Dances With Wolves

Our specialty at Wildworks is live wildlife presentations. We also often include a dog in our programs as a reminder to people that domestic animals make good pets and wild animals don’t. However, the animals in our programs often do the same behaviors. For instance, our dog Hopi and our African serval cat, Boxer, are trained to sit next to each other and meow and bark on cue. When the audience sees dogs and trained wildcats behaving in the same way, this can send a confusing message. One of the questions we are most often asked is “What is the difference between a wild animal and a domestic animal?”

Here’s an example of wild animal behavior that may help offer some insight.

moonThings are starting to dry up in Topanga and wild animals are coming into our yards in search of water. We are now frequently receiving reports of rattlesnakes in close proximity to people. Ground squirrels like the water too and these rodents are in turn a great food source for reptiles and other predators.

The Southern Pacific Rattlesnake makes its home in the Santa Monica Mountains. Rattlesnakes, like many wild animals, are harmless unless they feel threatened. If left alone they will simply go about their business of devouring rodents. However, if you pick up a snake or accidentally step on one you will probably get bitten. (Statistically, the people most frequently bitten by venomous snakes are inebriated men in their twenties.!)

Domestic dogs are different than their wild canine counterparts Dogs have little or no experience with snakes and do not necessarily view them as dangerous. If an encounter occurs they are sometimes more curious than fearful and quite often suffer from snake bites. But what about a wolf?

Wolves are the true wild ancestor of all domestic dogs. Bred over thousands of years for characteristics desirable for co-habitation with humans, the wolf has been transformed into a house pet. But when a wolf is raised by people does he become a dog?

Our resident wolf Moon was hand raised here at Wildworks and to the best of my knowledge has never seen a snake. Last week I went to his enclosure to say hello when my eye caught some movement in the corner of the cage There it was-- A rattlesnake! Coiled and ready to strike!

Moon had spotted the snake and was approaching with interest so I ran quickly to get the hose. I directed the spray at Moon who became startled and backed up into his holding area. When he was safe inside I walked away to turn off the water and then walked back cautiously to locate the snake.

But where was it? It wasn’t coiled where I had previously seen it and I looked around quickly worried that it had moved elsewhere in the animal compound. Then I saw what had happened. One half of the snake was on the right side of the cage and one half was on the left. In the few seconds that the snake was out of my sight, the wolf had bit the snake right in half quickly killing it and eliminating the danger from his environment. I removed the deceased from the enclosure and Moon cautiously re-entered the cage for inspection. He was completely unharmed!

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