Many people get wolves as pets but abandon them when they discover they are not like dogs. Picture: SUPPLIED
Many people get wolves as pets but abandon them when they discover they are not like dogs. Picture: SUPPLIED

There should be no need for a wolf sanctuary in SA, but many have been imported and rejected by their owners. The animals are idealised for their prestigious top ranking in the Canidae family (which includes dogs) but their potential as guards or companions is seldom matched by reality. A wolf has a very different nature from a dog.

The Garden Route Wolf Sanctuary opened its doors 16 years ago and continues to receive animals and provide a refuge for them.

Animal manager Santie Prinsloo says most of the rescues are directly from owners of wolves, or the sanctuary is tipped off by people who see wolves advertised or being given away. "We get e-mails or calls weekly about wolves that are being sold on social media and we will investigate," she says.

"Sadly, there is no help from the government. Conservation is not very high on our government’s priority list and for non-transferable residents — as wolves are classified in SA — even less."

Wolves make useless watchdogs. They are not aggressive and are very high maintenance

The wolves at the sanctuary cannot be returned to their natural habitats in the northern hemisphere because they have adapted to SA’s climate. Their fur has thinned and changed colour to such an extent that they are unlikely to survive in their original habitats for lack of insulation and camouflage. They would also not be able to compete with already established wild packs.

Few rescue organisations in SA have the resources to look after a wolf, says Prinsloo. "A lot of the rescue organisations will put wolves or wolf dogs to sleep if they get them, as they are not pets. We will go and fetch them or fly them here if possible.

Wild Animals

"Legislation on wolves and wolf dogs varies. In the Western Cape you need a permit as they classify them as wolf dogs. In the Eastern Cape, however, you need a permit to keep a wolf.

"A wolf cannot be a pet, it will always be a wild animal. They have a strict social bond and are pack animals. They are not guard dogs as they are not aggressive by nature. They rather avoid confrontations.

"They are super intelligent and cannot be trained. They have free will — almost like a cat — and some people see that as naughty and stubborn.

"We and other places like us will exist as long as people think it is their right or cool to have a wild animal as a pet."

The National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act of 2004 put in place protections for "various species that are vulnerable or threatened". It "provides the authority for consolidating fragmented biodiversity legislation in the country through the establishment of national norms and standards specific to certain particularly vulnerable animals".

The legislation affords rights primarily to zoos and sanctuaries protecting vulnerable or endangered animals, with tourism and international conservation agreements also allowing wild tigers from Asia to be kept in SA. The Animal Protection Act only stipulates the actions that warrant penalties for cruelty to animals but does not regulate private ownership of wild animals by screening people for eligibility.

Larry Wayne Paul of the Husky Romi Rescue and Wolf Sanctuary in the Free State, which shelters more than 200 huskies and wolves, says most of the wolves they have were bred in zoos, and all the wolves in SA were bred in captivity.

"We receive three calls a month to come and collect wolves, and we most recently collected some from a woman in Vanderbijlpark who was breeding wolves as pets," Paul says.

Like the breeding of protected species of big cats such as lion, leopard and cheetah, wolf breeding is not exclusively intended for pet ownership.

"Wolves are subject to the canned hunting trade. And if a rescued wolf is brought in to the SPCA, it will receive instant euthanasia because it is not an indigenous species," says Paul.

Animal welfare journalist Josie Turner says intentional breeding between wolves and dogs began in the 18th century, when the British bred what was then known as a Pomeranian.

The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals warns that "cross-breeding a wolf and a dog counteracts 12,000 years of domestication, which is why they cannot be classified as dog breeds and are not recognised as such by any dog foundation".

Paul says he cannot think of one reason anybody would want a wolf as a pet. "Wolves make absolutely useless watchdogs. They are not aggressive and, like huskies, they are very high maintenance. After nine months of the garden and house being destroyed, people don’t want them anymore," he adds.