Most people are probably able to conjure the sound of a howling wolf. Whether you've heard a wolf howl in real life or as part of the soundtrack to a spooky movie, the sound of howling is ubiquitously associated with wolves in the dark, dusky midnight. But did you also know that several species of wolves are precariously endangered because of human activity, and that despite our perceptions of wolves, these animals usually avoid humans as much as possible?

For as long as there have been stories, wolves have appeared in human folklore as mysterious – and unfortunately, menacing – creatures. In Greek mythology, King Lycaon of Arcadia became one of the first werewolves when he turned into a wolf because he tried to feed Zeus human flesh in an offering (ick). The Big Bad Wolf that ate Little Red Riding Hood comes from a French story first written in the 1600s.

According to National Geographic, wolves nearly became extinct in the early days of the continental U.S. Settlers traveling west wiped out deer, elk and bison populations, which left wolves without their usual prey. As a result, wolves turned to cattle, pigs and other livestock for food. This made them targets for trappers and hunters. By the mid 1930s, wolves were almost completely exterminated from the U.S. Some species have disappeared completely. To this day, the red wolf remains one of the most endangered species on the planet. Only 35 red wolves remain alive in the wild.

Located about 90 minutes from Springfield, in Eureka, Mo., The Endangered Wolf Center aims to preserve and protect Mexican wolves, red wolves and other wild canine species. The center does so with purpose and passion, through carefully managed breeding, reintroduction and inspiring education programs.

Founded in 1971 by Marlin and Carol Perkins, along with others, the Endangered Wolf Center developed initiatives and sought funding to manage breeding programs, inspire educational programs, and ultimately release capable wolves into their native habitats. Today, every Mexican gray wolf in the wild and 70% of the red wolves now roaming free in North Carolina can trace his or her roots back to the Endangered Wolf Center.

Spurred by my younger son's love for wolves and other canids, my family and I took the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Endangered Wolf Center over spring break. We spent an hour with an extraordinarily knowledgeable guide who kept my sons interested as we saw the wolves, foxes and painted dogs that the Center cares for and protects. Although the animals are housed at the center, they do not interact much with the humans that look after them. This ensures that the animals learn not to depend on humans, so that they can ultimately be released back into the wild and increase the overall wolf population for future generations. The center is a truly remarkable resource in our region, and it's worth a day trip this summer.

In addition to guided tours, the center offers opportunities for summer day camp, field trips, animal encounters, yoga in the woods and evening wolf howls. My family and I hope to head back to the center this summer for an evening opportunity to howl by a campfire, and we hope the wolves will return our call.

Pamela Savage is a freelance writer living in Springfield. She and her family enjoyed touring Missouri's Endangered Wolf Center last month. The center can be found on the web at

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