FRENCH CREEK – Staff at the West Virginia Wildlife Center have had a howling good time getting to know the newest residents at their facility.
The West Virginia Wildlife Center recently welcomed three gray wolf puppies to the open-air zoological facility back in May. Trevor Moore, wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Center, said they were about five weeks old when they first arrived and are now about four months old, going on five.
“When I started in January, we got a call from a facility we work that said, ‘Hey, we’re getting ready to breed our wolves. We know you guys were needing some; do you want us to put you on the list?’” Moore said. “I told them absolutely. This was about a seven-month process, and we didn’t hear anything back from them until about March or April, when they told us the wolf was pregnant.”
All three of the wolf pups at the center are female and came from Minnesota.
“That was an exciting time,” Moore recalled. “We got to bring them here and they were in our holding facility to make sure they’re healthy. Meanwhile, we were getting this big enclosure ready, making sure that we had everything ready to go for them. We didn’t want any problems with our brand-new wolf pups, and then they’ve been out on display since the beginning of July.”
Moore implored people to come see the wolves while they’re still in their puppy phase.
“It has been awesome; we’ve been getting a ton of people coming in and seeing them because obviously they are very cute and rambunctious. They’re amazing animals,” Moore said. “They are very puppy-like right now – because they are still puppies – but the important thing to know is, once they start getting to nine months, a year old, they will sexually mature, and they’ll go through big hormone shifts just like humans do, and at that point we could see drastic changes in them.”
Aids at the center interact with the wolves daily, to make sure the pups don’t reject them once they are older.
“I’m trying to have my guys interact with them every day and doing things with them, so they see us as part of the pack, so they don’t necessarily start to fear us or reject us once they go through that hormonal shift,” Moore said. “People want to see them, and they’re amazing animals and I think it’s important that people understand what they are. There’s a lot of controversy and myths about wolves that I want to dispel if we can … because not only are we a conservation facility, but we are also an educational facility.”
It’s a common misconception that the wildlife center is a rehab facility, but that is not the case.
“The way that we operate is typically, we get animals who are hurt and can’t survive in the wild, so that’s true partially, but that’s usually done through law enforcement confiscating these animals from people who weren’t supposed to have them in the first place or our biologists finding them,” Moore explained, “and our biologists are trained well enough to know if an animal truly is abandoned.”
For instance, some of the otters currently calling the center home were brought in with the help of law enforcement in February.
“We were we were needing otters – we only had one – and it’s not good for animals to be alone in captivity,” Moore said. “Law enforcement informed us of an individual who had some nuisance otters destroying some of his fish stock in his pond, so we worked with them. We went down and trapped the otters, and then we’re able to bring them here, so it was one of those scenarios where we get them either through our own trapping methods or through law enforcement helping us and sometimes, we will work with other zoos or other facilities to bring animals.”
Currently, visitors can also see younger boars next to fully adult boars and see the transformation that has occurred through maturation.
“These boars were brought in by some of our biologists and two of them were nuisance boars, so they were causing trouble down in some of the southern counties, and our biologists were able to trap them and get them out of there,” Moore said. “They said, ‘Hey, do you guys need some more boars?’ and we said, ‘Yes, absolutely, we only have one.’”
“Now, we have four so that’s great,” he added.
The West Virginia Wildlife Center is open all year, and visitors can look forward to free admission, which is coming up at October’s end.
“Animals have to be fed every day, so we’re here every day, and at the end of October, we stop charging the public, so from November to March we’re free,” Moore said. “As we get closer to the end of our active season, we’ve got some big events coming up. We’ve got National Hunting and Fishing Day that we’re a part of and we help participate in that down in Beckley.”
The center is open April 1 to Oct. 31from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Nov. 1 to Mar. 31 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children ages 6 to 15 and free for children ages five and under during the months of April through October.
“I think coming to the center is an excellent opportunity for a lot of people to see some animals that maybe they don’t get to see up close or they have some preconceived notions about,” Moore said. “We live in West Virginia; there’s a lot of bears, but there’s also a lot of misinformation about bears going around and this is a good place to come and see them up close and to see and understand how they act, how they move and how you can identify them – and same with cougars or coyotes.”