Seacrest Wolf Preserve Experience By Meg Harbin
“Wolves and women are relational by nature, inquiring, possessed of great endurance and strength. They are deeply intuitive, intensely concerned with their young, their mate, and their pack. They are experienced in adapting to constantly changing circumstances; they are fiercely stalwart and very brave.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype
Wolf lore has fascinated generations of people for as far back as stories stretch, and my son and I are no exception. The mystical symbolism associated with the wolf, along with the wolves' intelligence and focus on family, has always placed these creatures in high status in my heart. A couple years ago, my son, a voracious reader, fell into the world of werewolves. For months, he’d blast “Hungry like the Wolf” repeatedly from his bedroom or while washing dishes. On his 13th birthday, he sat with me, perched on the edge of a plastic beach chair, pale face illuminated by the low-hanging moon hovering over the darkened sea, so hopeful that the time had come for the family secret to be revealed, and he’d discover hidden powers. Of course, he lives fully in our world and is not actually disappointed by the family’s supernatural shortcomings; but the two of us manage to venture out regularly, tiptoeing along the threshold between the bright, sunny everyday existence and a deeper, more mysterious world of wonder.
When I offered an experiential Christmas gift this year to Seacrest Wolf Preserve outside Chipley, Florida, my son jumped at the chance, enthusiastically and vehemently casting aside material goods in exchange. The Preserve requires reservations for Saturday tours - a simple matter of calling and letting them know the number in your party. The Saturday before Christmas was all filled up - 150+ visitors planned to attend! So we got the next best date, and set off in the wee dawn hours that first Saturday in 2018.
The drive is a brief four hours from our home south of Atlanta, and we arrived with plenty of time to spare. We sought out Cypress Springs, a beautiful spot in nature 20 minutes away from the wolf preserve. Unfortunately, failure to plan on my part meant we had no access to the Springs, as the only means of visiting is by water, and we’d left our canoe at home. We hope to take a self-guided kayaking tour with Snaggy Bend Outfitters next time we’re in the area. In lieu of checking out the natural scenery, we settled for brunch. The preserve is kind of in the middle of nowhere - the closest restaurant we found was a Waffle House 12 miles away. Not exactly what I was hoping to fill up on before the three hour tour, but I can live with a pecan waffle. Finally, we navigated through the gates of Seacrest Wolf Preserve at 11:30. Gates open at 11am, and guides recommend arriving no later than noon. The tour was set to run from 1pm-4pm.
Upon arriving, look for the greeter standing outside with the clipboards. Each tour accommodates 150+ people, so it may be difficult for this person to keep track of who has and has not been welcomed and directed through the process. The greeter will have the waiver you and all party members will need to sign. Take this inside to the cashier where you can pay for the tour via plastic; there was a man out front with a cash pay table set up, as well. After we paid, we got these snazzy stamps.
Ricky, our tour guide, rounded us all up and gave us the run down on dos and don’ts once inside the enclosures. I'd read through the online rules 3-4 times in effort to dress appropriately while being warm enough but still failed. I got the gym shoes and blue jeans right, but the sweater I wore had buttons on it. I got a brief, stern talking to on my way through the gate, but after a flicker of fear that I would be made to strip away another layer of warmth (my puffy coat didn’t pass muster), we were waived into the enclosure. On the phone, I was told to wear a t-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes. BUT. It was less than 50 degrees. Here is what others were wearing that seemed to be fine:
- hooded sweatshirts
- North Face type jackets zipped up all the way
- comfy, warm-looking fleece pullovers (at home, mine all seemed too fuzzy to bring in - kinda like a giant stuffed animal, which are usually my puppies’ favorite chew toys, so....)
- A couple men and women were even wearing peacoat style outerwear. I should have just worn more layers.
Ricky explained it’s really important to leave everything unnecessary behind. The first family of grey wolves we spent time with included four 9-month old pups. They will turn anything into a toy, and even the cloth-covered, metal button on top of a baseball cap will pose harm to their digestive system once chewed off and swallowed. Digital photography and electronics of any kind were strictly prohibited. No photos of the wolves were allowed with the exception of disposable cameras available for purchase in the gift shop. My son had to check his watch at the gate, and we all were advised to tuck in shoe laces.
Once we were all through the gate and mostly seated in the ground, the pups and their Omega babysitter trotted through the crowd to greet us with puppy kisses and full body hugs. These nine month old pups were bigger than full grown huskies but every bit as playful. No sharp puppy teeth, though! I watched as two pups climbed into a woman’s lap (onto, really), softly knocking her over and licking her face and ears; I anticipated the chewing to begin, but they were all really very gentle.
While the wolves made their way around to each of us, Ricky told us that all wolves are born there on property in a birthing house. Within ten days of birth, as soon as they open their eyes, the wolves see their mother and Cynthia, the owner and founder. By imprinting on their mother and on Cynthia, all the wolves on property view Miss Cynthia as their "human mom." One wolf in every pack will step down as the Omega babysitter to watch over the pups for the first three years of life. These babysitters will subject themselves to being picked on by the rest of the pack and the pups in order to teach the pups to stand up for themselves. Every female wolf has one heat cycle per year, and it is always in February. We learned that wolves are the only species who will choose not to mate if there is not enough food to go around. Every wolf in the pack is responsible for bringing food back to feed the pups and the Omega babysitter. We learned so much during the tour about how intelligent and family-oriented wolves naturally are! I could write so much more, but really, the best way to learn about them is to go take a tour yourself! By doing so, you'll contribute to preservation and education efforts. The average lifespan of a wolf in Yellowstone is about three and a half years. At Seacrest Wolf Preservation, the wolves live on average to be 16 years old!
After hanging out with the two Grey Wolf families and the Arctic Wolf family, we were able to go back to our cars and get our cameras and coats, and then we headed into the small animal enclosure. Here we got to interact with skunks, arctic foxes, a grey fox, peacocks, and a couple raccoons. One coyote hung out in a pen behind the enclosure, and he was a rescue, so staff asked us to leave him alone so as not to stress him out.
For more information on the role wolves play in the ecosystem and just how amazing they are all around, Cynthia recommended viewing the CNN documentary Trophy set to air mid-January 2018, as well as the short YouTube video How Wolves Change Rivers. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q )