When Wild Sentry, the Northern Rockies Ambassador Wolf Program, traveled to Silver City, New Mexico last year, more than 450 people attended for what was expected to be a shouting, gun-slinging, heated debate. Instead, people listened, and many changed their minds about wolves.
Started by Patricia Tucker and Bruce Weide in 1991, the Wild Sentry “pack” is comprised of Koani, a female gray wolf; Indy, her dog companion; Tucker, a wildlife biologist; and Weide, the storyteller. Together, they travel to regions where wolf populations are slowly recovering to challenge stereotypes about wolves. They make 150 presentations to more than 20,000 people annually.
“Wild Sentry presents information that lets people make their own assessments of wolves based on science, natural history and biological fact,” says Cynthia Wayburn, a New Mexico audience member.
Wild Sentry’s main audience is children because, says Tucker, “This generation will ultimately decide future wolf recovery.” As part of her presentation, Tucker stresses that wolves don’t eat little girls in red hoods—or their grandmothers. “`Little Red Riding Hood’ has really influenced peoples’ attitudes toward wolves,” says Tucker. “We need to teach a different meaning of the story, so we don’t raise more generations afraid of wolves.”
The Idaho Cattle Association (ICA), meanwhile, opposes efforts to reintroduce the wolf. “We interpret an increase in the number of wolves as an increase in the threat to livestock,” says ICA’s George Bennett.
Tucker admits that some wolves do learn to hunt and kill livestock, and agrees that appropriate measures are necessary in these rare instances. She adds, however, that no healthy wild wolf has ever attacked a human. Weide says the image of wolves as vicious beasts is fueled by the way stories, movies and advertisements portray them. Koani’s appearance on the stage during presentations is meant to give people a first-hand opportunity to see a wolf, and demonstrate the naturally shy and non-aggressive behavior of the species.
“I felt honored to see Koani,” says Will Roush, a high school sophomore. “Wolves shouldn’t be killed out of fear.”