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Girl Scouts’ visit with wildlife artist prompts mission to save American red wolf

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS ) — A group of middle school Girl Scouts’ visit to learn about the American red wolf turned out to be the fuel to their fire of a mission to help save the critically endangered animal.

The wild American red wolf population can claim only as few as 20 red wolves left in the wild in a tiny corner of eastern North Carolina.

In the summer of 2018 the Cadettes of Girl Scout Troop 1819 visited Weiler Woods for Wildlife, a resource that promotes education and understanding of the “underdogs” of the wild, to learn more about the American red wolf.

Dale and Loti Weiler, who started Weiler Woods for Wildlife in Tryon, combine their sculpture talent (Dale) with writing ability (Loti) to promote awareness about such misunderstood creatures as wolves, opossums, hellbenders and vultures.

During the Cadettes’ trip that summer, the girls learned about what a wildlife artist does. “Just Settling In,” Dale’s newest sculpture then, carved out of alabaster, portrayed an American red wolf and her newborn pup. The middle schoolers were struck by the work of art as well as learning that less than 20 wild red wolves remained on the planet, and that those lived in their home state of North Carolina.

“It never ceases to amaze me the power that art possesses. It can literally touch your soul,” Dale Weiler said. “Watching the Girl Scouts connect with my red wolf sculpture was what every artist hopes to attain in his/her efforts.”

Inspired to learn and do more, the Cadettes decided to help the red wolves through their annual fundraising project. They also decided to make saving the American red wolf the focus of their Silver Award project.

“Dale and Loti have instilled in them a sense of urgency to save the red wolf. Scouts are encouraged to remember the Outdoor Code, which states that we are to be conservation minded,” said Troop 1819 leader Lori Nichols. “Even though these Cadettes are in the early stages of working toward their Silver Award, I’m convinced that they have already shifted their focus from just earning an award to sincerely helping the red wolves survive.”

The muses for Dale’s sculpture were the red wolves in the American red wolf habitat at the WNC Nature Center in Asheville. Due to the pandemic, the Girl Scouts had to wait until mid-December 2020 to make the trip to the nature center to see these creatures for themselves. Coordination through Friends of the WNC Nature Center enabled them to get a special tour of the red wolf habitat from the nature center’s community outreach coordinator, Candace Poolton.

“Getting to see the red wolves was something I will never forget,” said Girl Scout Ellie. “I had never been so close to them! I had a big appreciation for red wolves when I saw pictures of them, but after being able to see them up close, it grew even bigger! I really appreciate all the hard work that all that the staff do at the WNC Nature Center to help save these amazing animals, and I hope that one day red wolves will be safe again.”

As part of its Species Survival Plan (SSP) program, the WNC Nature Center has had 13 red wolf pups born into their care. Their current red wolves, Karma and Garnet, are four years old and were matched as a breeding pair by the program.

“I loved Annie, Ellie and Bella’s enthusiasm for the red wolf,” Poolton said of the Cadette trio. “They all said they really had no idea that red wolves existed until seeing Dale’s artwork, and they asked incredible questions for their age group. We talked about the history of the red wolf, the Species Survival Plan and success stories, as well as why red wolves began to decline again.”

When the Girl Scouts asked what they could do to make a direct impact on saving the red wolf from extinction, Candace told them that the best way was to get the word out about the plight of the American red wolf and support facilities like the WNC Nature Center that are actively involved in conserving the species.

For their Silver Award project, the three Cadettes will assist in education and awareness of the American red wolf, by collaborating with the Weilers in their efforts.

“We were so glad we could be a part of this story,” said Friends of the WNC Nature Center Development Director Kate Frost. “People can’t care about something they don’t know about. By connecting these Cadettes with our red wolves, we’re helping grow the next generation of nature lovers and conservationists who are inspired to protect these amazing creatures.”

To share their message with as many people as possible, the Weilers made and donated more than 30 limited-edition castings of the original “Just Settling In” sculpture to be put on display across the United States in accredited centers committed to red wolf conservation. Weiler Woods for Wildlife partnered with Defenders of Wildlife to provide one of the castings to be installed in 2021 at the WNC Nature Center.

With two breeding red wolves right at the WNC Nature Center, the community can help a local effort to save these critically endangered animals who are on the brink of extinction. Now through December 31, Weiler Woods for Wildlife is matching all donations to the Friends of the WNC Nature Center of $100 or more, up to $3,500.

Donations can be made online at wildwnc.org/donate or mailed to Friends of the WNC Nature Center, PO Box 19151, Asheville, 28815.

To learn more about the plight of the American red wolf and about Weiler Woods for Wildlife, visit weilerwoodsforwildlife.com/red-wolf-facts.

The Western North Carolina Nature Center connects people of all ages with the plants and animals of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Asheville’s wildlife park is located on 42 acres and is home to more than 60 species of animals, including red pandas, river otters, black bears, red and gray wolves, and cougar. The Friends is a nonprofit organization committed to supporting the animals, programs, and facilities of the WNC Nature Center. For more information, please visit wildwnc.org.

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