The $1.4 million Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness Exhibit opened today at the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, giving its new inhabitants — a male gray wolf named Kaskapahtew (Kaska), and a female gray wolf named Waziyata (Wazi) — the chance to explore their new home for the first time.
“There’s no such thing as the big bad wolf,” says Ron Kagan, executive director and CEO of the Detroit Zoological Society, the nonprofit organization that operates the zoo. “I think all of this will help people understand that wolves are wonderful, and hopefully they’ll understand that they’re important.”
The 2-acre exhibit contains features that are similar to the natural habit of the wolves, who last lived at the Minnesota Zoo, such as: grassy meadows, trees, a pond, a den, and an elevated slope the wolves can climb on. Although there are only two wolves now, the Detroit Zoo hopes that Kaska, 5, whose name means “smoke” in Lakota, and Wazi, 7, whose name means “north” in Lakota, will one day mate.
“I think the main decision is that we knew that we could create a really terrific place for them,” Kagan says. “Part of it is also connected to what has been happening with wolf conservation in the wild and in the states with delisting of wolves from the endangered species act.”
Located at the southwest corner of the zoo, the exhibit was built in part with a $500,000 donation from Sherry and David Cotton. The Cotton’s previously helped build the Cotton Family Wetlands and Boardwalk exhibit, and received an award for their contributions to the zoo at the opening of the wolf exhibit today.
“It’s just beyond what I thought it could be, it’s just so exciting to see them here it brings tears to my eyes,” says Sherry Cotton. “To watch them run around and explore their area, and play in the water…they’re just so happy here.”
Accompanying the wolf exhibit is a temporary gallery displaying 21 photographs from a National Geographic wolf exploration in Idaho. The gallery will be open until October 2015.
In honor of the new exhibit, the Detroit Zoo is offering free admission today to anybody whose name contains the word “wolf,” or any variation of it.