Most of the sanctuary’s population consists of wolves or wolf/dog hybrids rescued from private owners or situations where the animals’ health or well-being were at risk. I was somewhat surprised to discover, happily so, that it is illegal in many states to own or breed “wolfdogs” — though in some states like Alaska it is, oddly and disappointingly, legal to own a pure wolf. At Wolf Haven, these animals are paired where appropriate and placed in outdoor enclosures. They don’t have free run as they would in the wild, but they do have a high quality of life under the circumstances.
While their rescue animals are not bred, Wolf Haven does participate in two federal wolf recovery and breeding programs — the Red Wolf and Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Programs — overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in conjunction with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Programs. Both wolf species were once common throughout the Southeast and Southwest U.S. Now, only fifty red wolves remain in North Carolina, and a USFWS study released this past February showed an approximate population of 109 Mexican gray wolves living in or near the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area along the Arizona/New Mexico border.
As an apex predator, wolves play an important part in balancing and protecting an ecosystem. Their reintroduction throughout the U.S. has been controversial (in particular and most recently, FWS’ handling of the Red Wolf Recovery Program), but the overall positive impact wolves have had — as highlighted by the video How Wolves Change Rivers — cannot be understated.
Wolf Haven isn’t all about wolves, either. The sanctuary, located on thirty-six acres of native prairie and Mima Mound habitat, spends a considerable amount of time and resources restoring the prairie and protecting the threatened Mazama pocket gopher.
It always saddens me to see wild (and in the case of wolfdogs, mostly wild) animals in cages, no matter how big those cages might be. And, as noted above, there have been concerns about the mismanagement and misuse of breeding and recovery programs; especially, in my opinion, when it comes to the involvement of the AZA. While the AZA’s Species Survival Programs sound good on paper, it provides their association zoos an ongoing opportunity to showcase a captive wild population for entertainment purposes, and as such is something I have difficulty supporting.
That said, with Mexican gray and red wolf numbers in such a perilous state, I can’t look past the good these recovery programs are capable of accomplishing in re-establishing wild wolf populations, if properly managed by all parties involved. Wolf Haven certainly deserves credit for playing a crucial role in this, and deserves support and encouragement for their ongoing work in helping provide sanctuary for captive and mistreated wolves and wolfdogs, as well as helping educate the public on the importance of these magnificent animals.