SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 16, 2013

Wolf Hollow labors to prevent another escape

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — IPSWICH — At Wolf Hollow, the fence is a work in progress.

Volunteers have spent hours replacing sections of the 8-foot-high chain-link fence and adding extra security layers, after a pack of six wolves found a weak section on Dec. 6 and made a break for it.

They were quickly recaptured, and the fence has since been secured, said Zee Soffron, assistant director for the nonprofit organization. But the incident has added urgency to the group’s ongoing effort to replace and repair all the fencing on the 31/2-acre property.

By placing collection jars in local businesses and appealing to donors online, the group is hoping to raise $5,000 to complete the immediate work. But the larger project, which has been in the works for two years, is estimated to cost between $50,000 and $75,000.

Soffron said most of the fencing has been there since they got their first wolves.

“We are replacing and fixing what we can,” he said.

The late Paul Soffron started Wolf Hollow in 1988 to promote the preservation of wolves in the wild, by educating the public and exposing people to the animals. The sanctuary is contained by 8-foot-high, double chain-link fencing with overhangs.

Wolf Hollow started with five British Columbia timber wolf pups donated by other facilities in the country. The original five came from three different litters so that a family could be started, according to the organization’s website.

The current pack — Nina, Arrow, Grendel, Argus, Linnea and Nevaeh — ran away around 11:15 a.m. on Dec. 6 when links between the fence and the ground ties unexpectedly broke, Soffron said. The ground ties prevent animals from escaping by digging holes under the fences.

“They never really left the property,” he said.

It took three or four hours to round up all six wolves, which involved volunteers, Ipswich police, environmental police and animal control officers creating a perimeter around the property.

Once one of the wolves got close enough, Soffron would put a leash on it and lead it back to the enclosure.

“It is tricky because they are already scared at that point,” he said. “They will only come to people they have been socialized or bonded with. The main concern was keeping them away from Route 133 and close to the property.”

This isn’t the first time this has happened, Nina escaped in 2010 after she apparently climbed a snowdrift high enough to allow her to leap over the fence. She later returned on her own after staff, police and the animal control officer searched for her.

Another wolf escaped about 12 years ago after a fence company cut corners and used chicken wire. That wolf was out for close to 24 hours.

During the recent escape, the Essex County Trail Association posted a “trail alert” on its Facebook page urging users and residents to use “extreme caution.”

“Although kept in captivity, these animals are still considered wild,” the post read.

Soffron, however, said the animals were no danger to the public. If the wolves see someone they don’t know, they’ll just run away, he said.

He said initial fears about the wolves by many people in town have faded away over the years.

“The fact we have residents asking how to help is inspiring,” he said.

Humans hunted wolves into extinction in Massachusetts around 1840, according to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Wolves are known for their cooperative hunting and sophisticated family structure and social hierarchy. They mate for life, and wolves bring food back to the puppies and elder wolves in the pack.

Wolves are still a threatened species, according to Wolf Hollow.

Wolf Hollow also has three other wolves in different enclosures, including a wolf/dog mix named Bear.

“In nature, wolves never have a chance to be a leader unless they leave the pack,” Soffron said. If they notice fighting in the pack, they will separate the wolf from the pack.

“We put them in their own space so they can be the boss of their own,” he said.

Wolf Hollow is licensed by the state and federal government. Soffron’s mother, Joni, is director of the organization.

The organization provides a unique opportunity for people to see gray wolves in a natural setting. It is open to the public on Saturday and Sundays and draws between 5,000 and 10,000 visitors annually who sit through a presentation and question-and-answer session prior to meeting the wolves. It is supported mostly by admission fees, gift shop sales, an adopt-a-wolf program and donations.

Soffron was out with volunteers this weekend working on the fence project, but there is still a lot of work to be done. He hopes the majority of the work can be completed over the next few years.

“We are making the best of an unfortunate situation,” he said. “The community support has been inspiring.”

For more information or to donate online, go to wolfhollowipswich.org.

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at jphelps@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.