Throughout history, wolves have been perceived by humans as a threat. They’ve been blamed for the disappearance of livestock, depicted as the “bad guy” in fairytales, and mercilessly hunted and driven from their homes.
The American wolf population only occupies around ten percent of its former range due to the destruction of its natural habitat and persecution by humans.
Wolves certainly have gotten a bad rap, but a conservation center in Salem is trying to change all that.
So, they enlisted an adorable pup to help.
Wolf Conservation Center in Salem, New York, is home to around 41 wolves that will eventually be released back into the wild.
Besides wolf rehabilitation programs, the center also aims to educate the public about this woefully misunderstood animal.
Their Ambassador Wolf program enables them to teach around 40,000 people (mostly children) a year about wolves and their ecological and cultural significance.
But the first step to conservation is education – they do this by dispelling stereotypes and common perceptions about wolves.
Instead of reinforcing the perception that wolves are mindless killing machines, the center introduces socialized wolves to students and highlights their true characteristics.
In fact, wolves are social animals with complex family networks. They are astonishingly loyal and devoted to their pack – much like us humans.
Although they are said to kill livestock, healthy wild wolves are only responsible for around one percent of these.
Nikai, a grey wolf who was raised at the Wolf Conservation Center, is an important part of the Wolf Ambassador program. His name means “Little Saint” or “One Who Wanders,” and fostering a love for wolves is what he does best – who couldn’t love that adorable face?!
He is seven years old now, but he is a bit of an internet celebrity thanks to some adorable videos that went viral when he was just a pup.
For Nikai to become a good Wolf Ambassador, he needed to be properly socialized from a young age to ensure that his interactions with people and other animals would be predictable.
Both dogs and wolves need to socialize with their littermates to learn appropriate behavior. In fact, a dog’s “playtime” plays a more important role than you’d think!
Enter Faye, an adorable border collie pup.
At thirteen weeks old, the center hoped that she could show little Nikai the ropes… quite literally!
“The two cute canids met up so that Nikai could benefit from socializing with another puppy,” they wrote. “Faye is a perfect date for him- patient, intelligent and boundlessly energetic – she likes to control the toys, but she constantly engages Nikai and is completely comfortable roughhousing with him.”
But when the two pups met for the first time, nobody really knew what to expect.
In the first video in the “playdate” series on Wolf Conservation Center’s YouTube channel, Nikai slowly approaches Faye. Both pups are unsure at first, but then they begin to wag their tails.
The introduction was a success! Soon after, the puppies become fast friends.
Prepare for cuteness overload…
“It took a little while, but Nikai, a 9-week-old wolf pup, started to get the hang of playing with Faye, a 13-week-old Border Collie, toward the end of their first playdate. It’s easy to see that Faye is definitely controlling the games, though!” Wolf Conservation Center explains in the video description.
The video went viral and has more than four million views to date.
But, as Nikai and Faye grew more comfortable with each other, there were more adorable moments to come.
Faye initially doesn’t like to share her plushies. But eventually, she trusts little Nikai enough to let him play with them, too. Naturally, the first lesson in Puppy 101 is tug-of-war!
Throughout the videos, Faye teaches Nikai all the important lessons learned during puppy play – skills like sharing resources, reading cues, play-fighting, and bonding.
While the internet absolutely loves their antics, these videos are important for another reason.
“Today, as an Ambassador wolf, Nikai helps WCC wolves Atka, Zephyr, and Alawa (other ambassador wolves) open the door to understanding the importance and plight of their wild kin. No longer a pup, Nikai has become a powerful presence in the fight to preserve wolves’ rightful place in the environment,” Wolf Conservation Center wrote.
These viral videos were shot back in 2014 but they continue to get traction – which can only be a good thing for wolves around the world!
We have a duty to protect wolves – for the environment, for ourselves, and because they deserve to be saved.
To learn more about Nikai and the Ambassador Wolves program, you can here.
To see Nikai the wolf cub get “schooled” by Faye the border collie, watch the video below.
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