By Luke McGrath SMYRNA, N.Y. (NCC News) — The Wolf Mountain Nature Center is home to 14 wolves, four coyotes and six arctic foxes. The center is in its 12th year and every fall they honor the spirit of the wolf with one big festival.
However, hosting an even that as many as 2,000 people attend does not happen without a lot of hard work. All the work done at the center is volunteer work.
Pam Mennis is a volunteer and animal caretaker at the center and said that the volunteers put in hundreds of hours of work over the course of the year, especially as the festival approaches.
Mennis said there are a lot of things that need to be considered in planning this event to keep the wolves happy that many people might not think about, including who gets to eat when.
“Certain animals with their personalities have to be fed before others or they get very feisty,” Mennis said.
The staff tries to give the wolves some new experiences while the festival is going on by giving them different foods in different ways.
“It’s an enrichment activity, so we’re trying to stimulate their senses by cutting the faces on the pumpkin,” Mennis said. “We add a whole bunch of foods they don’t typically have like cheese and apples so it kind of gives them something to explore there and obviously the new smells.”
The wolves at the center are socialized, which means the staff interacts with them from the time they’re born to build up their trust.
“We’re the mamma wolf in essence where we come in we feed them, we spend time with them, we snuggle with them, we clean up the mess if it’s there,” Mennis said. “They know they can trust us, we’re not going to harm them, we’re going to be their food supplier and comfort giver.”
Mennis said that they don’t try to tame the animals at all, they just gain their acceptance and trust.
“Going in is really cool because it’s a special bond we have with them, but we still have to follow their rules, they’re still wild animals and we have to be aware of that,” Mennis said.
Most of the caretakers at the center are there for at least two years before stepping foot in the enclosures because there’s so much training involved, according to Mennis.
The Wolf Mountain Nature Center is a 501(c)(3) organization, it is regulated by the DEC and USDA but does not receive any federal funding. All of the centers funding comes from admissions fees, donations, sponsorships, sales and grants, according to the centers website.