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National Wolf Awareness Week

Happy National Wolf Awareness Week!

PAW

By Nick Hadad

It’s National Wolf Awareness Week! We here at Animal School have been hard at work! We’ve filmed multiple videos this week featuring our talking wolf mascot, Howler Wolf, showcasing wolf facts and profiling some of the different wolves found in North America. Each short video will lead into a blog post regarding each wolf.

These will include the gray wolf, red wolf, eastern wolf, the Mexican gray wolf, arctic wolf, island wolf, and the coywolf (aka, the eastern coyote). We’ll wrap up the series with some information about wolf conservation. So keep your eyes open, Wild Things!

We wanted to make everyone aware of wolves! With such a varied reputation, it’s sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction regarding these lupines. Wolves aren’t as big and bad as they’re often made out to be. They’re actually extremely important creatures in their ecosystems.

As many of the wolf sanctuaries, biologists and wolf fans share their knowledge as we celebrate National Wolf Awareness Week, we wanted to do our part. We hope you enjoy the videos and the posts!

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Wolf News Episodes 3 and 4

Wolf News Episodes 3 and 4

Episode 3 talks about wolf hunting. Sweden, as of the time this video was recorded, legalized limited wolf hunting in three regions of its territory.  Although the bag limits for wolves during this hunt are very low and restricted, critics say this is a terrible breach of ethics, saying that the Swedish wolf population is too low to withstand a hunt and current populations are suffering from inbreeding as it is thanks to a lack of a stable population.

Meanwhile, Michgan, at the time we filmed this, passed a bill listing wolves as a game animal. However, a wolf hunt does not appear to be on the horizon anytime soon.  The push for this bill to pass came after concerns were raised by farmers about protection for their livestock and dogs as well as hunters worrying about a decline in other game animals.  There has been a lot of backlash over the passing of this bill as wolf populations aren’t high enough to warrant hunting.

Episode 4 focuses on the complications facing the reintroduction of red wolves in North Carolina. Despite the program starting off on a strong note with the success of cross-fostering and the cooperation of area landowners, the attitude in general has changed.  Thanks to misinformation from former program managers and regarding compensation for damages or losses to livestock due to wolves.  And again, here, it seems there is a concern about how much of an affect wolves have on game animal populations.  What complicates this further is that coyote populations are on the rise without wolves to keep things balances, which is creating similar problems.  As far as the extremely low wolf populations go, they are interbreeding with coyotes  and as a result, a hybrid species is now taking root in the area, known as coywolves.

 

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The Animal School VLOG!

Hey folks! Nick, here! The man behind the mascots!

We’ve started a series of vlogs for Animal School featuring our talking characters. Posts will cover a variety of topics and will be posted on all of our Facebook pages and other social media platforms.  For starters, we had Howler Wolf take on the role of host, launching a segment for the vlog called “Wolf News,” which showcases current topics on wolves, wolf conservation, reintroduction and any new breakthroughs in the science behind these amazing creatures.

Granted, the videos aren’t of the highest production quality. We don’t have a lot of equipment in any respect, whether it’s sound or lighting, not to mention the cameras themselves.  For these initial vlog posts, we’re using the webcam on my ten year old laptop!  Not great, but it will do for now!

We have already filmed multiple videos which will be uploaded throughout the upcoming weeks. We’ll also start a segment called “Ask Howler.” In which, the audience can pitch questions to our wolf via Facebook/Twitter on any topic involving wildlife.  Eventually, we will have our other characters host videos for the vlog, so that will be something to watch out for.

Here’s Wolf News Ep. 1 – The Wolf Genus Study

And, Wolf News Ep. 2 – The Isle Royale Wolf Reintroduction

 

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My Life as an Animal – Reflections of a Mascot

swift-teaching

Hey, folks! It’s Nick from Animal School. I’m the guy who typically brings our talking characters to life.  I know I’ve said this before in earlier posts but I’m constantly amazed by things I learn or experience in this line of costume work.  While my work as a sports mascot over the last fifteen years certainly has its amusing stories, I’m actually finding that being a talking educational animal ambassador is a lot more interesting.

I realized early on that if I am suited up as a certain species, I need to be well versed in all aspects of that animal’s life. I’m often approached by folks who have a variety in depth questions about current topics on that species, or questions about its behavior, diet and even how certain illness can affect it.  Sometimes, someone comes up with a question and I find that I don’t have an answer.  Experts get stumped more often than one would think!  Thus, I head home after the event and I spend some time researching until I can deliver an accurate answer.

For example, I was performing as Swift the Fox at one of the farmers markets and a couple had a question on alternative treatments for foxes dealing with mange. At the time, I only knew of one type of medicine that could be administered but they had heard that at times, under certain circumstances, it may not be enough to help a sick fox and they were eager to know about new treatments,.  I just had to look into this and I’m pleased to say that after some digging, I did find out there is in fact, a different treatment… and perhaps this will be on a future blog post.

Something else I discovered came to me while I was performing as Howler Wolf at a village fair event. I realized people will freely share their opinions about certain species with me.  Specifically on that afternoon as Howler, I was giving howling demonstrations and I was approached by a local wildlife rehabilitator.  I love the work rehabilitators do and I had spent a few years growing up working for some.  Much to my surprise, he informed me that he hated wolves.

I was a bit surprised but I didn’t get offended and I didn’t bite his head off for how he felt. It did, however, make me think that the public’s perception of wolves wasn’t limited into two categories (i.e., those who like wolves and those who don’t). And, after doing some research, I found there were multiple view points and perceptions, like those who love wolves, those who know what life as a wolf is like, what living with wolves is like, those who see the wolf as a spiritual symbol, those who believe wolves are hurting game animal populations, those who see wolves as a threat to livestock, or in the extreme cases I’ve read about, those who see wolves as a symbol of government overreach…  It was fascinating to learn all of this.

I’m sure as I continue to perform as these characters, I am certain I’ll never find a dull moment. I’ll continue to learn, discover and get some insight on how people think and feel about certain animals.  This is the start of some sort of wild adventure, to say the least!

Stay wild, everyone!

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Fairytale Fallacies Part 1 – Little Red Riding Hood

howler is not a big bad wolf

Fairytale Fallacies is an ongoing series in which we here at Animal School will separate fact from fiction in our favorite childhood stories, especially those that feature animals as main characters in some form. Our first installment is of course, Howler’s least favorite story: Little Red Riding Hood.

A Little Background on the Story:

This story was made famous by the Grimm Brothers around the 1850s, but several versions of the story existed prior to this, including some that date back to the first century, originating from the Middle East. Later versions emerged from all across Europe and even China, with the earliest published version coming out in 1697 in France.  It was written by Charles Perrault.

Since then, the story has been retold, rewritten and changed quite a bit. The original versions of the story were very dark in tone, violent and graphic.  Over the years, that’s been changed considerably into the more kid-friendly incarnations that we’re more familiar with.

The Story Itself:

While the beginning and the end of the story seems to differ greatly depending on who is telling it, the true meat of the story remains fairly similar. Little Red takes a trip toward her Grandmother’s house and meets a stranger through the woods, who turns out to be the wolf.  She tells him about what she’s doing and unintentionally gives him information about the location of her Grandmother’s house.  So, he steers her off the main path to give himself some time and dashes over to the house, and eats up poor Granny.   Oddly enough, he’s still hungry and thus, disguises himself as Granny and waits for Little Red to arrive.  And upon her entering the house, he eats her up as well.  Usually at the last second, the woodsmen/huntsmen rushes in and saves them, pulling them out of the belly of the wolf.

The morals of the story are:

  1. Don’t wander off the path if you’re not sure where you’re going
  2. Don’t talk to strangers and certainly don’t let them into your home.
  3. Even charming strangers can be dangerous, especially to young girls

The Point of the Story:

As I pointed out in the morals of the story, this tale serves as a “stranger danger” type of story, originally intended to warn young girls of the dangers of prowling older men. The Perrault version of the story even says:

From this story one learns that children, especially young lasses, pretty, courteous and well-bred, do very wrong to listen to strangers, And it is not an unheard thing if the Wolf is thereby provided with his dinner. I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!”

Essentially, this means that it’s not so much real wolves you should be afraid of, but rather, people (or men in this case) who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The Unintended Consequences:

Despite this being a cautionary tale, folks took it literally and their fear of wolves reached an unprecedented apex. A lot of people thought that the story was about the dangers of real wolves and that they could actually eat you.  While in reality, worldwide, wolves don’t normally attack humans.  They’re often so afraid of people that they’ll do anything they can to avoid them.  But obviously, if you ever ran into one in the wild, it is best to give them space and respect.

Sadly, this fear of wolves spread across the world and it had its most devastating affects here in North America, where the US Government for a while actually paid people to exterminate wolves for fear of loss of livestock, and loss to human life.

Truth be told, wolves do look intimidating. Their sharp teeth, large body size, their loud and haunting vocalizations and the fact they travel and live in packs that can number between three to fifteen but can reach up to near 60 members, is rather sobering.  The reality is, however, wolves rather keep to themselves than bother people.  I won’t deny, however, that livestock could make a meal for a hungry and desperate pack but that aside, you haven’t much to worry about from wolves.

Truths from Fiction:

  1. Again, wolves don’t normally like interacting with people. The wolf in this story is a metaphor or even an allegory for predatory people and predatory behavior.
  2. The Grimm Brothers’ version, along with other earlier versions, featured a lot of violent, gory and morbid scenes that at first glance, might not have much to do with the story as a whole. It’s possible these scenes were intended to serve as metaphors or symbolism for puberty, night and day, or even death and rebirth.
  3. There is a sequel to this story in which Grandmother and Little Red intentionally lure a wolf into their home and kill it in a pot of boiling water. This can be found in various collections of Grimm’s works.
  4. It’s interesting to note that the wolf character is alone in each version of the story. Wolves tend to live and hunt in packs. A wolf alone is either looking to start a pack on its own or is sick and is distancing itself from their pack. If I wanted to be more critical, the “solo-hunting” this character exhibits is more akin to a coyote or any type of large wild cat than a wolf.

In Closing:

It’s important to know that all fairytales and fables are fiction but are intended to teach a lesson. The characters, including the villains, are symbols, metaphors, or even allegories to real life situations, problems and behaviors.  The wolf, in this case, is just that and does not reflect real wolves in the wild.  So while it might be fun to dress up as the Big Bad Wolf for Halloween, you can at least have some peace of mind that no one will actually be eaten up!

Stay tuned for our next episode of Fairytale fallacies!

Stay wild, my friends!