“Anneka you must go and see this beautiful wolf sanctuary, its so green, natural and wild”….I’ll never forget those words that the wise and compassionate Virginia McKenna whispered to me over tea and cakes at her house in Surrey. Now, for Virginia, founder of The Born Free Foundation to advocate a place with captive animals, there must be something REALLY special about this haven and I decided that I had to find out.
I have had a passion for wolves for years, since I first lay eyes upon a huge Carpathian male wolf at The Anglian Wolf Society, his scarred up ‘lion like’ face drew me in and also my breath. Having adored dogs since a child, but feeling frustrated at the deformities man has bred into these once perfect beings, I believe that I had found my passion in these dogs of ‘old’, these ‘ancient dogs’.
I have always shouted loud and clear for our friend the wolf, so misunderstood, feared, persecuted and hunted. After starting up a YouTube Channel to inform people of how amazing wolves are, I saw a definite divide in the human population – those who are just as captivated by the wolf as I am and those whose hatred and fear ran deep.
These incredible creatures are being mass slaughtered all over the world right now and hunters simply can’t get enough. When Norway issued applications for hunting licences in 2015 to slaughter most of the remaining wolves, 11,000 hunters applied! Just to kill 16 wolves. This year sadly, the same is to happen and Norway is aiming to slaughter at least two thirds of the remaining wolves (47 out of 68) leaving a measly 21. In such a huge country with a vast desolate expanse in the north, this is horrendous and breaks my heart in two.
Being a passionate rewilding advocate, I know how important our top predators are to our ecosystem and how they balance everything. I also know how excited these hunters get, they just cant wait to kill these incredible animals, so as to get some sick ‘rush’, which is something very alien to me. I also know how effective herd guardians are and I am perplexed to the lack of these excellent guardian dogs within flocks of sheep in areas inhabited by wolves; which lets get this straight, was land removed from the wolf and given to people to raise sheep on. If us 7 billion humans can’t even allow 68 wolves to exist in Norway, how selfish are we as a species and we are most certainly doomed, which to tell you the truth, is not a bad thing…its just the species we’ll take with us when we go which will be the tragedy.
I was honoured to be invited to film with the beautiful wolves at WolfWatchUK and after getting acquainted with them via their website, nothing prepared me for the wilderness I was to encounter. The sun was shining as I drove though the undulating Shropshire Hills to this wild and secret location. The drive led down through deep forests and the only clue that the wolves were around somewhere was the odd hint of a very tall Jurassic Park like fence (a necessity if you are to keep wolves in the UK) I was greeted by founder Tony Haighway and Canine Wellness Practitioner Dr Isla Fishburn and shown around this incredible place.
Virginia was right, it was paradise for these wolves. All these wolves had found peace and sanctity here with Tony, after having issues at zoos and other captive parks. Tony takes in wolves which are ousted by their pack or encounter other homing problems. He then leaves them alone to live their lives untouched in woodland, valleys and deep ravines. Apart from his two eldest residents Madadh and Kgosi, all the other wolves are not pushed to be habituated, as he wants them to feel as they would in the wild. He does not want hoards of people disturbing the wolves and instead wants select visitors to come by with respect to these creatures, so runs online memberships and ‘Howl Nights’ for people who would like to gently and naturally be close to these animals.
I had the privilege to get up close with Tony’s two habituated wolves Madadh and Kgosi, both an astounding 18 years old! These two siblings have outlived their brothers and sisters who lived out their last days at a wildlife park, showing that this lush, natural and beautiful environment had worked in some wondrous and positive way for them. These gently greyed and grizzled wolves enjoyed taking meaty treats from my hand and plenty of tummy tickles. The female is sadly terminal with cancer and this is why I was there, to join Dr Isla Fishburn in filming some exciting and alternative therapy for this little lady (more to come on this later!) The male Kgosi simply followed Madadh around, as he lost his sight and some of his hearing in a stroke a year or so before. Regardless to their health conditions, both were happy and thriving. Tony told me that he had seen great benefits in Isla working with Madadh and her mood had lightened and she was so much happier.
I have to say that this is the greenest and most natural wolf sanctuary I have come across in the UK. It really is paradise for these wolves. I felt like I had been catapulted back into a time when wild wolves still roamed the valleys and forests of the UK. I almost expected to see an Elk or a wild boar pop out!
If you would like to support WolfWatchUK, please drop by their website where you can sign up to a membership or adopt a wolf, (no that doesn’t mean take one home btw, much that I had that very thought many times while viewing that page!) which will help in the running costs for the sanctuary.
I hope to stay involved with this amazing place and help as much as I can in developing some great ideas to entice the younger generations to get involved, so they don’t follow the silly misconceptions of certain adults who preach that all wolves are dangerous and have no place with modern man in the world.
The world would certainly be a lonelier and much sadder place without them…cue melancholy howl.
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Photos by Tom Ross and Jason Cortis