From otters and owls to lynx and cougars, the Zollman Zoo houses over 30 species of wild animals native to Minnesota. No species may be more distinguished than the Minnesota Grey Wolf.
Cunning and smart, the wolves are headliners at Zollman, but on the other side of the fence is one of the zoos most important assets: Naturalist Clarissa Schrooten.
Clarissa’s day starts at 8 a.m. and begins with diet prepping, gifting the wolves with chicken, beef and even gopher.
Because of their bone crushing teeth, the wolves wait in their very temporary holding space while Clarissa and I hide their food.
"You can put it underneath stuff. You can put it, bury it in the snow," says Schrooten.
"Its their chance to hunt so we try to make it as challenging as possible, cause in the wild it wouldn’t be that easy."
Once the food was hidden and a few toys were placed, the wolves were released. Wasting no time, the wolves make quick work of the food hiding spots, seemingly laughing at me as they chomp on a tasty lunch.
"The best thing that I look for is that they keep looking at the toys, which she keeps scenting out. They found their food, but there was a bit of a challenge there too." Says Schrooten.
Clarissa’s job as a naturalist is not just about feeding and cleaning animals however; it’s about learning their language, sometimes to convey if something’s wrong.
"Being a wild animal, they will let that illness be basically an underlying illness until it’s really bad. Because as a wild animal, they in the wild will have to protect themselves because if they look weak they become a target so they mask it so well and that’s one of the hardest things about this job."
A job that along with caring and providing is also about educating.
"This is the perfect animal to talk about the conservation efforts that have gone for them because Minnesota is one of the only states in the lower 48 that maintain having a wolf population through the mid 1900s, the 1950s, 60s and 70s because they were seen as a predator, as a nuance to a lot of farmers. By having them here and doing what we did to show people their natural behaviors that instills education to people watching across the other side."
In addition to their more than 30 Minnesota native animals, the Zollman zoo also hosts nearly 50,000 visitors annually.