Does not the heart need
Does not the thought need
to rest upon
not self-made by man?
From “Hard Questions”
The words stayed with me as I departed Regenstein Wolf Woods at the Brookfield Zoo. Walking back to the train stop, I admired the well-tended lawns in the Hollywood subdivision, carved out of the Illinois prairie in the late 1800s. Less than fifteen miles from the skyscrapers and department stores on Michigan Avenue, I wondered what it must be like on an otherwise quiet evening to hear a pack of wolves raise their voices in a chorus, each howl slightly different from the others.
The zoo, managed by the Chicago Zoological Society, was established in 1934 and from the start was innovative in its design of animal habitats, forgoing cages for moats and naturalized settings; the recently renovated wolf exhibit is no exception.
Located on the south side of Indian Lake, the habitat was expanded to two acres and is home to a pack of Mexican gray wolves. During my visit I caught glimpses of them napping on boulders and disappearing into a stand of tall grass.
Hundreds of children from tots to teens accompanied by parents, grandparents, and camp counselors trooped through the exhibit, stopping at the indoor viewing area to look for the the wolves through the one-way glass, taking in the interactive exhibits, and occasionally letting loose with a high-pitched human howl.
Although designed with visitors in mind, wolf woods is meant to give wolves a natural habitat to explore and live in with minimal exposure to people. The zoo participates in the species survival plan for the endangered wolves and is focused on conservation and reintroduction. Late in 2012 one of the pack, a four-year-old female named Ernesta, was relocated to Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility in New Mexico with the hope that she might be released, with a mate, into the wild. (I’ll have more about Ernesta’s story in a future post.)
Before leaving I sat at the outdoor wolf overlook enjoying one of the first days of summer. Sparrows chattered and cotton seedlings from three tall cottonwood trees drifted lazily through the air, seeming never to reach the field of clover below. Three wolves, ears and tails the only parts visible, passed by in the distance intent on a mission known only to them.