BYRON, Minn. (FOX47) – 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 Zoo, but on the other side of the fence is one of the zoos most important assets: Naturalist Clarissa Schrooten.
Schrooten’s day begins at 8 a.m. 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 hides 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 is hidden and toys were placed, the wolves are released and make quick work finding the food.
“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.
Schrooten’s job as a naturalist is not just about feeding and cleaning animals, 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. As a wild animal, they in the wild will have to protect themselves. 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 1900’s, the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. They were seen as a predator, as a nuance to a lot of farmers.”
In addition to their more than 30 Minnesota native animals, the Zollman zoo also hosts nearly 50,000 visitors annually.