A pack of promise


Brookfield hopes to save endangered Mexican gray wolves :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::


Brookfield Zoo has done it again. Regenstein Wolf Woods, which opens June 18, masterfully balances the needs of its Mexican wolf pack with the needs of its visitors.

I toured the exhibit with my 12-year-old daughter, Sara, a big wolf fan. This was her take: "I think it will be fun for kids of all ages. I'm looking forward to using the hidden cameras to see the wolves."

Five years in the making, Wolf Woods will be home to a pack of five Mexican wolves, brothers all. Funded by the Regenstein Foundation, the state of Illinois and donations, the $2.46 million exhibit is part of a joint Mexico-U.S. program to save Mexican gray wolves, the most endangered type of gray wolf in North America.

The zoo hopes to have a breeding pair in a couple years, according to Joan Daniels Tantillo, assistant curator for mammals. "These pairs are very valuable and we want to do a super job with them," she says. "We are very excited to be a part of the recovery program."

Located in the southwest corner of the zoo bordering Indian Lake, Wolf Woods covers 2.1 acres. The lightly wooded area features three pools (wolves like to swim), man-made beaver dams and a stream creating a wetland designed to naturally clean the water.

Shy and secretive, wolves are skittish around humans. To encourage the wolves to stay in view, rocks on three earth mounds will be heated in the winter because warmth-seeking wolves like to survey their territory from heights. The exhibit was "designed in a long, narrow fashion to allow the wolves to get close to visitors," Tantillo says.

A wood-chip trail encircling the perimeter of the exhibit provides five viewing alcoves-two of them offer unobstructed views and are perfect for photographing the wolves. Along the trail visitors encounter graphics and interactive exhibits that illustrate wolf behavior, including a mock kill site that offers clues about wolves' hunting behavior and how other animals and the ecosystem benefit from a wolf kill (the remains provide food for smaller animals and decomposition enriches the soil).

The viewing building has a one-way window for watching the wolves. Five cameras controlled by a computer and operated by visitors provide views of two man-made dens and other exhibit areas. "Wolves tend to lay where people can't see them," Tantillo says.

A replica of a wolf den that is wheelchair accessible encourages youngsters to wheel or crawl through for close-up views of wolves. This area, as well as the main viewing area, has a chute that allows keepers to provide treats that lure wolves closer to visitors. The multi-sensory "Call of the Wolves: A Journey of the Senses" provides a sense of a night hunt, complete with a soundtrack of the nocturnal animals howling.

Brookfield Zoo is at First Avenue and 31st Street in Brookfield. Admission is $8, adults; $4, children 3-11 and seniors 65 and over; children 2 and under free. Parking is $8. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For more information, call (708) 485-0263 or visit www.brookfieldzoo.org.

Jennifer Burklow


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