The eldest member of a wolf pack that was a fixture at the Alaska Zoo for millions of visitors has died.
Windy, age 16, was the last surviving member of a group of six wolf pups taken in by the Anchorage facility 16 years ago. The organization announced the news on its Facebook Monday.
“They came in 2006, so they were family members here,” said Patrick Lampi, the zoo’s executive director. “I think most of us feel they were the some of the best ambassador species here we’ve ever had.”
Lampi said that between locals and tourists visiting the zoo over the years, as well as online education and outreach by the organization, the wolves “impacted well over 3 million people,” and this final departure marks the end of an era for the institution.
The six pups were orphaned in Interior Alaska, and named — for the most part — after fixtures along the Iditarod Trail: Rohn, Ruby, Denali, Nikolai, Windy and ... Lucky.
“That one, I’m not sure,” Lampi said.
The animals were good-tempered, he recalled, and superb species specimens for correcting common misconceptions about wild wolves.
“There’s very few documented cases of a wolf actually attacking people. Usually they like to keep to themselves,” Lampi said of the gray wolves local to Alaska. “So many stories and movies over the years give wolves a very bad name.”
A wild wolf will generally survive between five and 10 years. All but one from the zoo’s pack lived to 13 or older. The zoo said in a comment on its Facebook post that Windy’s death “was expected at her age.”
For now, the zoo has no firm plans to acquire new wolves, but is examining all of its options.
Lampi had just transitioned from an animal curator to the organization’s leader in 2006 when the Interior wolves arrived. He said it was impossible for anyone to work there without encountering them on their daily walks with handlers or hearing them howling in unison at the sky.
“It leaves a hole in the zoo right now, and in our hearts, because they were such a vibrant part of the zoo staff’s lives. And that ranges not just from husbandry and education, but to administration and maintenance. Everybody here had an experience with the wolves and appreciated them,” he said.
“We all felt really fortunate to share their lives,” Lampi said. “A lot of tears were shed.”