Why do people yearn to possess wolves and other wild animals?

  • Ray Ring

 

I'm hazy about some of the details, because it happened about 25 years ago, but the essence of what I saw is seared into my mind. As I was driving cross-country on a lonesome two-lane through New Mexico desert, I came upon a forlorn-looking roadside zoo. I saw the sign, felt curious, pulled into the gravel parking lot, and paid to enter what was basically a repurposed mobile home.

There were a few wild animals in a row of concrete-floored cages. I walked along those cages, peering in at their occupants as they peered back at me. I remember a coyote, maybe a wolf, and a bobcat or a mountain lion. What I'll never forget is the gut-level experience of seeing all that wildness confined in cramped spaces. And the despair in the animals' eyes -- I don't think it was my imagination.

I hadn't thought much about wild animals in captivity before that experience. Like most other people, I'd visited municipal zoos and circuses to see the usual array of elephants and tigers, mostly when I was a kid. But since that roadside zoo, I've sought out operations that feature wild animals, to learn more about the conditions they're kept in and the people who are involved. I've paid to see captive wolves and elk in Idaho, captive grizzly bears in Montana, a roadside bird zoo in Utah, the touristy Reptile Gardens in South Dakota, even visited a 7,559-foot-altitude hot-spring oasis in Colorado's San Luis Valley where alligators are raised.

There seems to be no limit to the human desire to possess, exhibit and traffic in wild creatures, including exotic pets. The more I learn, the more I wonder: What the heck are we doing with these animals, and why?

Our cover story examines a particularly Western aspect of this phenomenon: captive wolves. The writer, Ceiridwen Terrill, a college professor in Portland, Ore., spent five years visiting captive-wolf operations around the West. She also draws from her personal experience with the wolf-dog hybrid she tried to raise. Some of the details she's dug up might disturb you, yet she still manages to give the people she met a measure of respect.

Elsewhere in this issue, HCN editorial fellow Nathan Rice looks for grizzly bears in northwest Washington's Cascade Range. Are there any still out there, and if there are, how should we handle their management?

On the surface, there doesn't seem to be much in common between the wild animals we hold in cages and the ones we manage in their natural habitat. And yet in some important ways they're akin. If we actually find any Cascade grizzlies, we'll capture them to put radio collars on them and track their movements obsessively. There's also talk of transplanting grizzlies into the Cascades. We can't seem to stop manipulating wild animals to suit our own goals. Is that just another way of trying to possess the wild? Let us know what you think.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • DIRECTOR, ENERGY AND LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) seeks a director to lead a nationwide program focused on the protection of U.S. national parks from energy development...
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Crested Butte Land Trust seeks a development director to lead its fundraising efforts. Remote and unspoiled, Crested Butte is located in one of the Rockies...
  • PRICE REDUCED $94,300 - LOT SOUTH OF MONTROSE
    5-Acre Home Site, Great Views with Spectacular Sunsets From a South Facing Home Site. Excellent for Passive Solar Design. Covenants, No HOA. Keller Williams Co....
  • CHARMING HOME/FARM NEAR CLIFF, NM
    3 bed/2 bath, detached strawbale building. 11.7 acres, barn, corrals, fenced. Wells, solar panels, greenhouses. Paved access. 575-535-2568.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    WildEarth Guardians seeks two public interest-focused staff attorneys with a minimum of 5 years experience to join our legal team. Experience with at least some...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF NEW MEXICO WILDLIFE FEDERATION
    The New Mexico Wildlife Federation is seeking an Executive Director, a visionary leader who is passionate about public lands, dedicated to executing an innovative strategic...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE SPECIALIST I
    HIGH COUNTRY NEWS Customer Service Specialist I General Statement of Duties: Works closely with the customer service manager performing high-volume routine computer database work. Also...
  • ARAVAIPA LAND STEWARD
    The Aravaipa Land Steward coordinates preserve stewardship work and general operations including maintenance and general preserve management. Implements preserve management plans, which may include species...
  • VP OF DEVELOPMENT
    seeks a talented and dynamic development professional, with a passion for protecting our natural environment, to lead our development and fundraising team.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Native American Fish and Wildlife Society seeks an Executive Director in Denver, CO to serve as the Chief Administrator of the national Native American...
  • DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANT
    High Country News seeks a development assistant to assist with fundraising campaigns. HCN is an award-winning, national news magazine. Strong candidates will have experience administering...
  • LAND ACQUISTIONS SPECIALIST - RENEWABLE ENERGY
    Energiekontor US seeks experienced local candidate, must reside in western South Dakota. Send resume and cover letter to: [email protected]
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • FIVE-ACRE VIEW LOT WITH WELL
    5 acres, well. Abuts Carson NF; hike fish ski; deer turkey elk.