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.
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.
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.