On arriving at the Trust we met the wolf handlers, all dedicated volunteers (some of whom have volunteered for the best part of a decade due to the love they have for the animals), along with one of the Directors. They spoke to us about the work the Trust does - apart from giving a home to the wolves that live there, they are also involved in educational work (trying to change the slightly scary reputations held by these beautiful creatures) and support many international conservation projects. Having been established in the village of Beenham in Reading for the past 30 years, they also told us how the village enjoyed having wolves in their vicinity, with the local school so enthusiastic that they've adopted the wolf as the school's emblem. A local farmer has also offered his land, in addition to that held by the Trust, to walk and exercise the wolves - he says it discourages dog walkers!
Currently home to 10 wolves, each wolf pack (comprising 2 - 3 members) has a couple of acres to themselves in their 'pens', and only the wolves who are happy to do so actually take part in the 'meet and greets'. We were given instructions on how to behave around them and, after checking ourselves for dangling toggles or furry bits on our clothes (both very appealing to wolves) we were introduced to brother and sister Nuka and Tala.
Nuka, the North American wolf. Photo by NikNak
Tala, the North American wolf. Photo by NikNak
Leaving their sister, Tundra, at 'home' the wolves happily led their handlers and their visitors on a leisurely stroll around the grounds, with plenty of stops for the wolves to check out new smells and to answer the howls of their sister at home, letting her know where they were.
Nuka and Tala have a howl. For iPhone/iPad click here.
Very confident and relaxed around people, they patiently let us approach and, after sniffing our hands and letting their handlers know they were happy to proceed, let us give them a belly rub. Apparently, to pat a wolf on the head or back is rather condescending and dominant, and they may feel it's necessary to put you in your place whereas a belly rub is comforting - reminding them of how their mums would lick them as cubs. Nuka in particular seemed to revel in this attention.
I meet Tala!! Photo by NikNak
NikNak meets Nuka, and gets a lick too... Photo by me.
When we returned to the centre and Nuka and Tala reunited with their sister, it was time for them to be fed and so we got to watch them gobbling their grub while the handlers spoke more about them and answered any questions we had (interesting fact: all wolves, no matter their colouring, have a dark spot at the base of their tails. It's thought that this is a scent gland which would mark the dens as each wolf entered, letting other wolves know who was at home).
The dedication and passion the Directors and handlers all have for the wolves was clear to see and wonderful to be able to be a part of, even for just a few hours. It was also wonderful to see just how content and relaxed the wolves are, and I'm thrilled that I had the opportunity to meet a couple of these fantastic animals.
If you're interested in finding out more about the work of the UK Wolf Conservation Trust, or want to become a member and have your own walk with wolves, please visit www.ukwolf.org.
To see more photos of our visit with the wolves, click here.