Nearly thirty years ago, Darlene Kobobel rescued a wolf-dog hybrid named Chinook in Lake George, Colorado. She says she grew up afraid of wolves, but after hearing that Chinook would be put down just for her mixed breed breed, she knew she had to save them.
She soon realized she needed to do more for other endangered wolf hybrids and founded the Wolf Hybrid Rescue Center. As this work continued, Kobobel realized that many species of canids, including wolves and dogs, were threatened with extinction and that the best way to protect them was to educate people about the animals.
In 2002, Kobobel transformed the Wolf Hybrid Rescue Center into the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, home to seventeen canids representing four breeds, including gray wolves, coyotes, foxes, and wild dogs, on 20 acres in Divide. The center has partnered with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Save Animals from Extinction (SAFE) program and hosts daily tours of the facility.
“We are an eternal home for animals that cannot go into the wild because they were raised by humans,” says Erika Moore, deputy director and chief animal care officer at CWWC.
Starting today, September 21, visitors to the center can see another breed: the rare red wolf. Two 10-year-old red wolves, Shawnee and Van Gogh, have joined the center after retiring from the breeding program for the species at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas.
“In the wild, ten years would actually be considered very old for a wolf,” says Moore. “They contributed their genetics to the red wolf population and now they’re basically coming into their retirement home at the center.”
There are about twenty red wolves left in the wild along the North Carolina coast; The species used to roam part of the Middle East, from Virginia to Texas and below. Shawnee and Van Gogh are Colorado’s first red wolves, and the CWWC is the only facility in the state that can accommodate them under the US Fish and Wildlife Code.
The SAFE program coordinates the housing of endangered animals with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. To add the red wolves to its menagerie, CWWC invested $35,000 and about a year renovating an old pens, replacing the fences it uses for most of its pens with chicken wire, and building an overhang to prevent escapes. US Fish and Wildlife wants to make sure one of the last red wolves left in the world doesn’t go missing.
Red wolves, along with the gray wolves that will soon be reintroduced to Colorado, serve the same function as a key species: they balance the ecosystem by regulating prey species. Kobobel was a supporter of Proposition 114, which narrowly passed in 2020 and directs the state to reintroduce wolves by 2023. In addition to helping write the proposition, she participated in the Stakeholder Advisory Group convened by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to consider the department’s reintroduction plan, which will be presented in December.
“There are so few of them left and so few people are even aware of these animals,” says Moore. “We decided it was a really good opportunity for us to be voices for this endangered species.”
The Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center is located at 4729 Twin Rocks Road in Divide; it is open Tuesday through Sunday and reservations are required for tours ) $25 for adults during peak season and $20 off peak season; $15 for children under twelve). Learn more here.