It rained heavily that day, but the fluorescently umbrelled audience had high spirits. Visitors, children and their parents all clamored to get a better look, it was feeding time, and between a double row of fencing, a keeper flung a bucket of meat over the other side. Much to the delight of the spectators, three grey wolves approached from the undergrowth and began to eat. In time the crowd moved on, and that was when one wolf, pale and graceful, came close to press itself against the wiring and let out a whine. The keeper reached through to stroke its thick fur, chuckling softly as he explained to me and the remaining onlookers: “Mai loves getting scratches, but she gets a little shy when there are too many umbrellas around.”
This was a recent visit to the UK Wolf Conservation Trust, an organisation that aims to raise funds and awareness for wolves worldwide, and challenge the misconceptions they bear after centuries of being seen as enemies. While private visits must be prebooked, visiting days on Wednesdays are for anyone to drop by, and that’s just what I did. Here, I caught sight of my first wolf only meters away from across the fence, and a thrill went through me as it looked back. Who’d have thought of all the universities I could have picked in England, it would be the one nearest to the Trust? For anyone like me who’s always loved these majestic animals, this place is a dream come true.
Not everyone takes kindly to these intelligent and social creatures, though, thanks to their long-borne stigma. Slowly recovering from worldwide persecution, the wolf itself is thought to have become extinct in England as early as the 14th century- due largely to extermination efforts. Despite this, its negative reputation in modern culture lingers as always the cunning villain or cruel predator. These misconceptions are what the Trust aims to overturn, and they do it with the help of their passionate staff and ten resident “ambassador wolves”.
These wolves, all raised from young and socialised by the keepers of the Trust, serve as representatives to educate the public and show visitors the true beauty of the species. There are constant guided tours on visiting days, and besides them, visitors can sign up for various activities such as wolf walks or howl nights, gaining insight to these beautiful animals like never before. Each wolf is unique with their own distinct personality, such as the charismatic Torak or the friendly Mai, and visitors are welcome to read and learn about them, or even “adopt” one to help support the Trust.
For more information, visit https://ukwct.org.uk/, or why not come down yourself one visiting day? Situated in west Reading, it takes a little over an hour by bus from the university & visitor tickets are £8 each- a price well worth it for the chance to see just how beautiful the “big bad wolf” really is.