OUTLOOK: KISSES WITH WOLVES: Vicksburg’s Alaina Fordice spends summer at wolf sanctuary
Published 4:00 am Sunday, August 21, 2022
Alaina Fordice had an encounter this summer she will never forget.
While working for an adventure and service-based travel camp for teens called The Road Less Traveled, the Vicksburg native had the opportunity to be part of Mission: Wolf, a solar-powered nature center that provides sanctuary for unwanted captive-born wolves and horses.
Located about 30 minutes outside Westcliffe, Colo., Fordice said the wolves are brought to the preserve due to a variety of reasons.
“Some come from people who thought it would be cool to own a wolf but didn’t know what it would take (to care for one),” she said, while others arrive after the animal can no longer be taken care of due to closures of zoos or other wildlife centers.
Then there are wolves, she said, who come to the preserve from Hollywood after they are no longer needed for productions.
Among those at Wolf Mission are Zeab and Farrah, Fordice said, who were bred for “Twilight,” the 2008 American romantic fantasy film.
“When production decided they no longer needed their litter, that’s when they arrived at the preserve,” she said, adding, for those who are “Twilight” fans, it may be interesting to note that the uncle to Zeab and Farrah was Sam’s wolf form.
In addition to Zeab and Farrah being movie stars, the pair is also what Fordice called “Ambassadors.”
“They (Ambassadors) are used for education,” she said. “The public is welcome at Mission: Wolf on Tuesdays and Saturdays where they can come and tour the sanctuary, learn about the wolves and meet the Ambassadors.
“And if you are a group staying at Mission: Wolf doing service like our group was, you have the opportunity to greet the Ambassadors almost every day,” she added.
Mission: Wolf is an all-volunteer preserve, Fordice said, where there are some on staff who are long-term volunteers that may stay for a couple of months or years and are offered housing and food for their time and energy. Others, like Fordice and her campers, come for a couple of days or weeks to help.
At Mission: Wolf, Fordice said her job, along with the teens in the travel camp, was to help with whatever project was most needed at the time.
“A lot of the projects we worked on were things that would be difficult for the staff alone to tackle because of the number of people and time it would take to complete, but if you throw in another 15 or 20 hands, it could be completed in a few days,” she said.
When Mission: Wolf opened in 1988, Fordice said, the wolves lived in packs of five to six, but now they live in pairs on at least half an acre per wolf on 50 acres of enclosed land.
In recounting the day-to-day operations at Mission: Wolf, Fordice said, “On a regular day the wolves will get their daily feed in the morning, which is about 1 to 3 pounds of meat. On Sundays and Wednesdays, the wolves receive their ‘big feed,’ which is between 5 to 10 pounds of meat.”
Meat for the wolves comes from supporters who donate their deceased livestock, which in essence, she said, contributes to “the circle of life.”
Wolves, Fordice said, are not dangerous.
“At least not any more than any other wild animal,” she said. They do, however, have natural aggression, she said. “And by nature, they are curious but shy.”
Fordice said out of the 25 wolves on-site at Mission: Wolf, only about five to 10 are social.
“The rest have enclosures away from humans so they can live in peace with minimal causes for fear,” she said.
While at Mission: Wolf, Fordice said one of her favorite parts of the day was when she would fall asleep and wake up to a chorus of howls.
Another favorite, she said, was being around the animals.
“At Mission: Wolf, I was constantly being surrounded by these beautiful creatures and having the opportunity to be so close to them and even form relationships with some of them. And the best feeling, very selfishly, was when the wolves would come to say hello to me more than others as the summer wore on,” she said.
One of the Ambassador wolves even stole Fordice’s heart.
“Ydun hands down won my heart early on and I was always happy to get to see her and get some wolf kisses each day,” Fordice said. “As someone who has never liked dogs licking my face, it was very hard at first to accept and allow a wolf to lick my teeth, but after the first day, I couldn’t wait to go back.”
Wolves, Fordice said, greet each other by sniffing and licking teeth, “So that is how they greet us, too; it’s their handshake.”
Fordice said she hopes one day to return to Mission: Wolf, where she can reunite with the “majestic creatures.”
Mission: Wolf receives over 100 wolf care requests each year, but unfortunately, Fordice said, the sanctuary must turn away nearly half of the requests simply because they do not have enough space.
Although Mission: Wolf is a unique place that puts the well-being of the wolves over everything else, Fordice said, their goal is to one day be obsolete.
“They hope to educate enough people to watch the captive wolf numbers drastically decline and the wild wolf numbers rise as fears are countered,” she said.
Mission: Wolf was founded by Kent Weber, after “seeing a wolf in a cage and feeling disgusted by it,” Fordice said.
Since then, Mission: Wolf has provided lifelong care for 125 wolves and 25 horses, facilitated experiential wolf education to more than 1 million people and preserved 350 acres of pristine subalpine habitat.
Currently, Fordice said, there are about 250,000 wolves in captivity in the continental U.S. and only about 7,000 to 8,000 in the wild.