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Posted: Dec 19 2006, 07:23 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 10-July 06
Safaris offer a chance to hear animals that were once endangered
(Raleigh) News & Observer
ALLIGATOR RIVER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE - On the count of three, Kim Wheeler said, everybody howl. "One, two ... "
About 75 adventurers, huddled in the darkness of the refuge, raised their faces to the starry sky and emptied their lungs in a primal wail. The sound was part dog pound barking, part call of the wild.
The human pack had gathered to find a common language with red wolves and communicate in a primitive call and response.
Such excursions, promoted as howling safaris, have become popular at this refuge near the Outer Banks. They're possible because red wolves, one of the world's most endangered animals, have slowly repopulated Eastern North Carolina during the past two decades.
"There is something very mystical that people associate with wolves," said Wheeler, executive director of the Red Wolf Coalition, an advocacy organization based in the nearby town of Columbia.
On this December night, Track McCreary, 55, drove from Virginia Beach, thinking of his father, a restless Cheyenne Indian.
"He used to take me out in the middle of the night to listen to the wolves," McCreary said. "The least I can do for him is to come out and listen to the wolves."
After each chorus of human howls, McCreary stood in the darkness and listened for a distant response.
The safaris are held within earshot of a holding pen in the refuge where biologists keep wild wolves for observation and medical attention. These are the wolves that visitors are most likely to hear.
Scheduled weekly in summer and sporadically in other seasons, they're limited to 100 people and require reservations.
Wendy and John Stanton of Columbia, both wildlife biologists, accompanied their two sons' Cub Scout pack. It was their third safari.
"This is the only place in the world where the red wolf exists," said John Stanton, who hoped that his sons would leave with a valuable lesson.