CHIPLEY - When Cynthia Watkins and her late husband, Wayne, agreed to care for a wolf rescued from a "cruel, captive situation" nearly 20 years ago, the couple never dreamed their passion for preserving the diminishing species would become a full time effort.
The couple founded Seacrest Wolf Preserve in 1999 and now provide a safe haven for Gray, Arctic, and British Columbian wolves. This week, the newest generation of pups are joining the pack - one male and three female Gray wolves, born in mid-April.
"They are our baby ambassadors," said Cynthia Watkins. "We want humans and wolves to connect in nature for educational purposes. Wolves are often misunderstood. Old myths about this majestic animal led to them being eradicated in Europe and to people not understanding their importance to eco-systems."
"Wolves are so amazingly human," she added. "They know every emotion we do: love, family connection - they need each other just like we do."
Seacrest is one of the few place in the world where visitors can interact with wolves - pure bred wolves, not wolf and dog blends - rather than just view them through a fence or glass enclosure.
"The pups go through a very profound imprinting process," said Watkins. "At ten days old, we had them humanely removed from their mother and began the process of getting them accustomed to human smells and sounds."
In addition to educating the general public, Seacrest has made a name for itself in the scientific community, with licensed facilities all over the world requesting Seacrest-bred pups.
"We get a lot of requests, but very few are granted," said Watkins. "We have very high standards, and if you are going to breed a wild species to live inside a fence, you better have a good reason to do so."
Two notable U.S. facilities to have Seacrest-bred wolves are the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Divide, Colorado and Lakota Wolf Preserve in Columbia, New Jersey.
Watkins worries that the wolf's future is not secure - and by extension, that of mankind.
"Wolves in the lower 48 face a bleak future because of their removal and delisting from the Endangered Species Act by Congress in 2011, as well as further removal of laws that protect them from human abuse, persecution and death by the governors of the few states in the northeast and northwest where they are allowed to live," she said. "This has given wolves a death sentence that will surely drive them to extinction if these agendas continue. The federal delisting of the wolves by Congress and removing them out from under the federal umbrella of protection of the Endangered Species Act has placed this important keystone species in extreme peril. It has also set into play a destructive agenda that powerful entities have taken to the state levels where wolves are allowed to live in the lower 48. There, the governors of these states, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have joined the effort of these powerful entities to remove the remaining protection from America's wild wolves. Anti-Wolf entities are now empowered to shoot, snare, murder, and trap America's wild wolves through outrageously cruel and heinous methods that were once against the law."
Watkins goes on to urge the public to watch "How Wolves Changed Rivers" to better understand how the misunderstood predator affects the larger scheme of the ecosystem.
"It's time people learn to respect the wolf," said Watkins. "God does not make mistakes, and every species is something God created for the circle of life. All of these threads of life are woven into a tapestry, and each life is a thread. We need to remember that life outside of ourselves is simply an extension of the life within us."
Seacrest Wolf Preserve is located at 3449 Bonnett Pond Road in Chipley and can be reached by calling (850) 773-2897.