Can so-called "natural enemies" -- wild bears, wolves and mountain lions -- live together as friends? Or, will they fight, maim or kill each other? A very special wildlife park shares an "unbelievable" story about how one member of a group can transform the consciousness of a whole community. In this case, the one was an Arizona gray wolf.
"Your Friends are Wild, Dude!"
On the dusty outskirts of Camp Verde, Arizona, an eclectic assortment of wild animals live at "Out of Africa" (www.outofafricapark.com). This wild beast and reptile sanctuary is host to large predatory cats such as lions, tigers, cougars, leopards plus a menagerie of other wild creatures including 16 foot pythons, ancient tortoises, exotic birds and giant lizards. This extraordinary educational center enthralls audiences with live interactions between wild animals and people. In some animal encounters, audience members are invited to spontaneously pet and play with the critters. "We wanted to do things in a non-traditional way," states founder, Dean Harrison. "Our objectives focused on co-existing with the wildest of all large land predators. At the park we work hard to teach kindness to all the cats, so that when they grow up and a hierarchy develops, the ruler will be a benevolent one."
Close to the Heart
Dean and his wife, Prayeri, often share a bed with some of the large furry felines who can weigh over 600 pounds. The trusting couple never carry any weapons or physical means of defense. The results of this intimate connection are countless incidences of these creatures exhibiting intelligent, caring behavior towards the Harrisons. (You can read about a heart-stopping encounter involving Dean, a black panther named Eclipse, and a lioness called Sahara, at www.outofafricapark.com/oldhtml/wild.html.) Soon Dean and Prayeri discovered that their own benevolent style of living and playing with lions and tigers -- species other than their own -- influenced other species that are not usually best friends. Remarkably, several "natural adversaries" in the park opened to the idea of living together peacefully.
Trust Is Contagious
Acting on an intuitive vision, Dean decided to put three of the most competitive "natural enemies" in the state of Arizona into the same fenced outdoor living space. At first, these adolescent wild animals -- four mountain lions, four Arizona gray wolves and four Arizona black bears -- were scared and hostile towards each other. They attacked each other. They roared ferociously at each other. Each group claimed their own area inside their compound and did not trespass into another group's territory. However, after days of warning attacks, hostile posturing and growling, something remarkable happened. It only takes one to break new ground.
Dangerously alone, the female wolf pack leader left the safety of her group and sauntered into the territory claimed by the mountain lions. She lay down and rolled over onto her back in a deliberate, submissive posture in front of the four lions. The gray wolf exposed her throat and stomach to her enemies, totally vulnerable to injury or even death. Cautiously, the juvenile cats approached the she-wolf. The process of sniffing and careful investigation took quite a while. Eventually the gigantic felines and lone wolf began playing together. Before long, the rest of the wolf pack completed the newly formed frisky alliance.
After successfully breaking through the boundaries of the mountain lions, the furry gray peacemaker intruded into the territory of the bears. Repeating the same unprecedented behavior, the female lobo lay down and opened herself to the four black beasts. Once again, after a lengthy getting acquainted period, the bears and wolf began to frolic. Soon, the other wolves joined in.
Play Catches On
Eventually all three "natural enemies" overcame their programmed instincts to remain separate and hostile. The young lions, wolves and bears are an inspiring demonstration of how "natural enemies" can alter their consciousness and change their relationships in order to live and play in harmony.