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The Wolf at Okinawa City Zoo has new companions

Date Posted: 2004-11-12

The wolf at the Children’s Kiddie Land at the Okinawa City Zoo has some new friends.

A group of volunteers backing Okinawa ZAP (Zoo Action Project) has embarked on an effort to have Kei, the North American timber wolf, sent to America to live out her remaining few years of life. A wolf sanctuary nestled in the Rocky Mountains that has already agreed to accept her.

Mission Wolf, run by Kent Weber, has agreed to allow Kei, the North American timber wolf at Kodomo no Kuni, to stay in a spacious enclosure with natural settings. Nearby, Kei will be in the company of other wolves and will never face the isolation that she has had living for years at Okinawa’s zoo. Greg Leisure, organizer of the “Campaign to Bring Kei Home”, says, “Wolves are highly social animals, and when kept in isolation they are deprived of the mental stimulation that is a part of what makes them what they are. They therefore suffer. It would please all of us if Kei could once again experience the moonlight howling parties of her species.”

Loosely based on the movie “Free Willy” and the subsequent actual return of Keiko the whale to the freedom of the seas, ZAP members hope to be able to free Kei from her constant pacing on the cement small enclosure that has been her home for 15 years. Campaign organizers say that her constant pacing is a classic symptom well known throughout the zoo community as zoo stress. This is often brought on by little socialization, no mental stimulation, and irregular sounds from screaming or taunting visitors. “It saddens us to see one of North America’s greatest creatures reduced to such a pathetic state. It is our goal to give her a retirement with dignity that she has earned and is most worthy of.”

Zoo officials have told ZAP organizers that the zoo is at the beginning of a nine-year plan to reform its facilities. Kei's enclosure however is slated for completion in the final years of the plan. ZAP organizers feel that with Kei’s advanced age, she would never live to see her new enclosure and would only know the touch of hard concrete under her pacing paws for her whole life. “Our thought is, if we can’t bring a better environment to Kei, then we should strive to bring Kei to a better environment,” Greg Leisure concluded.

Kei’s retirement and her trip to America still has some hurdles to overcome. City and zoo officials are still reluctant to give Kei passage to America, citing what they feel is Kei’s main purpose for being -- allowing Okinawan children the continued opportunity of seeing a live wolf.

Those interested in getting involved in the “Campaign to Bring Kei Home” or to support the costs of sending her back through the “Friends of Kei” fund, should contact Okinawa ZAP via their home page www.okinawazap.com.

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