300 wolves in the zoo

9th September

Sunday morning dawned misty, and we left Tamsweg early in the morning with our backseat full of large carnivores, sheep and dogs… Our destination? Salzburg Zoo!

The zoo was celebrating its 10 year anniversary of ‘OZO Artenschutztag’ (Species Conservation Day), so Nick and I were there representing the European Wilderness Society. Decked in our bright orange shirts we stood out from a mile away straight from the start, lugging life size animals and blue fences past all the enclosures and visitors to reach our stand. Especially as I stopped every few minutes to rearrange the fences that were falling out of my arms and threatening to impale small people.

But we arrived at our stand, I managed not to decapitate anyone, and we set up, making a story with our animals. We put a wolf-proof fence around the sheep and border collie, and set up the guard dog outside the fence with the lynx and wolf. The lynx prompted some surprising responses from dogs… they barely acknowledged our wolf, but the lynx? We had dogs bark, lunge and/or jump back from the lynx in fear! I did feel sorry for them but I must say, good to know that our animals are realistic.

We set out wolf masks ready for the kids to make, and met the Naturschutzbund team who we would be sharing our stand with. They had come prepared, with crafts to make mice using pistachio shells and string, and a microscope to investigate insects with. They also had a beaver skin, skull and branches nibbled by the beaver which fascinated everyone (myself included!).

We were a good team, and dipped in and out of each other’s activities. The day got hot and busy busy, every time I turned around there was someone new, wanting to make a mask or a pistachio mouse, or feel the beaver or peer into the microscope. I loved watching the childrens faces light up when we helped them make a mask, or they spotted the butterfly wing in the microscope. This is the kind of public engagement work I love, interacting with families, hands-on activities and passing on a little bit of knowledge. We fed off each other’s enthusiasm, and it took me back to when I was a child and curious about everything.  And by the end of the day we had made 300 wolf masks with children, sending positive wolf messages out!

There was a language barrier which made it difficult, and really pared down my interactions to a set of key phrases. It was like I followed a script instead of having conversations sometimes, but children are really easy going and don’t mind my grammar (awful) and pronunciation (even worse). And some language is universal; howling like a wolf, gnashing teeth for the beaver, giggling.

It was a really brilliant day, and reminded me why I love science and Wilderness in the first place. Let’s get Wild!