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Old 08-05-2007, 02:38 PM
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Default Training the WIld.

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Training the wild
Dog handler helps zoo prepare wolves for public viewing
Rohn submits to some petting by zookeeper Tina Ferrelli. The Alaska Zoo staff walks the six wolves each morning in hopes to better train the handlers and make the animals more comfortable in their surroundings. (MARC LESTER/Anchorage Daily News)


Two of the six wolves at the Alaska Zoo huddle to peek through the fence. The animals will soon have a new, larger exhibit space to call home. (MARC LESTER/Anchorage Daily News)


Zoo curator Shannon Jensen holds Denali as they walk near zoo elephant Maggie. Jensen says the animals don't like each other and are kept well apart on the wolves' morning promenades. (MARC LESTER / Anchorage Daily )


Dog trainer Robin Scheff, right, talks with Alaska Zoo curator Shannon Jensen, who holds Lucky, one of six wolves at the zoo. "I try to be very, very polite," Scheff says of working with wolves. "You want to be dominant, but you can't be too confrontational." (MARC LESTER/Anchorage Daily News)



By GEORGE BRYSON
[email protected]

(Published: August 5, 2007)

It's not easy being an animal celebrity, as six teenage wolves now auditioning for the role of Alaska Zoo public ambassador might well attest.

That unofficial position is expected to open up later this year, or next, when current zoo icon Maggie the elephant moves south to sunnier climes.

So each morning this summer -- tethered to human handlers -- the young wolves have ventured outside their soon-to-be-vacated enclosure to meet other animals and explore the grounds before they try posing for any pictures with people.

Both wolves and handlers still need some polish. That's why the zoo recently solicited the services of Anchorage animal trainer Robin Scheff, who usually spends her time taming pit bulls.

Reviews so far have been mixed -- at least among the other creatures who call the zoo their home. Squawking from the safety of his metal-screened aviary, George the magpie seems to genuinely enjoy the wolves' company, zookeepers say. The coyotes do too.

"Typically coyotes wouldn't want to come face to face with a wolf, but ours come right on up," says Alaska Zoo curator Shannon Jensen. "They're naive, and they're in a cage, and they've never had an instance with a wolf."

Surprise meetings with Maggie, however, have sometimes been emotional.

"Maggie doesn't like them," Jensen says. "She doesn't like anything furry. She does all her 'I'm a big elephant' things -- puts her ears out, charges, makes a lot of noise."

Once, wolf handler Stephanie Scherr was walking Ruby, the runt of the litter (and prime candidate for the wolf P.R. post) when Maggie suddenly trumpeted from her yard and started to charge.

"It scared me to death, and the pup took off running -- and so I was running behind her (holding the leash)," Scherr says.

"Of course it was a bluff charge," adds Jensen, who oversees the zoo's animal care. "The wolves are scared of Maggie, and Maggie is scared of the wolves. So we don't go near her now."

More recently, wolf-coyote relations have become chilly as well.

On Tuesday, while walking Denali, the largest of the six wolf siblings, Jensen paused next to a large black cage, where coyotes Archie and Wiley are now quartered. They'd recently moved out of a larger enclosure so workers could renovate it to allow the wolves to move in.

When it's finished, perhaps later this week, the improved three-quarter-acre exhibit will provide the wolves with a grassy, tree-filled knoll with natural dens and three times more space to roam in. They'll have the Siberian tigers for neighbors, along with the eagles.

Describing all this, Jensen had just said how the coyotes seemed to resent the move, when Denali sniffed their hog-wire fencing -- and Archie nipped him through the screen.

"He did?" asked Jensen, surprised, turning around.

"Yeah," said wolf handler Liz Gray. "On the nose."

Denali seemed unfazed. But the coyote looked jubilant, and Jensen couldn't help but laugh.

"He's saying, 'Yeah! One for the coyotes.' "



Another issue to work on, perhaps, before the wolves are ready for prime time: They don't urinate like dogs do. More often they lie down on their backs and squirt upwards, like a fountain, in a stream that sometimes goes astray.

"Be careful," Sheff said, "I usually leave here with some urine on me -- which my dogs later find exciting."

OK, so there's still a little polishing work to do before the pack is ready to greet the mayor. But the zoo's quickly maturing wolves seem game.
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Old 08-05-2007, 11:01 PM
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Originally Posted by blue View Post
Both wolves and handlers still need some polish. That's why the zoo recently solicited the services of Anchorage animal trainer Robin Scheff, who usually spends her time taming pit bulls.

Well, we all KNOW that makes her qualified. Those beastie pit bulls :roll eyes:

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Old 08-06-2007, 01:38 AM
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Taming Pit bulls? Oh gosh... Like 100,000 years of domestication has been enough for all the other breeds, but the Pits still need some work...
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Old 08-06-2007, 02:59 AM
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LOL, pit bull taming. The next circus act.

Pretty funny about the wolves and coyotes, though! And the elephant, LOL!
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