BAHM Magazine recently met with Gary Allan, to discuss how his grey wolf, Tundra, has educated a decade of students and adults about the importance of wolves in our ecological environment. On this day, Tundra was part of a photoshoot.
BAHM: How did you acquire Tundra?
Allan: You get wolves from breeders. Tundra is 90% wolf. She looks like a wolf and all her anatomy is wolf.
BAHM: Tell us about Tundra’s website.
Allan: We have a society called, The Tundra Speaks Society, and our website address is TundraSpeaks.com. We have a wolf education centre as part of the society.
I’ve been taking Tundra into schools and community groups for almost 14 years now. We’ve visited over 300 schools and about 40,000 students and teachers to educate them about wolves. The main topics we look at is the ecological value of wolves, why they’re so important in the ecosystem.
I also do a lot of work with first nations people and their connection to the wolf which is very strong and sacred. As a result they taught me a lot about the wolf through their legends and stories.
Whomever wants to learn about wolves can get in touch with us and Tundra and I travel to them.
BAHM: What kind of wolf is Tundra?
Allan: She’s a grey wolf. A lot of people say timberwolf, and really timberwolves are really man’s common name for the wolf because they live in the forest and the arctic wolf is a subspecies, but they’re all white. Grey wolves are the largest and most dominant wolf species in North America where they’re native to mostly all of Canada. Their territory is from the arctic to south past Mexico City. Wolves don’t want to have contact with people so they really keep to themselves. With the growth in population wolves have lost a lot of territory.
When you look at First Nations people, they also have lost their traditional territory so both groups are very closely related.
BAHM: Does Tundra have any siblings?
Allan: Right now, Tundra is my only wolf. I’ve had other wolves but Tundra is the only wolf I took into schools, as most wolves do not want to have any contact with humans. The other wolves I’ve had, I could never get a leash on them nor could I get them into the van to travel. Tundra is very unique in this way.
When we travel, we stay in hotels. Last October we were over to the mainland (Vancouver) twice. I usually use the same chain of hotels and when I call to make a reservation they always ask me if Tundra will be joining me.
BAHM: Is there any special care that Tundra requires compared to a dog?
Allan: Yeah it’s quite a bit different than a dog. You can see today, she’s been wandering around the studio checking everything out, where a dog would just lay down in the corner. If I told Tundra to go lay down, she wouldn’t listen to me.
Wolves are very independent thinking so you can’t do their thinking for them. They don’t require us to do things for them. People often ask questions where my answer is that you’re thinking like a dog person, not a wolf person. A lot of people can’t cope with this because we want to control the animal like you do with a dog. Dogs are taught to obey their owners, but you’re not going to take Tundra or any wolf to obedience lessons.
The fact that I can get a leash on her and walk her all her life is pretty special. There are places where I can let her off-leash. We have a number of these videos on our website.
Wolves are so important in the environment ecology they’re what is referred to as a
keystone species. Wolves are a top predator like bear and cougar, but the wolves have a big impact on the environment from all the trees, plants and to all the animals.
The first nations people have known this for hundreds of years and the work that i do is to educate people about the importance of the wolf and how the first nations people saw the
Wolf. They saw it as their brother and have created many stories involving the wolf.
The wolf is a majestic beautiful animal and it’s completely misunderstood. The people that get to see Tundra get a glimpse into how different they are than dogs. Wolves don’t like dogs, given that Tundra is fairly old now, she’s seen a number of dogs. She doesn’t want them to come up to her and approach her. They’re very territorial. The wolf is very family orientated and it’s exponentially greater than a dog being territorial. Their nature of family is very similar to the First Nations people and their family structure. They share their food and help raise offspring whether it’s a wolf pup or child.
BAHM: How old was Tundra when you got her?
Allan: Tundra was three weeks old when I got her. I had to bottle feed her for a few days. That’s the time a wolf will bond with you. In the wild they come out of their den at about three weeks old. The only thing they’ve known at that age is their siblings and mom. They’re blind when they’re born, and their eyes will begin to open at about 15 days after birth. This is the time wolves will bond with other pack members, including people. The bonding is where they will build trust in you and the rest of the pack. Those relationships are incredible.
I’ve raised some wolf pups from five weeks old and it’s way easier to bond with a three week old pup than one at five weeks old. This is where wolves differ from a dog which you would get from a breeder after eight weeks.
BAHM: Has Tundra ever shown you any aggression?
Allan: Tundra has never shown any aggression towards any of the 40 000 students she met over the years. I can often get students to be quieter than their teachers can, I just tell them I’m not coming into the auditorium until I can hear a mouse breathe.
Now I do walks with groups in the forest with Tundra, so its outdoor aboriginal education. We observe Tundra and we discuss the importance of her actions like what a wolf in the wild would do. We also talk about First Nations concepts and stories and the legends of wolves. We then do an extensive question and answer.
Designer: Ay LeLum – The Good House of Design – https://www.aylelum.ca/
Photographer: Helena Lines – http://helenalines.com/ – Instagram:@helenalines