Foxes At Wolf Park

Toward the end of June, I once again visited Wolf Park in Indiana. I had been once before about six years ago and wanted to repeat the experience. This time, we all made the trip, “all” being Jim, Rhiannon, Gael and I. It’s about a nine-hour drive, and we made the trip with only some minor problems. When we reached Indiana, our GPS gizmo decided that we were in the middle of a field and kept telling us it was “recalculating.” After clearing it and reentering our destination a few times, to no avail, we finally unplugged it and relied on an old-fashioned, fully functional road map, which never had to recalculate even once.

I’m the only one who took the weekend seminar on “Comparing and Contrasting Wolves and Dogs” but Jim and our dogs had a large motel room, complete with king- size bed, couch, desk area, refrigerator, and microwave. It was on the first floor, right near a back door, which made it perfect for going in and out with the dogs and Jim got to tour the park on Sunday.

Wolf Park is, to quote from their website, “a not-for-profit organization dedicated to behavioral research, education and conservation, with the objective of improving the public’s understanding of wolves and the value they provide to our environment.” They’ve been in existence for more than 40 years. Dr. Erich Klinghammer, who taught ethology in the Department of Psychological Studies at Purdue University, started the park.

The facility covers almost 100 acres, and there are several large, fenced areas where groups of wolves live. My favorite part of a seminar there is that seminar participants get to enter certain enclosures and interact with the wolves. This year, there was a bonus. The staff and volunteers were raising three gray fox kits. Amanda Shaad, the staff member in charge of the gray fox project, gave a lecture on gray foxes, as well as explaining a bit about how these kits are being raised.

To fully socialize these kits so that they’ll spend their lives among humans stress-free, they are with a human 24 hours a day. Inside the “nursery” there are “cells” made primarily of chicken wire. Inside each cell is a mattress on the floor, a cat tree, a small animal carrier and assorted toys. The mattress is for the human; everything else is for the fox. A paperback book in one cell had obviously served as a teething ring for one of the kits, and all of the human companions showed marks on hands and arms from tiny fox nails and sharp fox teeth.

The weekend I was there, the kits were old enough to be allowed into a large outdoor enclosure for some exploration and play, and on Sunday, we joined them. Gray foxes are arboreal, spending much of their time in trees, so they are fearless climbers, meaning that humans are just something else to go up and over. We were instructed to sit quietly and to be careful where we stepped if we moved. No one wanted a squished fox kit.

The kits were introduced to us as Gypsum (the male) and Hunter and Ifa, (the females). When I first heard the names, I mentally spelled “Ifa” as Aoife, which is Irish. (It’s still pronounced ee-fa, no matter how you spell it.) I think Ifa is German, as they lean toward German names at Wolf Park. Once home, I looked up the meaning of “Aoife” and it means “beautiful, radiant, joyful.” In legend, Aoife was known as the greatest woman warrior in the world. I thought that description fit little Ifa, no matter how her name was spelled.

None of this concerned the kits, of course. They didn’t care what they were called, and they just considered all the additional humans as more toys made just for foxes, and went up, over and around all of us.

After noticing that the foxes paid more attention to people on their level, I stretched out on my stomach, hoping one of the kits would find me fascinating. Very soon, Ifa approached and I received some dainty foxy licks. “They like to stick their tongues up your nostril,” cautioned Amanda. Sure enough, that exploring tongue found my nose, prompting a fit of giggles. “If I were younger,” I thought, “I’d never want to wash my face again.” To heck with celebrities, I’d rather have fox kisses any day.