On July 28th, 2011 a small group of students from West Denver Preparatory Charter School joined up with the Cottonwood Institute to participate in our week-long Endangered Wolves and Animal Tracking course held at Mission: Wolf. For a full week students were able to camp together in the mountains, spending their days in the company of one of North America’s most intriguing animal species: wolves.
During their stay at Mission: Wolf, students spent their time caring for and learning about the wolves that live at the reserve. They helped feed the wolves each day, and participated in a daily wolf visit where they interacted face-to-face with some of the friendlier wolves that belong to a group known as the Ambassador Pack. The Ambassador Pack consists of wolves that are taken on tours across the United States to help teach people about wolf behavior and encourage respect for wildlife and the natural environment.
“Hanging out with a wolf is an intense experience,” said Clark Patton, a Cottonwood Institute Instructor. “It’s not your average dog.” Visits with the wolves were supervised and lead by Kent and Kathy, two members of the dedicated staff who live and work at the wolf reserve. They taught students about wolf behavior, and showed how the behaviors of wolves can be connected to how humans behave as well.
When they weren’t busy helping the wolves, the students were learning how to build debris shelters and make primitive fires using bow drills. They also spent a few days learning about animal tracking in Carcass Canyon, where they learned how to identify different animal tracks and about how other animals tracked each other in the wild. Evenings were spent around the campfire, sharing thoughts and stories with each other and discussing the events of the day.
For a service project the students helped pick up bones in Carcass Canyon, as well as cut lengths of chain-link fence that could be used for future repairs on the wolf enclosures. They also helped label the wolves’ food bowls.
Coming into contact with wildlife can be a profound and life-changing experience. Many of the students who went on the trip had never gone camping before, nor had they ever come into such close contact with wild animals. “It brought a lot out of them,” said Clark. For the students who spent a week at Mission: Wolf, the experience not only garnered a deep respect for and new found understanding of the wilderness. It gave them a personal understanding of themselves, enabling them to see the relationship between humans and nature, and how we as people both differ and relate to the creatures that inhabit our natural environment.
A special thank you to the staff of Mission: Wolf for allowing us to hold our course at their reserve and for all that they do for the wolves.