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Bays Mountain's wolf expert learns more about animals during week at Yellowstone

Matthew Lane • Nov 18, 2018 at 7:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Rhonda Goins, a naturalist at Bays Mountain who oversees the socialization of the park’s new wolves, recently spent a week at Yellowstone National Park with the Wolf Tracker company.

Wolf Tracker was created more than a decade ago and is Yellowstone’s premier wildlife guiding service. Since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in the ’90s, Wolf Tracker has been on the ground tracking and observing them, providing guides for hundreds of guests throughout the year.

The Times News recently talked to Goins about her October trip, what she learned and how she plans to use that information at Bays Mountain Park for its guests.

How did the trip come about?

“About a year ago, Father Michael (Cummins) of St Dominic (Catholic Parish) went out there and said he was going to make another trip. He asked me to go and the Wolf Tracker people at Yellowstone invited me out there at no cost to me.

“I taught two classes and I learned a lot. I shared what our wolves were with them and they shared about their wolves. And I got to go out for four days in a row and see native wolves in the wild and hear them howl. It was just an amazing trip.”

Who went on the trip?

“Just regular people who were interested in wolves and their behavior. I was asked to go because I knew about wolves.

“The Wolf Tracker people said ... there’s a lot of groups in Yellowstone tracking wolves all the time, and this group we stayed with, there were 11 people. We got in a van at 6 a.m. each morning, we’d eat on the way, and we spotted wolves in 18 degree temperatures. We also saw grizzly and black bears, golden eagle, sheep, bison, moose and elk.”

What did you talk about?

“We got to hear from Yellowstone officials and graduate students, and I got to share about our wolves with them. They were amazed with what we do here. I talked about what we do to socialize our wolves to humans, how to deal with the public, babies and obnoxious people.

“There was a young man there getting his master’s in animal behavior, talking about how wolves behave and disperse. Boys do, but girls don’t when they’re breeding. If (wolves are) going away from the pack it’ll be at 2 to 3 years old, and they only live four to five years in the wild if they’re lucky. Ours live 13 or 14 years.”

It sounds like the trip was a continuing education trip?

“It was, because where do we go to learn about wolves? We don’t. People come here to learn about wolves. I went last year to Wolf Park, and to go there for a couple of days, to see how wolves act just reiterated my education.

“They want me to come back next year and spend the whole summer with them, to do some studying. I would love it, but I’ve got to work, so I don’t know. I’d love to spend two to three weeks there and learn more about the way of the wild.”

How will Kingsport residents benefit from the trip?

“I do many wolf programs and whatever I learned out there will go into my programs. I can say (what I’ve learned) because I’ve seen it. You can quote a book or the Internet all day long, but when you’ve seen it with your own eyes, it’s a whole lot different.”

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