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Wolf meet and greet hopes to help reintroduction and conservation efforts in Colorado

July 22, 2017 Updated: July 22, 2017 at 9:01 pm
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photo - A girl pets Colorado Wolf Adventures' wolf Apache, who has shepherd and coyote blood, Saturday, July 22, 2017, at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette
A girl pets Colorado Wolf Adventures' wolf Apache, who has shepherd and coyote blood, Saturday, July 22, 2017, at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette 

Manitou Cliff Dwellings on Saturday paired its depiction of an ancient Anasazi village with an ancient predator.

Underneath a small patch of shade, a line of nearly 50 people waited to greet three wolves - Ghost, Spirit and a five-month-old pup, Apache.

The wolves, owned by Woodland Park resident Peggy Jehly and her husband Dave, are ambassadors for Colorado Wolf Adventures and for the reintroduction of wolves in Colorado.

"Wolves do amazing things for the environment," she said, watching a young girl pet Spirit, the youngest of the three wolves. "My aim is to get kids interested in wolves and dispel the myth of the big bad wolf."

Peggy has worked with wolves for 12 years. Before starting her wolf refuge, she volunteered at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Divide.

Ghost (left), a high content wolfdog, greets Natassia Gerstenkorn's dog Eva Saturday, July 22, 2017, at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette 

The Jehlys' five wolf-dog hybrids live in one of two quarter-acre enclosures in her backyard, which is not open to the public. All of the wolves are rescues from people who tried to raise the wolves as pets but gave them up to sanctuaries like the Jehlys' or animal shelters.

"People breed wolves with dogs to get the feeling of owning a wild animal, but they're not designed to be pets," Dave said. "The have a strong pack instinct despite how social they may seem."

Gray wolves' natural range spans from the Arctic to Mexico and from coast to coast in North America. Once distributed statewide in Colorado, the last wolf in the state was killed in 1943. Their population across the Northern Rockies were decimated by the 1950s because of habitat loss and pressure from ranchers whose cattle were killed by wolves

Evan Haasl, 14, pets Apache, a wolf with shepherd and coyote blood, Saturday, July 22, 2017, at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette 

The gray wolf was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1973. They were delisted in 2017 and, today, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 5,691 gray wolves are in the contiguous United States.

Wolves are considered keystone species, meaning they play a disproportionately large role in maintaining the health of their ecosystem relative to their population size. After the species' reintroduction in the Yellowstone Valley in Wyoming, for example, the wolves decreased the deer population, which allowed for vegetation to regenerate in previously barren areas.

Sean Flood with Colorado Wolf Adventures walks Ghost, a high content wolfdog, as Brodie Reynolds (right), 10, Angie Reynolds, Ellie Reynolds and others pass by Saturday, July 22, 2017, at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette 

Aspen and willow groves stretched across valleys, which attracted song and migratory birds. The new vegetation on river banks boosted beaver populations, another keystone species, who then provided habitat for muskrats, fish, otters, reptiles and other species.

The Jehlys hope that exposing kids to wolves at an early age will instill in them a favorable opinion toward wolves when they are old enough to make policy decisions about conservation.

"Even if the kids don't learn about the ecology and the environmental benefits, they're likely to think a little differently about wolf conservation because they've interacted with them at an event like this," Dave said. "They'll be more preservation-minded."

Although her mission is mainly public education, the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project is spearheading the effort to reintroduce wolves into the wild in Colorado through improving understanding of gray wolf behavior, ecology and options for species reintroduction.

Colorado Wolf Adventures brings its wolves to Manitou Cliff Dwellings about twice a month throughout the summer.

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