The first time I visited America was during a trip to Honolulu, Hawaii in 2005 with family. It was a beautiful introduction to the United States but an entirely unique place with Polynesian culture and Western as well as Asian influences. Many people would argue that it isn’t a strong depiction of the US, and I can imagine that it is unlike the other states.
I ventured back to America in 2008 when I visited a friend in El Paso, Texas. I found it to be, of course, completely different to Honolulu. Driving over to New Mexico to see the Carlsbad Caverns, I had never experienced such desert and was awed for the duration of the journey. I remember seeing a coyote off the road and being absolutely excited. You just don’t see such wild animals like that in New Zealand, and it was so new to me.
It was at the El Paso Zoo where I saw a wolf for the first time. As soon as I entered the zoo I looked for the wolfie sign and found them straight away. They were a pair of timber wolves in a single exhibit, and I had been surprised to see one of their keepers in the enclosure with them. I had heard all sorts of stories about wolves so was not sure what to expect when seeing them around people. Of course, I figured there was much to say of the differences between captive individuals and their wild counterparts, but these ones seemed wary yet to a degree trusting. I was mesmerized and remember staring at them for quite a while that first morning.
I’m not sure where my fascination for wolves began. In high school one of the first books I bought for myself was The Loop, by Nicholas Evans. It follows the story of a young wolf biologist who is called to Montana to study and protect a pack of wolves that have just returned to the area. I couldn’t think of a better career, and the story of the wolves’ struggle gripped me like nothing else. I know my admiration for them began long before this but I think it was around this period that I began seriously considering the possibilities of doing something myself for them.
While New Zealand is an amazing country that, as I mentioned in my Introduction post, I will always call home, I do feel a little set back by being born and raised here. I remember my first job – I was about 12 or 13 and doing volunteer work at a cattery/veterinary clinic in Auckland, and they offered to start paying me for my time. One of the directors, whom I seldom worked with, asked me one morning what I wanted to do when I left school. I hadn’t really thought about it properly before and I remember telling her that I would probably be a cat breeder. That didn’t impress her; she told me we have enough cats already and I felt incredibly stupid for even suggesting it. But it led me to start thinking about the fact that there must be different possibilities out there in the world, and while I had only ever been around domestic and small animals in New Zealand I began to develop a fondness for wildlife and knew I wanted to learn more. I did used to wish I could have been more familiar with overseas species – but to me back then it was a daunting prospect to venture out alone with little knowledge of other countries and their cultures.
While I had a general idea of my interests, it took me through to the end of Year 13 and many career advisor sessions to finally decide which path to take after high school. I had studied the sciences, math and English as would be required for most tertiary courses I would wish to partake in, and I ultimately elected to stay in Auckland to obtain a Bachelor of Applied Science. The classes the degree offered taught me so much, but I found myself enjoying the animal law, health, welfare, conservation and captive wild animal management papers the most. It opened my eyes to more of the world and helped me realise there is so much out there to be done.
Always through my studies The Loop and similar stories sat in the back of my mind, and I knew that no matter what I ended up doing I would make it a priority to learn more about wolves as species and dedicate something of myself to them.