Nora Gruber

September 2014 – März 2015

Ever since I can remember I had only one passion: Animals. And if there was a king of all animals it would be the wolf. I admire him for every way he resembles us and for every way he differs from us. Thus my answer to the question “What do you want to do after school?” was always the same: “Something with wolves.” And even if this is a rather unusual dream I am well aware that many people share it. I am certainly not the first intern to be here for the love I bear for those amazing animals and I certainly won't be the last. However I was quite surprised how many people come here who are interested in animals in general though not in wolves in particular. They are from various different fields. And yet you meet so many like-minded people and I can't help myself but having to admit – as much as I love the animals – it was mainly the people making the past six months to one of the best experiences in my life. 

Other than most people I am here for a none-scientific internship as an animal caretaker. Why? The simple answer is: I am 18 and just recently graduated from high school. The decision not to immediately start with my studies but first going out into the wider world to grow up was one of my best and I was unbelievably lucky to end up here. The work as keeper includes 8 hours per day five days per week and every task one could possibly imagine. From assistance in all other projects (many awesome and miscellaneous impressions), touristic tasks (Paid-Walks are great!), cleaning duties (no comment), food preparation (you need a strong stomach), animal training (everyone here knows so much about it you can really learn a lot) or whatever else is needed. Animal Care of course is the first thing in the morning and I always enjoyed the peaceful first hours of the day being alone with the animals. It truly elates me and fills me with overwhelming joy to see the otherwise shy animals come to trust you and a mutual sympathy accrues because human and animal learn to glimpse behind the curtain and recognize each other.

You learn a wide variety of different things as building stable and heat-able shelters, chopping of a deer, knowing the animals’ body language by heart, how to survive the cold, that not only language barriers can lead to communication issues and how to overcome both, walking pack dogs, how a vasectomy works, why there always have to be two persons for a wolf walk, that there is bad weather indeed but that you can compensate a fair bit with good clothing or in which angle you have to throw a chicken so it flies over and not against the electric fence. Furthermore, you learn a lot about cognitive and social behaviour in wolves, dogs and humans. A couple of exceptional months lie behind me and I am pretty sure it won't be the last time I come to visit our big motley crew here at the Wolf Science Centre. 

I didn't even need two days to learn the names of the wolves. Three for the dogs. At the beginning you pay attention to size, fur colour or features. Later you begin to recognize the animals based on their behaviour, body language, facial expression and gesture. Then the character takes centre stage. The personalities at the WSC are so numerous as our animals are. Hence, we have shy, careful wolves like Una or impulsive daredevils like Amarok. We have intelligent, observant wolves like Yukon or characterful, assertive ones like Kaspar. Yet one of them impressed me more than all others.

Most people who are coming here say Geronimo is our most beautiful wolf due to his undeniable grace, his strength, his wolf-typical coat pattern and his magnificent fur. I say, he is the most beautiful one because of his character. Of all our alpha wolves he has the best way to handle pack members. He is confident enough to not always dominate everyone and independent enough to stay away from strangers. And there is something knowing in his look, a prudence that goes beyond mere timidity. It takes a lot to earn his trust, but once you have gotten that, you can see how the amber of his eyes gets softer as he is looking at you and you know he has approved you. 

I am no scientist and will probably never be. I am very young and I am aware of it. Yet, I know one thing: You need the courage to do what makes you happy and you need the will to chase your dreams. Well, and if those dreams are dreams of wolves, the best place to start is right here.