Tuesday, June 01, 2004
Wolves offer a howling good time Battle Ground, Ind. By Jennifer Burklow :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::photo courtesy of Jennifer Burklow/Chicago Parent Sara Burklow, 12, who already knows a lot about wolves, still found wolf Park informative and fun. She stands in front of one of the pack.
We stumbled on to our youngest daughter's love affair with wolves accidentally. During a 1994 vacation near Ely, Minn., we visited the International Wolf Center. When we reached the observation area, Sara, then 3, stood entranced, face and hands pressed to the enormous glass window separating her from the pack. Thus began our quest to learn everything we could about Canis lupus.
Finding wolves in Minnesota was hardly surprising. But two hours away in Indiana? A resource page in a wolf sticker book led us to Wolf Park two years ago. We made a return trip last summer-this time to howl with the wolves.
Nestled in the outskirts of tiny Battle Ground (population 1,323) near Lafayette, Wolf Park is home to 15 wolves, an elderly coyote, four red foxes and a herd of bison. The nonprofit educational and research facility is run by a small staff and a crew of unpaid, mostly college-age interns who come from around the world.
Visitors to Wolf Park (open 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, May 1-Dec. 1 and for Saturday evenings howls all year) are escorted through the facility by the interns-who know their stuff. Our guide was Sophie from England. Only in her third of a 12-week stint, Sophie was still able to give us the history of the park, talk knowledgeably about each wolf and answer a wide range of questions. Tours take 45 minutes to an hour.
Now 12, Sara knows a lot about wolves but she still the lecture/howl to be informative and fun. She even hopes to intern at Wolf Park some day.
Founder Erich Klinghammer began his career studying pigeons and doves but switched to wolves because of allergies. He founded the park in 1972 with two wolves from Brookfield Zoo.
Sultry summer afternoons are not the best time to visit the park because, like us, the wolves would rather drowse than move. The animals are most active in the spring and fall. We lucked out. The afternoon we visited was overcast and we were treated to howling, playful antics and fence visits.
Nine of the wolves are divided into three packs and rotated among the park's larger enclosures. The remaining six live with a sibling or alone because of age, illness or personality conflicts. Although grown wolves are not easily introduced to a pack, pups can be. Wolf Park staff members intensively socialize with wolf pups before introducing them to a pack. This allows the staff to care for the animals without tranquilizing them.
We returned for the howl that evening to find the bleachers overlooking the main wolf enclosure filling fast. (Howls are offered at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays all year and 7:30 p.m. Fridays May 1-Dec. 1.) By the time the lecture began, roughly 200 people were listening raptly while a staff member talked about wolf behavior in general, why wolves howl and different vocalizations. The wolves didn't need any prompting that night. A group howl interrupted the informative and humorous lecture and we listened attentively. Then we were invited to join in and we howled. Hearing the wolves respond to our howls was a thrill.
Another highlight was when three staff members entered the enclosure to visit the wolves, who were overjoyed to see their human pack members. Staffers cautioned they never enter an enclosure alone because, despite their socialization with humans, wolves remains unpredictable.
Admission is $5 for adults ($6 on Sundays), $3 for kids 6-12, free for 5 and under; if you take a tour and return for a howl, there's a discount.
More than just wolves Tiny Battle Ground packs a big tourism punch. Besides Wolf Park, it is home to the Museum at Prophetstown, a living history farm that boasts a huge 1920s farm house built from a Sears catalog kit, acres of wild flowers crisscrossed by walking trails and a Native American village re-creation.
Tippecanoe Battlefield is Battle Ground's original claim to fame. It is on this field that Shawnee Chief Tecumseh battled Gen. William Henry Harrison (who later became our ninth president) over westward expansion. The field is a national historic landmark complete with a museum, nature center and walking trails.
Just the facts Wolf Park (765) 567-2265 www.wolfpark.org
Greater Lafayette Convention & Visitors Bureau (800) 872-6648 www.lafayette-in.com
Museum at Prophetstown (765) 567-4700 www.prophetstown.org
Tippecanoe Battlefield (765) 567-2147 www.tcha.mus.in.us/battlefield.htm