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Land Between the Lakes' "Wolf Week" Celebrates Critically Endangered Kentucky Native, the Red Wolf

Brooke Gilley
The Woodlands Nature Station's female red wolf stands with her pup, born in 2014, before it was transferred to a zoo or nature center to start her own pack. The adult female wolf still lives in LBL and can be seen during Wolf Week.

The Woodlands Nature Station at Land Between the Lakes will be celebrating southeastern United States native species, the red wolf, over fall break. LBL's lead naturalist, John Pollpeter, visits Sounds Good to discuss this critically endangered species and the upcoming "Wolf Week."

"The red wolf used to be the native species that was found here in the Land Between the Lakes region maybe about 100, 150 years ago. It was extirpated basically because of the Europeans' fear of wolves. They had some strong fears of wolves eating livestock, and when they came over to this country, that fear came with them. They took it out on a lot of the native predators," Pollpeter explained. Since 1996, the red wolf has been on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species. "Their population got down to 14 animals. Due to captive breeding, they've been able to bring that population up to 200, 250, and the only thing limiting their growth right now is space. Space in the wild, space in places like the Nature Center or the Knoxville Zoo or the Chattanooga Nature Center, because they're species that we want to be able to the nature station up at Land Between the Lakes, we have the only breeding pair of native red wolf species that used to be here in Kentucky and Tennessee." 

The red wolf(Canis lupus rufus) is "about twice the size of a coyote and about half the size of what most people know as a gray wolf - what you see in Yellowstone or Alaska, some people call it the timberwolf or the arctic wolf. [Red wolves] weigh about sixty pounds. They're long-legged, big feet, big muzzle. They're runners. They can run 40 miles [per hour] for 5 miles solid, so that's how they hunt their prey. They're diggers, that's why they got the big feet. They've got kind of a reddish, brick-red coat, especially in the winter months. During the summer, they kind of slim down, and it's more of your standard brown," Pollpeter says. 

"What's unique about [the red wolf], and what I think is kind of important, is it's truly a southern wolf. It's found nowhere else on the world except in America and, particularly, the Southeast. That makes it kind of a unique species for this area because it's only found from Kentucky to Florida, from Virginia to Texas. [That's] the only home that it's ever known. So it's a uniquely native species to Kentucky," Pollpeter explains. "It would have been the dominant predator here in our area 150 years, maybe 200 years ago. When Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett and John James Audubon were walking around our state, that would've been the thing that they wrote about in their journals." 

The Woodlands Nature Station's "Wolf Week" celebration coincides with the start of October, a month normally designated to all things spooky. Pollpeter hopes that these programs will shine a light on the ecological importance of the red wolf, as opposed to lumping the species in with other creepy-crawlies and monsters. "The thing about wolves is [they're] one of those creatures like snakes and bats that have a lot of misconceptions. It's important to know where those misconceptions are derived from. In some cases, there's some truth to them. Wolves do eat livestock, wolves do different kinds of things, [but] not to the extent that people think because they don't have a lot of exposure [to the animals]. You gotta learn where those kind of fears come from so you can counteract them," Pollpeter says. "I often think about how [domesticated descendants of wolves] are our best friend, but in Hollywood and in Disney...fairy tales...[wolves] are the bad guy. Kind of a Jekyll and Hyde almost situation." 

"Wolf Week" begins Saturday, October 5th. "All of our programming is geared towards everybody from a one-year old to, you know, kids big at heart. For the most part, it's 5 to 12 year-olds. We have wolf origami; play-dough pups, which kids can do some creative play in making their own wolves; we have some activities where the kids can actually act like a wolf. We even have a program, because of the Halloween theme of the month, [called] 'I Wish I Were a Werewolf' where we talk about the werewolf legend, some famous Hollywood werewolves, see if you can do a guessing game of who's who in their makeup, and then we face paint the kids to be a werewolf." 

"Come out and see the wolves! We feed them every day around 1:00 [p.m.] or so. That's the best time to see them because they get real excited. We give them special treats during that time period. They'll actually wait at the beginning for us to come down that hill. If you really want to see one of the rarest species in the world, rarer than a panda, rarer than a rhino, this is a good time to come out and see them," Pollpeter concludes. 

Admission to Wolf Week is $5 for ages 13 and up, $3 for ages 5-12, and free for ages 4 and under. 

See the full Wolf Week schedule below or visit the Kentucky Lake website:

Saturday, October 5th
11 am - 1 pm: Wolf Origami
11:30 am - 12 pm: Club Tooth and Claw
12:30 - 2 pm: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs: A Puppet Show
1 - 3 pm: DIY Canine Track Books
2:30 - 2:50 pm: Red Wolf Treat Time
3:30 - 4 pm: Bites for Bobcat

Sunday, October 6th
11 am - 1 pm: Playdough Puppies
11:30 am - 12 pm: Eat, Prey, Love
1 - 3 pm: DIY Canine Track Books
2:30 - 3:15 pm: Happy Wolf Day Party
3:30 - 4 pm: Sunday Funday - Crafty Coyotes 

Monday, October 7th
1:30 - 2 pm: The Rare Red: A Look Ahead
2:30 - 2:50 pm: Red Wolf Treat Time
3:30 - 4 pm: The Awesome Opossum 

Tuesday, October 8th
1:30 - 2 pm: I Wish I Were a Werewolf
2:30 - 2:50 pm: Red Wolf Treat Time
3:30 - 4 pm: Dinner Time for Bald Eagle 

Wednesday, October 9th
1:30 - 2:30 pm: Crafty Coyotes
2:30 - 2:50 pm: Red Wolf Treat Time
3:30 - 4 pm: For Goodness Snakes 

Thursday, October 10th
1:30 - 3 pm: The Art of the Wolf Paint by Number Workshop - $15 fee, registration required, call 270-924-2020
2:30 - 2:50 pm: Red Wolf Treat Time
3:30 - 4 pm: Vulture Culture

Friday, October 11th
1:30 - 2 pm: Back With the Pack
2:30 - 2:50 pm: Red Wolf Treat TIme
3:30 - 3:50 pm: Red Wolf Treat Time, Second Helpings!

Call 270-924-2299 for more information. 

Tracy started working for WKMS in 1994 while attending Murray State University. After receiving his Bachelors and Masters degrees from MSU he was hired as Operations/Web/Sports Director in 2000. Tracy hosted All Things Considered from 2004-2012 and has served as host/producer of several music shows including Cafe Jazz, and Jazz Horizons. In 2001, Tracy revived Beyond The Edge, a legacy alternative music program that had been on hiatus for several years. Tracy was named Program Director in 2011 and created the midday music and conversation program Sounds Good in 2012 which he hosts Monday-Thursday. Tracy lives in Murray with his wife, son and daughter.
Melanie Davis-McAfee graduated from Murray State University in 2018 with a BA in Music Business. She has been working for WKMS as a Music and Operations Assistant since 2017. Melanie hosts the late-night alternative show Alien Lanes, Fridays at 11 pm with co-host Tim Peyton. She also produces Rick Nance's Kitchen Sink and Datebook and writes Sounds Good stories for the web.
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