Remember Our Ambassadors
Denali (1995-2006): aka Butch
Denali was not only an alpha male of the North American gray wolf pack but a wolf whose character defined the California Wolf Center for more than 10 years.
Denali was born in April of 1995. From his first steps until his death, he was a true representative of wild wolves. At the same time, his comfort in front of an audience enabled visitors to share the life of a wolf pack. When the rest of the pack was still relatively shy, Denali was comfortable being a wolf in front of a crowd. We promised visitors that one large, young, kind, beige wolf, would visit with the audience. Denali never failed to show.
In June of 1996, pups came along, and with them, Denali emerged as a true alpha male. The famous 10-pup litter of 1996 became, what we called them, a band of brothers with Denali running the show. A true alpha never has to fight to get to the top. Rather it is by group approval that the alpha wins and sustains his or her status. Denali never ruled with an iron paw. He appeared to be elected king.
Denali shaped the temperament of the new pups and brought out a previously unobserved level of comfort in the older animals. It was his pack, and they rallied around him daily. It was spectacular, unique and invaluable for our mission.
In a wolf pack nothing ever stays the same, and Denali would face his share of changes and challenges. In a particularly intense challenge from a younger, stronger wolf, the entire pack rallied around Denali, choosing his leadership over that of the challenger.
Subsequent wolves born her are like Denali in many ways, and certainly the photo of pups climbing over Denali in the summer of 2005 is no different than his interactions with the 1996 litter nearly 10 years earlier.
From his days as a pup until his all too sudden death, Denali was a trickster. He made us laugh, he made us smile, and he helped us understand wolves more so than any textbook ever could.
He was not just a wolf that we cared for. He was to his last day the face of our Center, the ambassador not just for wolves in the wild but for his pack and for all the work we do to affect how people think about the importance of gray wolves. He attracted a team of volunteers, visitors and donors that would go on to lead the Wolf Center to a new level of contribution to conservation. With his death came the end of an era. The loss of any wolf in our community is tragic. But this loss marked the passing of an ambassador wolf that defined that very phrase for our Wolf Center.
We cannot replace him and like Brooks, Sitka, Rosie and Bright Eyes before him, he will be forever special for how he affected our lives, affected the other wolves and made what we do so relevant.
Thank you, Denali.
Bright Eyes (1986-2001)
Bright Eyes was the second alpha male of our ambassador North American gray wolf pack. He was born at the California Wolf Center to Brooks and Sitka (the original alpha pair). He passed on his position of leadership to Denali, making him an important part of the history of the ambassador pack.
Taiga was a member of our North American gray wolf pack. Taiga was plagued with health issues throughout his later years, but he was a strong wolf who enjoyed life right up until the end. At one point he was separated from the main pack so that some of his health issues could be treated more effectively. He enjoyed several years of off-exhibit retirement with a female wolf named Kiska who was very protective over him and helped him live out his remaining years happily.
Tundra ascended to beta status within the North American gray wolf pack. He supported our former alpha, Denali, through several challenges over the years, and he was still well respected by the entire pack when he passed. Tundra was always curious about people and was one of the wolves who would usually grace us with his presence during tours.
Kodiak always respectfully showed deference to the leader of the North American gray wolf pack, though he never showed much interest in the activities of the human staff. Kodiak moved around with an easy comfort in his surroundings. In circumstances where he was unsure he tended to move slowly, quietly and without panic, making him quite distinguishable from the rest of the pack during vet care.
His most memorable physical characteristic was probably his large, dome-shaped forehead. He also had a magnificent coat, which made him appear much larger than the younger males in the North American gray wolf pack. Even in his old age, his coat was still very impressive. Barrow was extremely shy around people and was rarely seen during tours, but staff knew him to be a majestic wolf and an important part of the pack. During mob greetings all the younger wolves would muzzle-lick him, showing that he was a mid to high-ranking wolf even in the days leading up to his passing.
Naomi was the omega wolf of our North American gray wolf pack for a number of years. Her nickname with the staff was Red because she had quite a bit of red in her coat. She was a beautiful female and was the inspiration for the logo for California Wolf Center.
Katmai was separated from the rest of the North American gray wolf pack into her own habitat because of squabbles with other wolves. If Katmai was fed something special, she would prance around teasing the rest of the pack. Even with her strong and feisty personality, Katmai could often be seen having a tender moment with the younger males as they muzzle-licked her through the fence. Even though Katmai was separated she was still very much a part of the pack. She had social interactions across the fence, participated in chorus howls, and the rest of the pack could usually be found sleeping near her fence. She had a very distinctive deep howl that staff and volunteers could always recognize even at a distance.
Rio (1994-2009): aka M166
This Mexican gray wolf was born at the Wild Canid Center. Rio was one of the original 13 wolves released into the wild when reintroductions began in 1998. He was the first reintroduced wolf documented as having taken down native prey, and he sired the first wild born pup since reintroduction. Rio had been in and out of the wild for three years when he and his mate were permanently removed for depredation. When Rio was removed, he was a very wild and shy animal, so he required a secluded location where he could be off exhibit. We were able to provide him with a permanent retirement home until his peaceful death at the age of 15.
Aspen (1994-2010): aka F168
This Mexican gray wolf was born at the Wild Canid Survival and Research Center in Missouri. She birthed litters of pups in 1998 and 1999. She was the alpha female of the Gavilan Pack in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area from 1999 to 2000. She enjoyed her retirement from the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan at the California Wolf Center from 2002 until her passing in 2010. She was housed with her littermate, Rio (M166), until his death in 2009. The two of them had a very special bond, and Aspen could often be seen affectionately "protecting" Rio from whatever she considered to be a threat to him.
Chaco (1995-2012): aka M185
Chaco, a male Mexican gray wolf, was born on April 19, 1995 at the Alameda Park Zoo in New Mexico. He lived out his days here at the California Wolf Center as the alpha male of his wolf pack. He lived to the impressive, and record holding, age of 17 years. We will never forget his vivacious personality.
For many years, Taku was the first North American gray wolf that visitors saw. He helped the California Wolf Center raise awareness about wolf recovery far beyond the conservation center in Julian. Taku was a wolf with a lot of personality, often seen starting play within his pack. Taku was also the babysitter of puppies born into his pack, making sure they were fed and always had someone to chase. He will be greatly missed.