SOUTH SALEM — Nothing transports a person out of this world quite like the sound of wolf howls coming out of the woods.
But being in the company of playful pups is close.
So it is with a sense of excitement and expectation at this hilltop conservation site for endangered wolves that the first pups in nine years are being presented to the public.
Watching the wobbly, floppy 6-week-old creatures put their snouts though the chain- link fence where kids on their knees do everything they can to obey instructions not to touch, it is hard to imagine a few years from now that those little jaws will be able to crush the marrow out of bones.
But that is part of the wonder of the Wolf Conservation Center.
Their play says man’s best friend. But their nature couldn’t be further from that appearance.
“Wolves want nothing to do with people. They would rather run away from us,” said Spencer Wilhelm, operations manager of the non-profit center. “That is the nature of the wolf.”
Those who didn’t know that wild wolves — once perilously close to being wiped out — are being bred in pens overlooking northern Westchester County should know that the surprise is partly inevitable.
While it is certainly in the Wolf Center’s interest to educate people about the importance of protecting wolves, it is equally important that the wild animals keep their innate fear of man intact. Seclusion and distance are important.
Keeping fingers out of the fence is part of that lesson.
“When they are young they are absolutely adorable and it is important to have that respect and love for them,” said sixth-grade teacher Kirsten Tobler, chaperoning a field trip from St. Luke’s School in New Canaan, Conn. “But at the same time, you want them to stay wild.”
The more wolves are afraid of man, the less likely they are to kill livestock or get into other conflicts that could get them shot.
That happened a lot before conservationists stepped in. Before federal protection programs, the count of red wolves was down to 17. The number of Mexican gray wolves was only seven.