Thursday, 29 November 2012

Placement report: UK Wolf Conservation Trust

Sophie Da Costa and Nuka (young male)
by Sophie Da Costa

As soon as I learned I could complete a work placement as part of my degree, I only wanted to go to one place: the UK Wolf Conservation Trust. I have always been interested in wolves and their conservation, so was thrilled to be able to work there voluntarily for 6 months!

There are 12 grey wolves (Canis lupus) living at the Trust of varying ages and personalities. Most of the wolves are socialised – this means they have lost their natural instinctive fear of humans, which is the result of them being taken away from their mothers as young cubs and being hand-reared by the keepers. The main advantage of this is that the wolves can be walked on chain leads outside the enclosure. It also means they can meet members of the public, who get the opportunity to see the wolves up close and stroke them if they wish.

My typical day at the Wolf Trust consisted of lots of different duties involved in the care of the wolves, including helping to prepare any medication they need, cutting up meat for their food and changing their water buckets. The wolves live in large grassy enclosures with high fences and these needed maintaining over time, so I have become no stranger to hammering fence posts and using the strimmer and lawn mower!
The three Arctic wolves – Pukak, Massak (males)
and Sikko (female).
Duma (female), the oldest wolf at the Trust at
14 years old, out on a walk.

While I was with the Wolf Trust, I collected data for my final-year university project. I focused on environmental enrichment for captive wolves, which involved providing the wolves with cardboard boxes filled with scents and bits of their food. I then observed them to see if this enrichment changed their behaviour. Enrichment is important for animals in captivity, especially large carnivores, which can quickly develop stereotypical behaviours under stressful situations.

One of the main aims of the UKWCT is to educate people about wolves, a very misunderstood species – they are not the blood thirsty killers of fairytales and legends. To achieve this, the Wolf Trust has a dedicated Education Officer who organises visits for people of all ages, from primary school children to college/university students to adult interest groups. The visits consist of tours of the site to see the wolves in their enclosures, an information talk about wolves and their conservation in the wild and sometimes a walk with one of the Trust’s ‘ambassador’ wolves. Another one of my duties was to assist with these events and make sure everyone acted safely around the wolves. Even though the wolves are friendly towards people, they are not tame and still wild animals, so can behave very unpredictably!

My placement at the UK Conservation Trust was a wonderful opportunity to work with fascinating animals who suffer so much persecution in the wild. It gave me an insight into what is like to work in an environment with captive animals and how to inspire members of the public to be passionate about conservation.

Torak (male) showing the iconic pose and Mosi (female).

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