can be “Any cattle, sheep, goats, swine, poultry, equine animals used for food or in the production of food, fiber, feed, or other agricultural-based consumer products; wild or domesticated game” – meaning ‘livestock’ does not only refer to cattle, but can also refer to sheep, poultry and game such as deer. In the USA, livestock is grazed on 155 million acres of public land annually – this comes from a total of 245 million acres of public land in the whole of the United States. (Note that neither of these figures reflect privately-owned land.) Public land, of course, is land that is not owned by any one private entity, and encompasses thousands and thousands of different ecosystems. These ecosystems are home to innumerable species, and many do of course act as natural habitats for predators. Predators aren’t just generically big ‘ol scary beasties, but include animals like the Bald Eagle and Trapdoor Spider; creatures that are more or less only a danger to smaller species. The big ‘Rancher vs. Wolf’ controversy has historically come from livestock owners believing that their financially-viable animals get killed off by wild wolves. They would prefer wolves to be nowhere near grazing sites – that is if they have to be kept around at all. It’s a tricky situation. Economics make the western world go round, and any threat to economics is one that tends to be disposed of swiftly.
Wolves are natural-born carnivores, who spend much of their time sourcing meals. But it isn’t an easy picnic in the park for them; wolves only make successful kills an estimated 10-20% of the time, and commonly get injured in the process. The hunt is often a long, tasking process that requires the involvement of multiple pack members. The wolf’s diet consists of 100% fresh prey, but they can also digest plant material if need be (i.e. in times of prey scarcity). They have also been known to survive for months entirely on human leftovers and trash when they are desperate – but is this the best diet for them? Absolutely not! Fresh prey is their #1 choice. Interestingly enough, when given the option between wild prey such as elk or deer, and domestic prey such as livestock, studies have shown that they tend to select the wild option when they can. We, as humans, are of course encroaching further and further into natural animal habitat. Grazing livestock through public land is an example of this – livestock has even been grazed through known wolf denning sites. Some US states have Wolf Depredation Compensation Programs, where livestock owners will be reimbursed for livestock losses due to wolves. In 2005 the USDA National Wildlife Research Center and Utah State University published an article reporting that of all annual losses of cattle and calves due to predation in the USA in 2000, less than 1.1% of kills could be attributed to wolves. Most livestock attacks are actually carried out by coyotes and domestic dogs. And yet, in this ‘Lines of Defense: Coping with Predators in the Rocky Mountain Range’ article, much of the publication was focused on deterring wolves. It absolutely blows my mind that despite accurately reported statistical facts and figures showing wolves aren’t as much of a threat as they are made out to be, they are still incredibly persecuted. I have heard the term “shoot, shovel and shut up” on more than one occasion, where people just can’t be bothered going through the appropriate legal avenues and decide to take matters into their own hands.
As I said, New Zealand doesn’t have such an issue with livestock predation as is seen in many other countries, but turning wolves into a scapegoat just isn’t valid. In fact, so much counter-evidence exists to show that not only are wolves less of a threat than they are made out to be, but they also actually positively benefit their natural ecosystems, shouldn’t we by now be carrying out actions with this education in mind? I think for some people on both sides of the ‘Rancher vs. Wolf’ debate it has just become overly emotional and is almost impossible to cease. This is incredibly unfortunate because the result is one extremely ecologically-important animal that is constantly prosecuted, and its populations do not have secure time to be stable. Someone said to me the other day that it is “Survival of the fittest”. Does that mean we have the right to kill off every species on our planet unless it economically benefits us? I know where I stand on this thought, and I suppose a lot of it comes down to personal belief and ethical view. There are many non-lethal predator control methods, which I shall explore here at a later date, but for many ranchers it is more convenient to do as they have done in the past instead of attempting to co-exist with natural, native predators.

Sam.

PS – Ironically enough, as Lois (White Wolf Sanctuary director) points out, this rescue center goes through hundreds of dollars worth of meat for the wolves a week – she jokes that we’re one of agriculture’s biggest customers!

America – The Wolves of WWS: Archidamus and Tamahawk

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Archidamus timber wolf White Wolf Sanctuary blameitonmywildheartblog

Archidamus: Timber wolf, male, 2.5 years

Tamahawk arctic wolf White Wolf Sanctuary blameitonmywildheartblog

Tamahawk: Arctic wolf, female, 7.5 years

I first met Tamahawk in the summer of 2010. She was the smallest arctic wolf I had seen, and to this day she remains the most petite arctic wolf that Lois (WWS director) has ever encountered. When I first arrived at the White Wolf Sanctuary, Tamahawk had only been there for three months. She had been paired with a big old guy, Odot, and despite their age difference she really asserted herself. Odot sadly pssed away in 2013, and this left Tamahawk without a mate.
Tamahawk had a very rough start to life. She had been kept as a ‘pet’ by some people in another state, chained up in their backyard. One thing Lois learnt early on is that neighbours can see the end of a place that houses wild animals – Tamahaw’s previous ‘owners’ were also forced to realise this. When their little wolf would howl, as is natural for the species, they would receive complaints from the neighbours. So what did they do? You can probably think of a hundred and one more ethical solutions – but they decided to tape her muzzle shut.
Having a taped muzzle, of course, means normal, imperative things such as eating, drinking and breathing become extremely difficult. This is very likely why Tamahawk is so small; she was physically unable to take in all of her body’s requirements.
Tamahawk wolf short tail White Wolf Sanctuary blameitonmywildheartblogFinally, she was shipped off to a captive establishment in Idaho where, unfortunately, she was not given ample introductory time with the resident wolves, and on being thrown in with strangers she was severely injured. This girl only has half a tail – the other torn-up half had to be amputated after this incident. Luckily, Lois was contacted, and four years ago Tamahawk found her way to a far happier life at the White Wolf Sanctuary.
Despite all of this, Tamahawk is by no means a humble creature. She gallops around, bowling over her habitat-mate and smiling mischievously as she does so. When she urinates, she does not do so as a dainty female of her kind might; she lifts her leg high like an alpha. At feeding time it is not uncommon for her to hog all of poor Archidamus’ food, and I have fond memories of her taking the biggest, heaviest bone she could find and parading it around triumphantly for all to see. She is affectionately known by staff as the “Party Girl”; at about 3pm every afternoon, even on the hottest, laziest of days, you can be certain that Tamahawk will attempt to rouse everyone with a long, loud chorus of howls.

Archidamus keeps up with her sprightly nature well. They make a real pair. I was incredibly surprised to find out that Lois had taken a timber wolf on – for years and years she had been adamant that WWS would strictly house arctics only. It is truly due to extremely unique circumstance that Lois took him in – it makes quite a contrast seeing him and arctic Tamahawk together, which in itself has been great for educational purposes in regards to tour groups being given the opportunity to appreciate the diversity between the two.
Archidamus is not like the others when it comes to friendliness towards strangers. He has been at the Sanctuary for about a year, and as with any rescue animal it is hard to ascertain what exactly life was like before his arrival here. Archidamus had, like Tamahawk, been held in someone’s backyard, and he kept breaking his tether to escape to a nearby property. Who knows how he was treated during this first portion of his life, but he certainly does not have the trusting nature of some of the other wolves at WWS.
Unfortunately, I have to be very careful around Archidamus now. On the final night of my first week back, Lois and I were out at dusk to feed the wolves. Feeding must be done just before dark to avoid ravens scavenging the food, but while it is still light enough to see. With the other wolves, Lois can go in to their habitats to place food around while a second person ‘spots’ – basically watches outside for signs of trouble (usually “trouble” means a wolf potentially overpowering Lois with affectionate kisses). Tamahawk, however, can be tricky to deal with at meal times; she is very dominant and food-possessive, which could lead to a potentially dangerous situation.
On this particular evening, Tamahawk and Archidamus were not in the most suitable habitat for feeding. It was a fairly high-stress situation, and having food involved can always make things a bit more tricky. Long story short, Archidamus got spooked when I was opening the gate through to their food, and I had to swiftly move away. He stalked me from his habitat as I walked back to the visitor’s cabin.
Admittedly, I went home in tears. One simple action can change a wolf’s behaviour and personality forever, and I was indescribably mortified that I might have been a part of such a situation for Archidamus. Because the whole purpose of WWS is to give the wolves a burden-free, happy life, I was irrationally considering not coming back. If he was going to be nervous or stressed in my presence, I did not think I should be here.
Archidamus is, however, a “funny guy” (as Lois describes). He is cautious with several people – unfortunately now I just happen to be on that list. We have been taking things carefully with him and me; I gave him a few days where I would not go near his habitat at all, and since then we make sure I am around someone he really trusts if I am going in his direction to fill water bowls etc. I haven’t forced anything, and he is definitely better around me now, which is great. I have learnt that it isn’t unlike him to be wary with people, and Lois kept telling me not to take it personally. “They’re wild animals. It could happen to anyone – it just happened to be you.”

I do know that I let myself fall into an area of trust with the wolves. When I was working with the elephants in Thailand last year, I was somewhat sad to find that they were very different when I compared them to the wolves; while I remembered the wolves as being quite forgiving despite possible past mistreatment, the elephants seemed to harbour more bitterness. After I accepted this, I no longer took it personally if an elephant shoved or charged me. With the wolves, however, I think I was convinced I could befriend them all, and didn’t consider a less-than-positive outcome for too long. It has been a good lesson, though; it brings you back down to earth, in a way. A lot of people want to work with animals for the “cute and cuddly” time – that’s not what it’s about, though. It’s about doing what is best for them. I admire people who do work that doesn’t necessarily generate gratitude or recognition. That truly is selfless.
Tamahawk arctic wolf White Wolf Sanctuary blameitonmywildheartblog
Sam.

www.whitewolfsanctuary.com

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 927 other followers