Thursday, April 30, 2009

Alaskan Grey Wolf visits Prince Albert

Working in a small town tourism bureau can present a few challenges. When trainee tourism officer Annelien Minnies got a call on Day One of her new job, she was stumped.

“I’m looking for accommodation for myself and two pets. One dog. One wolf”.
Annelien hadn’t quite … uhm, resolved the issue yet, when the visitor arrived in town, went straight to the bureau and inquired briskly where he would be staying. Annelien’s calls to various guesthouses which might offer the ideal wolverine accommodation had so far drawn a blank.

“A dog and a WHAT? … mmm. Sorry we don’t take wolves.”

What ensued was what we shall term a small flurry. The visitor was one of Cape Town’s top tourism figures, Carl Momberg, and Carl was accustomed to things running rather more smoothly. This was his first visit to Prince Albert and an “official” visit at that.
Carl, a long-time consultant to the developers of the V&A Waterfront among numerous other hospitality and travel ventures, now owns and operates the highly successful Cape Tourism website

He had chosen Prince Albert as the launching pad for a 3-month South African road odyssey with a dog and a wolf, rather in the style of John Steinbeck’s
1960s trans-American ‘Travels with Charley’. Except that Steinbeck’s travelling companion was a standard chocolate poodle, and he was travelling with his own accommodation in the form of a luxurious, well-equipped motorhome.

Fortunately a swift call to Merle Cleaver elegantly untangled the problem and accommodation was found at Jackie Burger’s Kanniedood cottage.

Half an hour later, settled in my patio with a cold beer in hand to help catch up with 20-odd years of backlog, Carl told me Akela’s story.

Nine years ago, just as Cape Nature Conservation called a halt to wolf breeding and owning, Carl adopted Akela, a pure-bred grey wolf from a Canadian immigrant couple whose bitch had had a litter of two pups. Special dispensation was granted and so the story of his long and fascinating relationship with a “wild” animal began.

Meeting the noble, elegant and oh-so-ladylike Akela it was hard to imagine her in her natural habitat with an (unde-served) reputation as a feared predator.

But, Carl admits that living with a wolf is a never-ending challenge. You need to be one step ahead of them all the time – but more often, they’re ahead of you. They’re inquisitive, can be spiteful when they don’t get their own way, demanding, aloof and are all supremely intelligent.

In the wild, wolves mate or bond for life and in Akela’s little family, Carl is her dominant male and Kenya, the male brindle staffie, a lower-ranking pack member.

As Akela’s “alpha male” and pack leader, Carl can seldom leave her alone – she will either find a way to get to him or if thwarted, wreak considerable havoc to her surroundings.

When Akela was six months old she’d already learnt to open the fridge door and help herself. When the fridge was locked, she’d simply turn the padlock key with her teeth and Carl frequently saw whole chickens and other snacks flying past out of the door. She also loves apples and raw olives straight off the tree.

Wolves are playful and can very successfully be socialised with other dogs. Akela makes friends with women and children but very rarely lets men touch her. She just quietly backs off. She is also an outrageous flirt, and fancies labradors and retrievers most of all.

Part of Akela’s job when at home in Hout Bay, is to visit schools with Carl, where children have the opportunity to meet an Alaskan Grey Wolf in “person”. We have invited Carl to come back to Prince Albert as our guest any time, and perhaps he can be persuaded to do the same here.

For more about “Travels with Akela” log onto, where you can also check out the link to his arrival Prince Albert at the start of the journey

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