Seven-year-old timber wolf Koda is about to land herself a tall, dark, handsome and younger beau.
He's Amarok a 3-year-old, amber-eyed timber wolf found wandering the streets of Medellín, Colombia. City officials found the pup, who they believe was imported illegally from the U.S. and either escaped or was let loose. They took him to Zoológico Sante Fe, where he lived for almost a year.
As the zoo's only wolf, he became quite the rock star, said Darlene Kobobel, founder and director of the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center.
At her center in Divide, Kobobel hopes Koda and Amarok will live happily ever after once they're introduced this month.
The center is home to 16 timber, Alaskan, Arctic and Mexican gray wolves (including Amorak), coyote and swift and red foxes, and it's accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is a member of the Species Survival Plan programs for Mexican gray wolves and swift foxes.
"He loves to play - he does the play stance with you," Kobobel said of Amarok, who arrived April 23. "He loves tug of war. If you start howling, he comes up and gives you kisses. He loves to be scratched. The zoo personnel worked with him a lot while he was young to socialize him. The more social they are, the better it is to work with them and treat them medically."
Medellín zookeepers decided to find Amarok a home in a cooler climate and contacted sanctuaries and zoos throughout North America before Kobobel readily accepted the wolf as a donation. The transportation process, which cost $5,000, started in December.
"We went over to Colombia and met zoo personnel, and it was an awesome experience," Kobobel said. "The people were so open-armed and grateful that we were willing to accept this gift. It made sort of a partnership between two countries working with wildlife. We thought that was a great thing. We're trying to work together for the same purpose."
The tall, lanky, 80-pound wolf was flown from Medellín to Bogotá, Colombia, with a layover in San Salvador. Kobobel's team scooped him up after he landed in Dallas and drove him to Divide just in time for his first taste of winter.
"He's doing really well," said Kobobel. "He's finally adjusting. The cutest thing is when he saw snow for the first time. He started to run as fast as he could with his mouth open, and snow landed in his mouth and he'd leap in the air and leap down."
He's also discovered toys, including the battle ropes commonly used as dog playthings.
"He entertains himself since he never had anybody else to play with," Kobobel said. "He throws them up in the air and catches them, and he'll take a ball in his mouth and throw it up the hill so it rolls back down."
Like a proud new mom, she calls him "extremely intelligent." As he'd never lived around his own kind - only lions, tigers and hippos - he'd never heard wolves howl.
"When he got here and heard howls, he didn't know what to do," she said. "But when they started howling, he stood up on a dirt mound and started to howl with the rest of the pack."
Amarok has been living in his own area on the 35-acre heavily wooded property. But Koda, who lost her mate to old age about four months ago, is next door, so they can see and smell each other for about a month.
Staff members then will start walking the two wolves next to each other to gauge their reactions. If that goes well, cohabitation is next.
"We don't like to keep animals by themselves - they're pack animals," said Kobobel. "So far, so good. Koda watches him."
Also nearby is Princess, an older timber wolf whose mate also died of old age.
"She's 15, so he makes her feel confident," Kobobel said. "She was really stressed after her friend died and paced a lot. Now that he's there, she's calmed down and even flirts with him."
Visitors can see the new wolf during hourlong tours given throughout the week. Kobobel hopes he'll become an ambassador for the center and help people learn about the multibillion dollar illegal wildlife trade industry around the world.
"Until you have a reason to look into it, you never know how much of a problem it is," she said. "It's a big problem in Central and South America, Africa and here in the U.S. A lot of them come into Florida."