A trip to the Mission:Wolf Sanctury southwest of Pueblo offers visitors the rare opportunity to see wolves up close. Mission:Wolf’s motto, Education vs Extinction, encourages visitors to really get to know this historically misunderstood, endangered species with the hope of saving it. Getting to know wolves is exactly what 18 students from The Logan School for Creative Learning in Denver did on their last school expedition for the year with Cottonwood Institute.
In late May, the Logan School’s 4th & 5th grade class spent an entire week at the Mission:Wolf Sanctuary, camping under the stars and learning about wolves, and of course, sharing quality time with each other before their school year ended. In true Logan School spirit, the students dug in to learn as much as they could about wolves, about how wolves communicate and live in the wild and in captivity, and about what can be done to bring back this endangered species. It was a week of learning and bonding they will long remember!
After pitching their tents and settling in for the week, Logan students took a tour of the sanctuary with Mission:Wolf staff and began their exploration of wolf behavior. Students learned that wolves use three different languages to communicate – sound, smell, and body posture. To reinforce how this works, students were challenged to find their “pack” without speaking and using only a small unidentified scent container each student was given. Containers had drops of cinnamon, bitters, vinegar, vanilla or rubbing alcohol (yuck!). Turns out these young humans were pretty good with this form of communication. Then again, there were some pretty strong scents in the containers.
Next, to understand wolf body language, Logan students reviewed drawings of wolf facial expressions, tail and body postures, and then tried “talking” to each other using only this form of expression.
Tail high, standing tall? I’m in charge.
Tail between the legs? I’m scared.
Teeth bared and ears forward? Watch out!!
It took a little practice, but the students soon got the hang of wolf-speak and were ready to try observing real wolves. Could students tell which wolves were dominant? Would some wolves be more active than others? Would there be a difference in wolf behavior on feeding day vs the day after? Students hypothesized about their focus wolf, designed data tables, and recorded behaviors. They returned a second day to continue making observations or practice sketching these regal animals. When then discussed their findings, there were some surprises, like learning that 16-year-old Daisy (the resident grandmother of the sanctuary) was actually more active than her timid partner, Fenris, as they waited for their meal. Students were also interested to see first-hand how protective Rosie was of her brother, Tiger.
By the end of their week at Mission:Wolf, Logan students were on a first name basis with the wolves. They knew a bit of the wolf’s language and were able to calmly and confidently walk into a wolf pen and be greeted by Ambassador wolves Abraham, Zeb and little Nashira. They discovered that wolves were not the scary, dangerous creatures so often portrayed in folklore, and that conserving this species would require education and understanding – something they now knew well.
The end of the week was also bittersweet for these campers, as this was their last school trip together for the year. These students had a strong bond of friendship, having spent a few years together in school, and freely expressed this bond during an end-of-year ceremony around the fire ring. In a way, these Logan students were as tight-knit a “pack” as the wolves they had been studying.
And like the wolf packs of Mission:Wolf, the Logan pack of friends was a marvel to witness.
View more photos from the trip here!
Written by CI instructor Liz Goehring