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Choctaw is the father of the wolves that will be born on camera later this spring. Listen carefully and you just might hear him burp.

Wolf babies, live on camera

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If everything goes according to plan, Terri Petter's dream will become a reality this summer.

Four years ago Petter started building Wolves Woods and Wildlife, a nonprofit organization that uses animals to teach lessons about nature and the environment. Back then she talked about turning Oak and Treasures, the furniture store owned by her mother, Eunice, into a nature center. Now, she's close to making that happen, along with a restaurant called The Habitat, where people can eat while they watch wild animals frolic outside the windows.

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In the meantime, Petter has set up a web camera at www.thehabitatmn.com so anyone who is interested can watch as one of her wolves prepares to give birth.

We talked to Terri Monday about the need for wildlife education, her plans to get her restaurant running by fall, even wolf burps.

The last time I talked to you about Wolves, Woods and Wildlife was 2006 and you were just getting started. It's grown quite a bit since then, hasn't it?

It has. The want and I think the need for it has grown, so we've been doing more and more shows and then we decided it was about time where we had a permanent facility. It's better for the people, and then we can bring more kids in and more families and more events and it's a lot safer for the animals.

You talk about the want and the need growing. How has it grown?

People say they're more in tune with the environment, but I actually think that a lot of the kids nowadays aren't in tune with what the environment consists of. I had a girl two weeks ago come in (to Oak & Treasures) and I had my raccoon downstairs and the mom goes, "Oh, look at the cute cat." I looked at them and I said, "That's a raccoon." And the girl, she must have been 17 or 18 years old, she said, "Oh, those are the ones that squirt." Like a skunk. And I was like, "That's not a skunk, that's a raccoon." I walked up to them and I said, "Hey, we're opening an outdoor education center in the fall. I really think you should come."

It seems like kids even more nowadays aren't getting outside. They don't know why they're saving the environment or what the environmental problems are. It's time to start teaching people before it goes too far.

So, tell me about the plan for this place.

The actual going out of business sale closes by May 1. As long as all my permits are secure we're going to start building enclosures around the store. There's going to be a gift store, a bar and grill and an event center. We're also going to have our animals here. As you eat at the grill you will be able to watch the animals outside the windows. We can't have the actual animals inside but we are going to have information and we are going to have mounts and we are going to have different touch and feel areas. It's going to be a combination of a bunch of different things.

It will be an interesting place to have a meal.

Yeah. People are like, Oh, the Rainforest Cafe. Well, it's kind of like that in a way. But it has a lot more to do with North American wildlife and it has a lot more to do with environment and education.

What will you have here as far as animals?

We have wolves, cougar, lynx, bobcats, porcupines, raccoons, skunks, fox, fishers, badgers, woodchucks, prairie dogs and then eventually, out back someday, I'd also like to have a farm petting zoo. Eventually we will have a horse or two or a cow and some goats.

How big will the enclosures be?

It all depends on the animal and it depends on if I need a top on the cage and it depends on whether they dig and it basically depends on the size. For a smaller animal they could have a 30- to 40-foot pen. The one we have planned out for the wolves is an acre, acre and a half. We're also going to put trees and we're going to put ponds. We're actually going to use downed trees so it actually looks like up north where a tree has fallen over. We're not going to change the topography or the terrain. We're going to do that with rocks.

You're going to have some work to do this summer.

We're going to have a lot of work to do. We're impatiently waiting for permits to come through and financing to come through. I have my final meeting tomorrow, hopefully. After that it's going to be gangbusters and we're going to move in and start working around the clock.

Tell me about this camera.

We have a wolf called Cootenai. She's one that I hand raised and bottle fed.... We decided that people should see the birth and see what actually goes on. We're hoping that nothing goes wrong but out in the wild of course a lot of the pups die and a lot of the pups get eaten by their mother.... If there's a runt or if something is wrong or if something is born with a birth defect the mom can take it out.

It's kind of nerve wracking but it's also kind of fun because people need to see it. I think people will also learn that it's not easy for a wolf out in the wild to grow up.

Is it kind of fun for you to watch, too?

It's fun. It's really nerve wracking. I know as soon as she starts to give birth my phone is going to start ringing off the hook but I'm still stuck watching. I'm always checking on her. I'm still, if you want to call it, addicted to the webcam.

What else should I know?

We're looking for baby bottles. We're looking for blankets. We also do a big can drive. We need baby wipes.

Wolves need baby wipes?

When you bottle feed them you have to potty them also. Believe me, it's not a glamorous job, but it's something that has to be done. You actually use human baby wipes. Everyone's like, I want to bottle feed them. But there's other things that go along with bottle feeding.

They don't know the other part of this job.

It's just like having kids. You have to get up every three hours. You bottle feed them and you burp them and you potty them.

You burp the wolves?

Yep.

Just like you do a baby?

It depends on how old they are. You kind of pat on their back but you can also rub their tummy too. And they actually do burp.

I've never heard a wolf burp.

A lot of people have never heard a wolf burp.

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Nathan Hansen
Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.
(651) 460-6606
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