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Atka The Wolf Visits North Salem

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. – Atka, a wolf from the Wolf Conservation Center , visited the Baxter Preserve on Sunday to flaunt his beauty and good temperament to a crowd. The occasion was the annual meeting of the North Salem Open Land Foundation .

Atka’s minder, Maggie Howell, pointed out to the audience that the fairytale wolf may have donned Red Riding Hood’s grandma’s nightie, but that is probably the least likely thing a wolf would do. In fact, “they are shy and elusive creatures. They think we’re the scary ones. In the wild, they avoid people.”

Atka, who was born and raised in captivity, is the exception. He is not scared of people, horses or even cats and dogs, Howell said. He is “the best teacher about wolves, but the worst representative of the species.”

Atka is an arctic grey wolf, whose species is built to survive in temperatures as low as 70 degrees below zero. He has broad paws, which spread further to help him walk on snow—they act like snowshoes.

“Wild wolves hunt deer, elk, moose caribou, bison, musk oxen, also smaller animals like rabbit, beaver and mice,” Howell said. “But they usually try to find something large so they can feed the whole family."

She explained to the group that a wolf pack is just like a human family and perhaps functions even better. The usual pack is made up of offspring of the parents—alpha male and female—from different litters. They count on teamwork to survive and communicate effusively with many different howls, growls, barks and whimpers. A howl can be heard from as far as 10 miles away.

A group howl advertises how large the pack is, Howell said. Bark-howls warn of danger and some howls are a declaration of territory and a warning to others to “get off my property.” Then there is the special howl that advertises for a mate—every wolf has a unique voice, she added.

At this point, the audience was invited to participate in a group howl, in the hope that Atka would respond. So the pack of people howled: “Woo-ooooo-oooo, wooo-ooooo-oooo, woo-woooo-wooooo.”

But Atka would have none of it. He turned his back and yawned.

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