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Wolf sanctuary offers hands-on training

Sun., Nov. 4, 2012, midnight

Specialists conduct inoculations on gray wolf pups at a wolf facility in Tenino, Wash., in 2008. (Associated Press)
Specialists conduct inoculations on gray wolf pups at a wolf facility in Tenino, Wash., in 2008. (Associated Press)

TENINO, Wash. – Wildlife professionals and university students had the rare opportunity to practice anesthetizing and examining three Mexican gray wolves Thursday at Wolf Haven International.

With only about 50 Mexican grays left in the wild and just around 300 in captivity worldwide, the three wolves that live at the Tenino sanctuary offered the participants in a three-day course on wildlife handling and chemical immobilization techniques an opportunity few classes in the country include.

“This training is hands-on plus classroom,” said Casey Pozzanghera, a graduate wildlife biology student from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. “It’s a unique opportunity that brings together a diverse group of people.”

The 17 students in the course dedicated to teaching the humane and respectful capture and handling of wildlife animals came to the 80-acre sanctuary from all over the country and even Mexico for the annual event.

“You’ve got to come west if you want to work with wolves,” said Emily Blade, an animal caregiver who came from Pennsylvania. “This stuff is really necessary for a medical emergency.”

The students anesthetized three of the 50 endangered wolves currently living at the sanctuary so they could receive their examination as required annually by the Species Survival Plan, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife recovery effort to reestablish the endangered Mexican grays into the wild.

As wolves howled in the background, students hurried around whispering while gently examining the anesthetized animals to provide the most compassionate experience for the wolves as possible.

“I’m learning how careful one has to be and how much preparation there is,” said Josh Benton, a student from Puyallup.

The process offered students the opportunity to practice skills like administering medication, handling and moving the animals, checking their weight, charting and monitoring vital signs.

The students multitasked to administer the required vaccines and collect the necessary blood samples, all within about a 45-minute window the wolves were under to keep the sedation to a minimum.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for these captive wolves to help animals worldwide through these students,” said Mark Johnson, a Montana wildlife veterinarian who teaches the course. “After this class, some people will go out and do their own handling.”

Johnson, who founded Global Wildlife Resources, a nonprofit specializing in the humane handling of wildlife, said these students are lucky to have the hands-on practice because many professionals have to learn in the field.

Andrea Shortsleeve, who came from Montana in advance of starting a habitat project for the forest service, said she had only watched the anesthetizing of an animal previously so the training offered her the opportunity to try her hand before starting her work in January.

“It’s been really interesting hearing about other people’s experience,” she said.

Five litters of Mexican gray pups have been born at the nonprofit facility over the past 17 years, and 11 have been re-released into the wild.

Four Mexican wolves at the sanctuary, which celebrated its 30-year anniversary Monday, are recommended for breeding this spring.


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