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Atka the Wolf Tests Crittercam at National Geographic

Crittercam Heads to New York

Last November, Crittercam made a visit to the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) in South Salem, New York.  Project leaders, Greg Marshall and Kyler Abernathy don’t always get to test equipment on a species in captivity before they begin a research project with wild ones, but as it’s always useful, they jumped at the chance.

Crittercam, dreamed up by creator Greg Marshall, attaches a gently secured camera to the animal under study, giving us a rare insight into their private lives. Greg has continued to expand the operation with the help of Kyler Abernathy, Director of Research and Remote Imagery, since 1986 when the idea was first conceived.

A breeding center for endangered Mexican and Red wolves, the WCC also has a few ‘ambassador’ wolves that they use for outreach programs and that are docile enough to easily put Crittercams on.  They mounted Crittercams on the collars of all three ambassador wolves:  Atka, a male adult Arctic wolf and two rambunctious 7-month-old gray wolf siblings, Ayala and Zephyr.

The tests allowed them to see how different designs of the Crittercam-collar combination ride on a wolf, how the animals react, and what the view is.  The large, outdoor enclosure at WCC allowed the wolves to roam in what they hoped was a decent parallel of natural behaviors.

None of the wolves seemed much bothered by the collar-mounted Crittercams. Though it is understood that wild wolves may be a bit less tolerant, it’s still a good sign. The cameras recorded a nice perspective of various behaviors. The video shows some samples of footage from the Crittercams, including some howling by Ayala- an unexpected bonus.

“Headquarters Now Belongs to Atka”

Last week, all of us here at National Geographic had the special opportunity to meet Atka in person, when Atka and his team of WCC staff members journeyed from South Salam, NY to Washington D.C. to pay a visit. Packed in like sardines in crowed auditorium, NG employees ogled at the Arctic Gray wolf’s brilliant white coat, sharp yellow eyes, and sheer length and size.


Though the audience was held in a suspended stupor, Atka seemed quite at home, periodically strolling up and down the middle aisle or stopping to take a drink from his gigantic water bowl. This is, in fact, one of many trips Atka has made to Washington D.C. including several trips to the Capital to bring education and awareness to wolf conservation campaigns.

“Our mission is two fold: education and conservation” explains WCC curator, Rebecca Bose. The center aims to not only return wolf populations to healthy, sustainable numbers, but also to debunk their age-old stigma. “Unfortunately, wolves have long been seen as the ‘Big Bad Wolf'”, says Maggie Howell, Managing Director at WCC. During the 1970s, wolf populations were reduced to as little as 500 left in the wild; however, since then their numbers have rebounded and the wolf has been taken off the Endangered Species List.

“We’re deeply involved with the conservation of Red Wolf and the Mexican Wolf. Other than our three ambassador wolves, the rest of our wolves, 25 total, could be released in the wild one day.” The Wolf Conservation Center hopes this coming spring several of their pups will be paired with wild wolf packs throughout North America, helping to propagate their numbers and preserve the future of Red and Mexican Gray wolves.




Learn more

Wolf Conservation Center: More on WCC’s wolves, visiting hours, and how get involved.




  1. Barbara
    new York
    January 24, 2013, 12:45 pm

    Why were cams put on these wolves if they are enclosed. So sad to hear them howl when they reach the fence.

  2. duncan
    April 27, 2012, 8:29 am

    it is shameful that you are parading this wolf around like this.

  3. susan marquez
    February 14, 2012, 1:48 pm

    i am happy to see that a wolf is getting good attention instead of negative!
    National Geographic should do a show on the killing of wolves by senseless politics of Governors. Go to Idaho and see how many wolves are being killed daily< than go to Canada and report on the killing of wolves for pits.