Although the park has been available to us every other day (based on license plate) we have yet to reenter it. Partly that is because Lee’s days off fell on our non day (his employer rearranged the scheduled going forward) and partly because the weather was only so-so on the days we were allowed. The restrictions have actually seen the crowds significantly reduced (I would estimate by as much as half) so we decided to spend one day off exploring West Yellowstone itself.
Number one on our list was the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center and I was pleasantly surprised. These smaller wildlife centers are a bit of a mixed bag but this one was reasonably priced ($15 for entry although we bought an annual $70 membership for two people) and had significant content for its size. The visitors center had numerous examples and we spent some time learning about the local animals.
After looking inside we walked outside and the area was surprisingly big. It had one giant area for bears, another for raptors, a building for otters, and finally a large wolf enclosure. Many people have concerns about animals in zoos but personally growing up near the Columbus Zoo (one of the best in the world) I like them. In my opinion it’s important for kids to see animals and it inspires them to want to protect them. Of course I am always concerned about the conditions the animals live in and in this case it was clear great attention had been paid.
At this facility, the bears and raptors are all rescues and would have died or been killed if they weren’t brought here. They also do something pretty cool that I have never seen before where they remove the animals from the pens and let kids hide their food. This allows the kids to participate in a VERY cool way and its good for the animals to have to search for their food. Keeps their brains active. We were not allowed to see the areas where the bears were kept when they weren’t in the large open area, and it is quite a bit smaller, but the open areas are very nice. Bears are solitary creatures and unfortunately can’t always mingle together.
The raptor area also had bios for each animal and included 3 bald eagles, hawks, two owls, and a vulture. These animals were all rescued and were injured bad enough they could not live in the wild and the detailed descriptions showed the negative impact people can have on wildlife.
One of my favorite sections was actually the ground squirrel area and since they had just been fed we got to watch them run around. They were super cute and I found them very entertaining.
We also really enjoyed the otter house and got to see a feeding there as well. Once again they hid the food and made them work for it and it was great watching the pair of otters in the water environment. It was hard to get good pics because the glass was foggy but we stayed for quite awhile because it was so entertaining.
My absolute favorite though was the wolves. We spent a long time talking to a nice volunteer who explained the wolves were not rescues because abandoned/injured cubs are rarely found in the wild. Because they live in packs if a parent dies another wolf will usually take over raising them so these wolves were descendants of the few pups that had been found. Adult wolves with injuries do not do well in captivity and since the purpose of the exhibit is to show wolves in a better light they are not put on display.
We were lucky enough to see the wolf feeding and again spent tons of time watching them. There are various vantage points you can watch the wolves and they were actually in three separate places. One of the packs had four wolves and they were in the largest area and then the second pack of two was in a smaller one. There was a lone wolf all by himself because his sister wouldn’t tolerate him and the team was currently working to integrate him into the other pack. It was pretty interesting because these families have all sorts of dynamics and the keepers monitor them closely and rearrange as needed to achieve the best possible combinations. There is no breeding in this facility so this is simply done to make the wolves as happy as possible.
Lastly the center has a great amphitheater which shows nature videos and an awesome gift shop. Lee and I really liked it and definitely plan on going back. If you come to this area with the goal of seeing wolves and bears I definitely recommend a visit, especially if you have kids. Seeing wolves and bears this close is not an opportunity you will get in the park and both Lee and I really enjoyed it.
So if you come to the area, I highly recommend it. Your animal sighting will be a “sure thing” and it will help a very good cause.
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