Endangered Wolf Center Reacts to Movie, Announces New Leader
Eureka's Endangered Wolf Center caught attention in St. Louis with both a plea and an announcement this weekend. The center's director of animal care said wolves view humans as predators, not prey.
This weekend's national movie launch of the fictional, suspense film The Grey sent shivers down the backs of staffers and volunteers at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka because they feared that once again wolves were associated with an unearned negative reputation.
The movie pits stranded airplane crash survivors against a pack of wild wolves in Alaskan wilderness, according to the movie's trailer and recap. Liam Neeson's job in the movie prior to the crash is to "protect men from dangers they cannot see." The movie's gist is about the question of how hard people would fight to survive, but in this case, it's a wolf pack that emerges as the major threat to these humans.
The center's staff who care for wolves and endangered species hopes everyone realizes the drama created in the movie is not based on reality, but purely offered for entertainment value.
But Pam Braasch, education director at the local wolf center, said wolves by nature are much more shy creatures and would not likely seek contact with humans—unlike what was portrayed in this movie.
Braasch told KSDK-TV's Art Holliday in an interview that movie-goers should not believe everything they hear about wolves.
Regina Mossotti, director of animal care and conservation at the center, told Patch the movie is a fictional, unrealistic portrayal of wolf behavior and is completely inaccurate. Unlike the wolves depicted in the movie, wild wolves are extremely elusive and very cautious by nature, she said.
"Biologically, this movie doesn't make any sense. In real life, wolves would not put forth that much energy to hunt humans because their bodies would not be compensated for such an effort," said Mossotti.
"Wolves in Alaska focus their energy on caribou and moose, perhaps rabbits and rodents. They wouldn't even spend hours on catching a rabbit."
She said she's personally encountered wolves while hiking. "It was a large pack, and they would have nothing to do with me. There were only two of us hiking, but they turned and ran away. We are not their prey. They view us as predators."
A wolf’s natural instinct is to fear and avoid humans, said Mossotti. In fact, there has never been a documented case in North America of a healthy, non-habituated wild wolf attacking a human, she stated. "According to the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Service (2002) and High Country News (2006) there have only been a handful of recorded human-wolf interactions in recorded history in North America, and they were from wolves that were sick, had been someone’s 'pet' (lost that natural fear of humans) or were dog-wolf/coyote hybrids."
Mossotti said human habituation of a wolf can interfere with that natural shyness—if humans try to feed wolves, then the animals lose that natural fear.
"The movie The Grey is a perfect example of how a myth, designed for entertainment, can become woven into the fabric of our culture—through stories, fairytales and now movies, it can negatively change our perspective toward wildlife," Mossotti said.
"From Little Red Riding Hood, Three Little Pigs and werewolves to modern-day advertisements and movies, the misconception that wild wolves are vicious and should be feared is the main reason why wolves have been hunted to near extinction. This is why The Endangered Wolf Center exists today—to help save these important species."
She reminds that their work with national recovery programs has helped two species of wolf from becoming extinct. "Wolves are a vital part of maintaining a healthy ecosystem. If you do go to see this movie, please just remember that it is a fictional, completely inaccurate story and that it does not portray true wolf behavior. Unfortunately, stories and films like this can majorly set the conservation movement back."
New leader named at center
The Endangered Wolf Center announced Sunday on the center's Facebook page and Monday through a press release Virginia (Ginny) Busch accepted the position of executive director of the facility. As of Monday, she will lead the center in carrying on the mission that was started by Marlin and Carol Perkins in 1971 to recover and reintroduce these critically endangered members of the dog family.
A new location needs to be found for the center, so marching the staff and board members through that lengthy process will be one of Busch's first tasks.
(See related article: Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka Observes National Wolf Awareness Week)
Busch holds a degree in anthropology with an emphasis on animal behavior from Washington University in St. Louis.
A native St. Louisan, she previously served as director of corporate conservation programs and president of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, according to the release. In those roles, she assisted in planning and executing the parks’ expanding conservation programs, including development and oversight of partnerships to support collaborative research projects. Busch also served as media spokesperson for environmental efforts at the parks.
“We could not have found a better leader for the EWC or a better steward for the future of our wolves and other canids,” stated Ralph Pfremmer, chairman of the board of trustees of the center, in the release. “Ginny brings a strong background in management of animal-focused programs and she understands the challenges we face in protecting and breeding our endangered species.”
“As part of the Busch family, I’ve always had a connection to wildlife and animals through the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Parks,” Busch said. “I am very excited about this opportunity to make a difference in a critical conservation program with a legacy of success.”
Busch also is involved in conservation and animal welfare organizations in the United States and abroad. She is a national council member of the World Wildlife Fund, a board member of the Wildlife Alliance International Advisory Board, a member of the National Geographic Society Council of Advisors, a board member of Fauna & Flora International, the Humane Society of St. Louis, the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund and several committees for the Saint Louis Zoo.
Editor's Note: The Endangered Wolf Center staff invite people to visit or call 636-938-5900 regarding any questions about true wolf behavior.