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Atka Extends His Territory to National Geographic’s Headquarters!

Oh the places Atka takes us! Road trips are not uncommon for the Wolf Conservation Center’s education crew. In 2011 Atka traveled to 160 schools, museums, libraries, and more allowing the WCC to extend our mission far beyond the Center’s gates in South Salem, NY. Atka never fails to thrill adults and children alike with his trademark rock star, nonchalant attitude. Normally Atka’s destinations are within an hour or two of his home territory, but every once in a while a special mission calls and Atka, a true road warrior, steps up to the plate. On February 9, Atka and crew travelled to the southern limit of Atka’s range to Washington, DC. Having already appeared on Capitol Hill in previous years, Atka is no stranger to the area. In fact one room within the halls of Congress bears Atka’s signature because in 2007 he marked his territory to the delight of dozens of state representatives. They were carrying on like school children! Last week’s mission was little different from the others. In addition to wowing his fans with his graceful gait and engaging stare, the attendees of this program experienced the event from Atka’s point of view! But let me start from the beginning…

Back in November of 2011, National Geographic’s Kyler Abernathy visited the WCC to test out crittercam collars on Ambassador wolves Atka and Alawa to best prepare for potential use on wild wolves. Crittercam cameras offer researchers an opportunity to observe animal behaviors which often elude human eyes. So far these tools have provided a view in the sometimes secret and mysterious world of many species. The program has supplied valuable data about the private lives of tree kangaroos, humpback whales, Humbolt squid and more.

In order to report all the great crittercam successes, innovations, and plans, to the rest of the National Geographic staffers, Greg Marshall, crittercam inventor, and Kyler invited the WCC team as special guests to National Geographic’s DC headquarters to enhance their presentation. Midway with through the event, the packed hall welcomed Atka. He entered the room with his usual flair. His unchanged behavior was somewhat surprising because for this appearance, he sported a crittercam. The camera hung around his neck and provided a live feed of what the event was like from his point of view. The live video was projected onto a large screen right behind Atka so everyone could behold our beautiful ambassador and see the event from Atka’s perspective at the same time! If Atka caught someone’s gaze, they would see their image right on the screen. The attendees took great interest in the WCC’s work and of course Atka. What was supposed to be a 15 minute talk more than doubled in length in order to answer so many excellent questions. At the event’s end, Atka posed for a photo or two and returned to his van ready for the long return home.

Before the WCC education crew returned to the van, we had the pleasure of meeting a hero of ours, Boyd Matson (we’ll post a pod cast of our participation soon), and we discussed future partnerships with Kyler and Greg involving the elusive Mexican wolves and red wolves at reside at the Center. We all agreed that we must meet again soon! In the meantime, we look forward to hearing about future crittercam endeavors with wild species.

In the coming weeks Kyler will be traveling to the southwest to equip the first wild bird with a crittercam – a California condor! Other crittercam projects are on the horizon too including a mission to help reveal the increasing predation on caribou calves in New Foundland. The crittercam team is working with researchers with the plan to equip many denizens of the northern habitat including with the cameras. Bears, coyotes, eagles, and the caribou themselves, will be collared in hopes of unraveling the mystery behind the prey species’ decline. This is just one example of how the crittercam can prove to be an effective tool in conservation.

We really look forward to continuing our partnership with the crittercam team and are honored to be a part of an operation that could one day allow us to see the world through the eyes of Atka’s wild brothers and sisters.  To read more about the WCC’s adventure to DC, you can read an article in National Geographic’s Explorers Journal here.