Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Rob Gudger, an outdoorsman and avid naturalist, has presented in past years his wolves for educational purposes at area schools. But next month Franklin-area adults will be able to experience a wolf up close and personal and also learn a plethora of information regarding their habitat, feeding habits, and other idiosyncrasies.
Wayaha, one of Gudger’s wolves, will be presented to the general meeting of Nantahala Hiking Club (NHC) on April 14 at 6 p.m. at the Macon County Library. Wayaha is a female wolf that has been exposed often to children and adults.
Gudger’s career with Duke Power for 24 years involved helping to map out the Foothills Trail. He became involved with wolves 33 years ago and has much information and many stories to share, according to Katharine Brown of NHC.
The 77-year-old currently has three timber wolves, and he keeps them in a one-acre, natural enclosure with secured fencing.
“They can climb like a squirrel,” said Gudger, “so I had to give them a habitat that keeps them safe but also allows them to be a pack and run. They are definitely not indoor lounge animals, like dogs. In fact, they get nervous when they are inside four walls for very long.”
While Gudger began owning wolves when he learned of some pups that needed raising, the wildlife expert informs the public that “wolves are not dogs and they are not coyotes. They are an entirely different species and they are often misunderstood or lumped in with the understanding of dogs or coyotes.”
Coyotes, which are common in Western North Carolina, have adapted to humans in such a way that they are not as afraid to attack chickens, cats, dogs and other small animals. Wolves, on the other hand, are very elusive and skittish and typically only hunt in packs to take down a wild animal that the pack family can eat together.
On April 14, Gudger will educate those in attendance about the different aspects of a wolf’s predatory nature.
“I do a question and answer session for most of the time,” he said. “That seems to work best and provides information to cover everyone’s curiosity.”
Gudger does allow people to touch his wolf because he said they are more predictable, in terms of temperament and growling and biting, than dogs are. However, he is emphatic that hybrids, which are a man-made breed that includes mixing dog and wolf bloodlines, as well as rescues, which are wolves that need to be in the wild, are a bad idea for the general public to consider owning.
“I’m not an advocate for people owning wolves, but I have because of my experience and because I have used them to help people understand them better so they are treated with respect in the wild.”
While Gudger’s wolves have lived “a good, easy life,” with the oldest at 15 years, he explained that wolves in the wild typically only live to around age six due to challenges such as disease, parasites and broken bones.
Gudger added that the only reason he is “let into the pack” is because he feeds the wolves around 10 pounds of raw chicken leg quarters once or twice a week.
“They can’t handle dog food. They have to eat raw meat, and they have to gorge on food and then it takes several days for them to digest it.”
Gudger said a highlight of every educational program is for those in attendance to try to get one of his wolves to howl.
Brown explained that NHC plans 10 meetings per calendar year, and seven of the 10 meetings are informative, entertaining or educational in nature as per the organization’s bylaws. The other three are relegated to a fundraiser, a year-end awards program, and a holiday party.
“Most of our presentations are nature related, outdoor enthusiast related, travel related, (members do travelogues of their adventures, for example), or trail related. It’s really wide open. The wolf program had been on our list for a while so we are glad we are able to present it,” said Brown.
For 2022, all general meetings of NHC are being held at 6 p.m. at the library on the second Thursday and the meetings are open to anyone. For more information, visit www.nantahalahikingclub.org.