Features, Indiana, USA

Who’s Afraid of the “Big Bad Wolf?”

TravelBloggers.ca WolfPark.org

Each year millions of dollars are spent as people purchase a calendar for the coming year. No doubt you too have browsed through the hundreds of calendars on display at your local mall – many with beautiful photos that we all wish we could personally capture.TravelBloggers.ca WolfPark.org

Old or young, everyone loves at least one type of animal, and for many the wolf stands strong at the top of their list – they’re majestic and feared, but captivating and mysterious.

Over the years we’ve been drawn to beautiful images of wolves hanging in art store windows or being sold in calendars. Through the wonders of the internet we began to realize that so many of the beautiful images we loved were captured by one man – Monty Sloan.

TravelBloggers.ca WolfPark.org

Monty Sloan gets kisses from Fiona

Considering the abundance of beautiful photographs he captures, we naturally assumed that he must be a recluse camped deep in the woods of Alaska – a man with more patience than 100 men, a man with more four-legged friends than those with two.  However, much to our surprise we found that he is affiliated with a wonderful place called Wolf Park.

Since discovering Wolf Park online we visited the site regularly to admire Monty’s work, and dream one day of checking it off our bucket-list. Knowing that an opportunity to journey to Battle Ground Indiana (where is that anyway?) was never going to present itself logically, we decided it was time to make Wolf Park a single destination.

Wolf Park is a not-for-profit organization that is first and foremost an educational facility. The park was founded over 40 years ago for behavioural research, education and conservation, with the objective of improving the public’s understanding of wolves (totally debunking the “big-bad” reputation) and the value they bring to our environment. The facility offers a wide variety of tours, howl nights, educational programs and seminars to the public along with opportunities for interns and animal researchers.

TravelBloggers.ca WolfPark.orgWe were drawn to Wolf Park for its unique opportunity to photograph wolves – without boundaries – and the opportunity to learn from the world-renowned wolf photographer Monty Sloan. Despite our desire to learn from Monty and visit Wolf Park in Indiana, we have to admit we sought out alternatives that might be closer to home than the nine-hour drive it would take to get to Battle Ground Indiana. While we found other options that were closer, there was simply no comparison – NONE of the other wolf “encounters” offered barrier free photography opportunities … and NONE of them have Monty. That said, it was decided – to Wolf Park we would go! (NOTE: Photography Seminars and Photo Shoots are very exclusive with only a few dates scheduled each year in the Spring and Fall… so start planning and book now!)

Our day at Wolf Park consisted of an enjoyable morning seminar by Monty – he is very down-to-earth and in no-way pretentious as many photographers tend to be. Any apprehension about shooting under Monty’s watchful eye melted away during his slideshow as it quickly became evident that he was there to make sure we got the most photographically out of our encounter with the wolves. For safety’s sake after Monty’s instruction we listened to a lecture on wolf behaviour by Senior Wolf Handler, Pat Goodmann that was anything but boring – it was provided to ensure we got the most out of our up-close encounters with these majestic beings, and that we got out with all our limbs! After a break for lunch, it was an afternoon of being in amongst the wolves…

TravelBloggers.ca WolfPark.orgEntering the enclosure, anticipation turns to excitement … and then your stomach flips and you ask yourself: “What am I doing?!! I must be insane to be going face to face with wolves!” Once inside, the gate clangs behind you, there’s no going back – your heart is racing and the rest of your class is going through the same silent emotions with a little nervous laughter and a few bad jokes thrown in every now and again to try to break the tension.

It takes a minute or two to calm down (humans and wolves included), but once the initial rush is over, you start to enjoy the experience… until the first time you’re down on your knee photographing a wolf and another one comes out of nowhere and licks your face! Talk about heart-stopping!

Thanks to Monty’s years of experience with the wolves he and the staff at Wolf Park work with the animals to provide some great photo ops – classic poses and interactions with beautiful light. For anyone that’s ever wanted to photograph wildlife, this is a real treat – you knew you were going to see wolves, they were within the perfect range, in a beautiful setting and there was someone there with great knowledge to guide you and the subjects to the perfect back drop.

For us it was well worth the cost and journey if we were only to get a single shot that was “the” one – but we got so much more than that. It was a fantastic day – we never felt rushed and the group only moved on to another area when everyone had finished shooting.

TravelBloggers.ca WolfPark.orgWith our faces pressed against our cameras, trying to capture every moment, we felt safe knowing there were plenty of staff inside the enclosure, always watching the body language of the wolves and how they reacted and interacted with each participant.  Although the wolves are ‘tame’ they are wild animals and they are far from being pets. Only certain wolves are allowed to interact with humans and not the same ones all the time – it depends on the demeanour of the day as to which wolves you get to photograph.

All too soon 5 o’clock comes upon us and the experience is over. We also had the experience to be the first photography class to enter the red fox enclosure which was a nice bonus, but we didn’t see the bison or any other animals they have in the park on the day we were there. It would be fantastic to return with snow on the ground and get those beautiful winter pictures that are so prevalent in calendars and posters… another time maybe?

Videography is definitely not our forte, but here’s a brief compilation of some time with Dharma and Wotan

Cameras & Lenses: We used – 28-135mm lens on a Canon XSi (with an approximate lens factor of 1.6) and it was perfect for 90% of the pictures that I wanted. I changed it out for a 200-400mm for the second enclosure and found a lot of the time I was way too close, but I think I got killer shots anyway. I was glad I took the opportunity to try the longer lens. Canon 30D with 75-300mm lens and a Sony point and shoot for some quick video footage.

What To Wear: Anything you don’t mind getting dirty or even ruined. Take rain gear with you, because rain or shine – you’re going in!

If you’re not into photography there are plenty of other opportunities available for the public, such as Kids Summer Camp (Day or Overnight), Young Naturalist Program for Teens, School Tours, Group Tours, Public Tours, Behavior Seminars, Photography Seminars and Photo Shoots, Howl Nights, plus seasonal events like Spring Animal Birthday Parties, the Summer Watermelon Party, Autumn Pumpkin Party, the Thanksgiving Turkey Toss and in winter, Santa’s Visit.

Beyond this there are also educational opportunities such as the one-day seminar “Day with Wolves” or three-day “Wolf Intensive Weekend”, Intern and Extern Programs.

To support all of the wonderful non-profit work at Wolf Park, there are also a variety of fundraising events such as Walk for Wolves, the Adopt-a-Wolf program, sponsorship opportunities, openings for volunteers and of course donations and memberships.

We encourage you to take some time now to explore WolfPark.org to learn more and support the wonderful cause for behavioural research, education and conservation, with the objective of improving the public’s understanding of wolves and the value they provide to our environment.

Plan your visit: Admission Prices and Hours

Looking to buy some beautiful artwork? Check out Monty’s website: WolfPhotography.com

Where To Stay: We stayed 10-15minutes away in Lafayette. There are plenty of hotels and motels as well as restaurants in the area. Additional information can be found on WolfPark’s site – About the Lafayette Area

Indiana as a great place to explore! There’s plenty to see and do: beautiful state parks, covered bridges, theatres, wine trail, museums, unique shopping, local artisans, antique shops, zoos and more.

Copyright © 2015 Iain & Gail Shankland / TravelBloggers.ca (at) Gmail.com

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 About TravelBloggers.ca
Iain Shankland & Gail Shankland started blogging in order to inspire and motivate people to travel the world from their perspective – specializing in having the most fun while using the least amount of money, travelling on the cheap without sacrificing comfort.

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