Most of our rescued wildlife were either orphaned, injured or illegally raised as pets.
–Wildlife West Nature Park
Barbie was perched high up in her tree. I stood admiring her quill coat, waiting for her to turn around, to show me her face. Like many of the animals at Wildlife West she was rescued after an accident, her mother hit by a car in west Texas. Passers-by saved the baby porcupine and took her to a local rehabilitation center. At eight-weeks of age she was moved to this New Mexico zoo which is dedicated to giving permanent homes to rescued, native wildlife.
Thursday morning I was one of the first visitors to arrive at Wildlife West. I chatted with the zoo’s founder and director Roger Alink for a few minutes before I set off on the path to see the animals.
Once I figured out that Barbie wasn’t budging, I continued on around to the Mexican gray wolf habitat overlook. Within moments one of the two females (sisters) appeared from behind the stand of junipers. She trotted back and forth over the well-worn trails.
The day was warm and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. Ravens soared overhead, their raspy squawks a counterpoint the ever-present rumble of semi-trucks moving east to west and back again on Interstate 40. The second wolf appeared, made a reconnaissance of her territory, gnawed on what looked like a fresh bone, and then curled up for a nap in the shade of an evergreen while her sister continued her watchful patrol.
This was my second visit to Wildlife West and both times I made the 65-mile trip from Santa Fe to see the wolves*. It’s the best place I have found to get a look at the endangered animals in a natural setting which has the added benefit of being located in close proximity to their historical habitat. Unlike the other animals at the park human interaction with the wolves is purposely minimized–they are part of the species survival plan, bred and raised for potential release into the wild.
On my way back to the entrance I stopped by to see Koshari, the black bear. I had been fascinated by the opportunity to get an up close at him on my first visit, sacked out on his back under the viewing window, swatting flies with his huge paws. This time he was nowhere to be seen. The only sign that he had been around recently was little pile of half-eaten apples and baby carrots. Roger told me the bear was slowing down for the winter season, eating less, napping more–he was probably dreaming in his den.
My last stop was to see Wile E. the playful and sociable two-year-old coyote. As a pup she was illegally captured and raised as a pet before she was rescued. No sign of her, I made a soft clicking sound and waited, but nothing. I turned for one last look as I was walking away and there she was–stretched out on the low height stucco wall, acting like she had always been there. Not wanting to spook her, I walked back slowly, keeping my distance, admiring her slim face and big ears. She was napping in the sun when I finally left.
*In addition to the two female Mexican gray wolves, Wildlife West has three males. The five are all siblings, but are kept separate from one another. The males are on the other side of the overlook, but are harder, at least in my experience, to see.