Stephanie Allard, Ph.D., is the Director of Animal Welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare.
She was standing still, in front of an expansive vista full of greenery. Her eyes bounced from place to place, noting the tiered stream and pools, the variety in shrubbery and trees, and the rocky outcroppings. Sensing movement to her left, she turned to get a better look, and, through the trees she spotted Kaska, a male gray wolf with a coat of dark, smoky fur, exiting the den.
Wazi, a 7-year-old female gray wolf, is often seen exploring the terrain of her new home in the 2-acre Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness. Since it’s opening in early June, staff from the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare have been observing what the two wolves are doing and where they are spending their time as they acclimate to their new habitat at the Detroit Zoo. As the wolves interact with each other and explore their surroundings, we learn what matters to them.
The process by which zoo habitats are designed is lengthy and meticulous. When architects design a home or an office building, they can talk to their clients to make sure that the design encompasses all of their wishes and meets all of their needs. When we are designing spaces for animals, we do not have the luxury of asking them questions directly. We have to rely on our understanding of the ecology and behavior of the species in question. We engage experts and ultimately construct habitats that we believe will not only meet, but exceed the needs of the animals that will inhabit them. We include opportunities for each animal to engage in species-typical behaviors, to seek shelter and privacy when desired, and to exert some measure of choice and control over their daily lives.
When all is said and done, we must rely on what the animals “tell” us about their environment and make any adjustments accordingly. As we do with all the animals, we will continue to find ways to learn what Wazi and Kaska think about their home and their lives.
– Dr. Stephanie Allard