In 1972, ethology professor Erich Klinghammer received a pair of wolves, siblings Cassie and Koko, from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. His goal was to learn about wolves’ behavior and communication by observing their interactions. He modeled his work after that of Konrad Lorenz, who had previously socialized various species of birds and mammals, and then observed their interaction with each other and their environment. Dr. Klinghammer’s goal was to create a wolf ‘Ethogram’, a wolf-to-human dictionary of behaviors.
Over the next few years, Dr. Klinghammer received wolves from several other zoos and facilities including the St. Louis Zoo and Philadelphia Zoo. In 1977, the first litter was born at Wolf Park to parents Cassie and Tornado. Dr. Klinghammer was still learning the importance of socializing – raising wild animals so that they are fully comfortable around people – and these pups were never completely comfortable around humans. Since then, the park has learned and improved their methods of raising wolf pups.
Assisting in Dr. Klinghammer’s work and research were his students from Purdue University. Graduate Student Pat Goodmann arrived in 1975 and stayed on, taking care of generations of wolves as the head animal curator.
New species and more wolves arrived at Wolf Park. Bison Sierra and Teton were donated from the Columbian Park Zoo. As the bison herd grew, researchers were able to observe the interaction between the bison and wolves through a controlled program in which healthy bison proved fully capable of drive away predators.
Livestock guard dogs and sheep were brought to the park thanks to Dr. Raymond Coppinger, a professor who encouraged farmers to use dogs as livestock protection rather than eliminating predators. Wolf Park’s flock of sheep and guard dogs provided an educational model for visitors of ways to co-exist with large carnivores.
Foxes and coyotes were also added to the Park population so visitors could see the differences in several canid species. An unexpected arrival was Ericha, a goat donated as wolf-food who turned out to be perfectly healthy. Ericha made a name for herself harassing volunteers, visitors and dogs.
Photographer Monty Sloan arrived in 1988 to take a few photos. He stayed on to become a knowledgeable animal handler and world-renowned wolf photographer.
Huge improvements were made to Wolf Park. In 1992, the long-desired 7-acre main enclosure opened, to the delight of the wolves who now had room to run, swim, dig, and play. Several new buildings were constructed, giving the park an observation building, education center, and gift shop. A new fox enclosure also gave the red foxes a comfortable and shady habitat.
A tornado swept through in 1994, eliminating much of the old enclosure. Fortunately no one was harmed and no animals escaped.
Elsewhere, wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995, a huge success for people working for the recovery of the gray wolf. Project leader, Doug Smith, was a former intern and puppy-parent at Wolf Park.
In 1997, Orca the wolf slipped, injuring his spine and becoming paralyzed from the waist down. Thanks to the work of the staff and the aid of many professionals, Orca recovered use of his legs and received a long and happy life.
Physical changes continued to improve the Park. New bleachers were constructed in front of the main enclosure. The donation of a walking bridge allowed the walking trail to be expanded to encircle the entire park.
Coyote pups Willow and Twister arrived from Utah in 2006 to help teach visitors about living with ‘urban carnivores’ and identifying the difference between wolves and coyotes.
In 2009, Wolf Park hosted its first ‘Walk for Wolves’, an annual fundraiser in which businesses and individuals helped support the park and its mission.
Although Wolf Park had participated in many documentaries and TV programs before, this decade included several memorable filming moments. Marion the wolf explored inside the intern house for one program. During another, Renki met and danced with Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Research continued with the wolves assisting with a series of cognition studies led by Dr. Clive Wynne and his graduate students. The 2009 pups were raised by his students who recorded their problem-solving growth as they developed.
A new 1-and-a-half acre enclosure gave the wolves a second large habitat to enjoy. A new conference center allowed the park to host larger seminars and the Animal Care Center gave the park a space to perform surgeries, prepare meals, and raise puppies. The first litter raised in the new building were the five 2017 pups, who were also the first pack to live long-term in the new enclosure.
27 acres of park-owned farmland were reclaimed as bat and quail habitat in 2016, providing native wildlife with new homes.
2013 brought the park a litter of gray foxes, a new species the staff had wanted to add to the facility for many years.
On October 6, 2011, Dr. Klinghammer passed away at the age of 81, having seen his dream of learning more about wolves unfold into an education and research facilities which had inspired people around the world. He is sorely missed but his legacy continues.