This piece is part of a series of articles submitted to The Local Tourist through a cooperation with a 400-level travel writing class at Purdue University.
By Trey Schwartz
It was a Google hunt for interesting things to do relatively close to Purdue University that introduced me to Wolf Park. When I found it, the search result prompted a string of thoughts:
“Had I ever seen a wolf in real life?” I didn’t think I had.
“Did I know anything about wolves?” I didn’t think I did.
Not only that, but I initially had a lot of questions about the place itself. I wondered, “if this is just a zoo-type place with wolves in a cage then I really don’t have any desire to see it.”
But after doing some reading on their website, I was happy to find out it wasn’t. I learned a bit more about the setting; Wolf Park is a sanctuary that’s an artificial habitat that greatly reflects the natural one of the wolves, where visitors can see them from a unique perspective.
Visiting Wolf Park Lafayette
I was hooked, and for only $10, I secured a 45-minute “Follow the Pack Tour,” led by a highly trained expert. While my college budget only allowed me to purchase the $10 tour, the park also holds private tours and special events.
Upon arrival, the tour guide informed us that because we picked a warm fall day to visit, we might not see the wolves as they often seek shade during heat. This revelation was bittersweet for me; I wanted to see all of the wolves. But, I was happy to know that the park doesn’t force the animals to cater to the visitors.
The tour followed a pebbled path around the 78-acre enclosure that contains a large body of water, a small forest, and even an island that sits under the largest tree in the landscape. The tour guide informed us the island is where the wolves birth their pups.
History of Wolf Park Lafayette
As we walked to see the wolves, the tour guide explained the history of the park.
Located in Battle Ground near West Lafayette, Indiana, it was created by Purdue University ethology professor Erich Klinghammer in the 1970s as “a non-profit organization dedicated to behavioral research, education and conservation, with the objective of improving the public’s understanding of wolves and the value they provide to our environment.”
Klinghammer received wolves from zoos across the country and eventually they began breeding within the park.
Wolf Park Today
Fast forward 40 years, the park currently has six wolves, which they call ambassadors, in the enclosure. As we continued on the tour, the guide informed us that we wouldn’t be seeing the main pack (Khewa, Mani, Aspen, and Niko) as they were seeking shelter from the heat.
But as we rounded the corner, we beheld the beautiful and majestic Timber, a 7-year-old grey female.
Timber, who is described as an energetic and petite wolf, was the closest I got to a wolf all day. She was actively walking around the edge of the enclosure as a result of her socialization with humans over time.
As we got to the area of the final wolf, Sparrow, we were able to get a glimpse of her sleeping very far away from the fence, too far to get photos. What I came to understand was that wolves are nocturnal, which would explain why five of the six wolves were sleeping in the shade at 1 p.m.
The guide told the group that the best time to see them in action was around dusk. The tour guide was very knowledgeable about the creatures as she discussed their diets, habits, behavior, and history extensively throughout the tour.
After leaving the sleeping wolves behind, I was pleasantly surprised as we crossed a bridge over the water to see that the park was home to other animals.
Very large animals at that. Bison to be exact! Bison are a natural addition to Wolf Park as they are pretty much only found in domesticated settings today.
The bison were brought to the park in 1982, and there are over a dozen in the herd today. The guide informed us that bison are fully capable of driving away predators, including wolves, if interaction ensues. However, they are kept in separate enclosures at Wolf Park.
At the end of the tour, we met two large foxes who go by the names of Joker and Scarlette. Scarlette was the first visible fox, a thick female red fox, who took kindly to us and got up from a nap to come near the fence.
Her counterpart, Joker, is a male red fox, but you wouldn’t think so by his black and silver coat. Unlike Scarlette, Joker did not wake up from his nap to greet us, but he still slept close enough to see.
The foxes were added to the park population so visitors could see the differences in several canid species.
After seeing the foxes our tour was concluded, and I felt myself wanting to learn more and extend it longer than the seemingly short 45 minutes.
Wolf Park was one of my favorite things to do in West Lafayette/Lafayette area. It was both an educational experience and an opportunity to see gorgeous animals up close and personal while observing them and their interactions with each other.
Most importantly, Wolf Park is a testament to organizations who look to provide shelter to animals and promote the conservation of species.
As someone who entered the experience with zero knowledge or sightings of wolves, I was both fascinated by the information I learned on the tour, and amazed by the sight of a real living wolf in the flesh.
Wolf Park is certainly a place that I hope to return to again. I look forward to going to Howl Night, which is an opportunity to see the wolves at night when they are most active. I might even spring for a private tour, where I can get a more in-depth look into the park. I will definitely be returning.
Wolf Park, wolfpark.org is located at 4004 E 800 N in Battle Ground, Indiana. It’s a short drive from the Tippecanoe Battlefield Memorial and Prophetstown State Park.