One Wolf Returns to Julian
(Originally published in the San Diego Reader July 11, 2012.)
Four miles outside Julian, off KQ Ranch Road, a wooden notice board displays the words “California Wolf Center. Wait here for escort.” Beyond the signboard three quarters of a mile, up a rutted dirt road, a locked gate bears a second notice, warning trespassers they may be prosecuted for harassing a federally protected species.
After the menace conjured by these signs, the mountain lodge where the center is based seems mundane. The 3000-square-foot building houses an office for three full-time employees, living quarters for an on-site caretaker, and a conference room and gift shop. It’s here that 7500 to 10,000 visitors per year listen to lectures and play wolf bingo or make wolf masks, activities designed to teach them about wolves, biodiversity, and the role of predators in an ecosystem.
The rest of the captive breeding facility is 50 acres on two parcels of land, where 19 gray wolves —Canis lupus — live in five separate packs. Four of the packs are Mexican wolves, a subspecies that is bred for release, part of a Species Survival Plan sponsored by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The Mexican wolf is one of the rarest land mammals on Earth; in 2010, only 50 lived wild in the United States, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The fifth pack is Alaskan wolf, here for educational and research purposes.
The center’s research has included a vocalization study on how wolves communicate with each other, dominance-hierarchy studies, and a conditioned taste-aversion study, which researchers hope to apply in the wild to protect predators from potential conflict with livestock production.
A couple of months ago, I had little interest in wolves and had never heard of the California Wolf Center. But after a conversation with Amaroq Weiss, I drove to Julian to see these animals for myself.
Five minutes into what would be the first of several hour-long phone conversations with Weiss, I began to think of her as the Wolf Lady. Weiss is a self-proclaimed “canine fanatic” and “champion of things people don’t like.” When I inquired about her background and how she became the Northern California representative for the California Wolf Center, she replied, “Like a wolf, I’m a generalist. Like a wolf, I’m curious,” before saying that she has degrees in entomology and law.
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