The Lakota Wolf Preserve offers twice daily “wolf watches” for groups to observe the four packs that reside there. I avoided that whole song and dance routine and instead had a private photography session, where for a fee, you get to go inside the fenced-in walkways that surround each enclosure to take photos. There are chest height portals in the fencing that can be opened to allow photos unobstructed by the fencing.
I really had no idea what to expect from the whole experience and was a bit intimidated by the thought of passing myself off as a *serious* photographer.
So long as you’re willing to pay for that distinction, well… I guess someone’s obligated to believe it at least.
So… I went with it and brought extra flash cards and extra batteries and every lens I own. Turns out I didn’t need any of it and used only my regular 28-200 mm lens. Most often the wolves were too close and I had to mind the sleeves of my coat pushed up against those openings in the fence. The wolves are acclimated to people to a degree and are happy to mug for dog biscuits tossed over the fencing for the benefit of paying photographers. They’re also not beyond nudging the wayward elbows of said photographers.
I took so many pics in that two hours, hunched in an uncomfortable position in the freezing cold, that I had cramps in my back and right arm and fingers. From a photography standpoint, I would have preferred some variation in the height of the fence portals, mainly some lower ones because I like to shoot up at animals, for whatever reason, rather than shooting down. I don’t guess that’s really practical considering that the wolves didn’t hesitate to reach up to the openings and a person might lose a pantleg were they any lower.
The snowy background was a dream, but again I think a visit in fall might be nice for a better variety of shots. The guide did his best to keep each pack active and close enough for nice shots, but I found my attention, as is typical, wandering. Most often it was to that pack in the next enclosure that wasn’t performing for us and instead doing what wolves in captivity do, I guess. Laying about napping, chasing one another in play, arguing over who gets to sit on the highest rock.
I had to remind myself a number of times to stop just watching and take pics, darn it! It was so neat to see interactions that look so everyday and familiar to me as a dog owner and frequenter of dog parks.
Any idea that wolves are just like dogs, but in thicker coats, was dispelled pretty quickly. There’s something very *other* about them, even these captive ones, none of whom have probably ever lived in the wild. Physically, there’s the obvious differences… the thin long snout, the heavily furred ears, the superlong front legs, their loping gait and funny posture. Mostly though, it’s something in their eyes, I think, should the weight of their gaze ever fall on you. It feels nothing like that sweet puppy curled beside you on the couch.