CHIPLEY – Tragedy beget tragedy as Chaco, the wolf missing from the Seacrest Wolf Preserve since April 30, was put down by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers late on the evening of May 4.
According to Stan Kirkland, FWC Regional Media Officer, the commission received a call from preserve owner Cynthia Watkins Thursday, May 1, informing them one of their wolves had gone missing after flooding created a mudslide that ripped through the middle of the 15-acre preserve.
Kirkland said they received a call Friday, May 2 reporting the wolf had been spotted near Wausau. Kirkland also said another report was made the following evening that Chaco was spotted back at the preserve; however, Watkins was unable to place a collar on him.
By May 3, FWC officers were still unsuccessful in capturing Chaco with "live traps" baited with hamburger, venison and dog food, according to Kirkland.
Late on the evening of Sunday, May 4, FWC officers received a call from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) informing them an investigator spotted Chaco near Roulhac Middle School in Chipley.
“We responded with several people at sundown, and it was then they made the decision to euthanize the wolf, knowing that the children would be returning to school on Monday morning,” said Kirkland. “We were retrieving the carcass for Mrs. Watkins when we had to assist with another wolf who was trying to get back into the enclosure. We were able to get the wolf safely back into the enclosure without harm.”
Kirkland went on to say the Seacrest Wolf Preserve is a Class 2 Facility and permitted for wolves, which are a Class 2 species. He also stated the facility is currently under investigation but would not disclose the nature of that investigation.
Meanwhile, Watkins says she doesn't know why the preserve would be under investigation and calls Sunday’s event was a "blatant act of murder".
"This tragedy of the killing of Chaco is totally unjustified and unconscionable," said Watkins. "It could have been prevented if the proper agencies had worked with integrity and humane goals with the Seacrest owners."
“We’re struggling hour by hour to keep the wolves fed while fixing the enclosures,” said Watkins. “We’re also shocked and devastated by the murder of Chaco by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They lied to us. Knowing he was headed toward Chipley, they told us he was seen coming back to the preserve (in the opposite direction) and that we should put out bait to lure him back in.”
Watkins said someone living on Pioneer Road spotted the wolf and wanted to call the preserve. Because he couldn’t find the number, he contacted both the WCSO and the FWC for the preserve's contact information. According to Watkins’ account of the man’s story, and both agencies told him they didn’t have the preserve’s contact information.
“They murdered him intentionally, telling us to come back to the preserve to bait him back in knowing he was headed north,” alleged Watkins. “They refused to catch him humanly and lied, saying they had a live trap borrowed from the Red Wolf Preserve. When we got him back, we could clearly see it was a text-book kill - right through the heart, which means he was standing still when they took the shot and not running away like they said he was.”
Watkins also said the preserve has been receiving calls from across the nation from outraged wolf enthusiasts and wildlife conservationists.
"I'd like to share the incident's FWC case number, FWNW140FF4545, for anyone else interested in taking a stand," said Watkins.
Watkins said there is a positive note to the story, however. Forrest, the wolf previously thought to be left dead by the mudslide, was the wolf Kirkland stated was attempting to reenter the preserve. Forrest was reported to be visibly thinner from hunger but is expected to make a full recovery.
Watkins said the facility is still in desperate need of donations, including manpower, supplies and monetary donations, due to the thousands of dollars in damage caused by the mudslide.
Volunteers from all around have been working day and night to repair the damage, which is estimated to be around $50,000. Watkins stressed the preserve is relying on the generosity and compassion of volunteers to donate time, man-power, supplies and money to the cause.
“We will still be open for tours on Saturday,” said Watkins. “We’ve repaired the visiting area, and our ambassadors are up for visitors. Because we are completely non-profit, this is the only way we will be able to raise the money needed to repair the damage; through donations and tours.”
In addition to monetary donations, the preserve is in need of fencing and laborers. Materials needed include fencing measuring around 10 feet tall and 11 and 1/2 gauge fencing, which is the strongest gauge of fence, fencing posts, claps, wire, logs, rocks, dirt and concrete. Labor volunteers should be adapted to heavy labor because there are rocks and debris needed to be moved and removed .
Anyone interested in making a monetary donation can mail a check to: Seacrest Wolf Preserve; 3449 Bennett Pond Rd.; Chipley, Florida 32428 or donate through their website via PayPal at http://seacrestwolfpreserve.org/howtohelp.php.