Who would have guessed that 40 kilometers outside of Vienna, in the middle-of-nowhere town of Ernstbrunn (my apologies to the good people of Ernstbrunn), there is a wolf research center at home in a beautiful wildlife park? Wildpark Ernstbrunn is an open expanse of land that is home to many different kinds of animals such as:
this nosy donkey,
this itchy ibex,
this statuesque deer,
Visitors often find themselves face-to-face with the resident wild, winding their way through fields and meadows alive with packs of deer (red, fallow, and Sika), Scottish cows, and goats among others. The main attraction at the park however, appears to be the Wolf Science Center, founded in order to “investigate the common charateristics shared by wolf, dog and man.” The WSC at Wildpark Ernstbrunn is currently home to 14 Timberwolves from the United States and Canada who, in comparison to their European counterparts, tend to exhibit more outgoing and social behavior better suited for this variety of scientific engagement.
I had the chance to learn about wolves – their mating habits, social structures, and general personality traits – on a walking with a wolf guided tour with Chitto, a one-year old Timber Wolf from the United States. What initially amazed me about Chitto – and wolves in general, I suppose – was his lack of a distinctive scent (an advantage when on the hunt?), plush tail on an otherwise wiry frame (reminiscent of the proportions of that other fierce, famed hunter – the squirrel), coarse fur (think brillo pad), enormous paws and giant, stream-lined head. Our guide emphasized the highly social nature of wolves and we were treated to quite a display of this behavior – as Chitto exited the compound, his pack howled in his wake, the cries following us down the path for many minutes. In contrast, Chitto appeared to be thrilled – like a domestic dog, he jumped up and down when he saw the trainer approach with a leash and eagerly sniffed the ground as we moved at an easy pace. I was impressed with his calmness – the wolf was not jarred by sudden movements on the path ahead, the incessant barking of the domestic dogs as we passed their holdings, nor the deer or the occassional jogger that sprang out of our way on the walk (a result of a life of human contact or the inner peace of the sage hunter?) Either way, I was grateful to have this opportunity to learn more about wolves and happy to see four healthy packs thriving in Europe (albeit North American imports) where wolf protection is an on-going political issue (especially among new member states). Though public transportation to Ernstbrunn via Vienna is doubtful, should you find yourself presented with the opportunity, the WSC and Wildpark are absolutely worth a visit.