CHIPLEY, Fla. (WTXL) — For more than 300,000 years, wolves have lived in our ecosystem, but now many are being hunted and becoming endangered.
There's a center in the panhandle that has helped educate the public and preserve the animal for the past 21 years.
Seacrest Wolf Preserve was established in 1999 by Cynthia and Wayne Watkins.
The operation manager Lindsey Banks said it started with just a rescue pack of three, but has grown since then.
"We're now an educational facility building a bridge between wolves and humans," Banks said.
The almost 100-acre property can hold up to 50 wolves, but Banks said 30 is the perfect number.
The wolves are born through the center's breeding program. Each newborn will go through an imprinting program 10 days after being born to help introduce them to humans.
They have multiple species from the North American Gray Wolf to Arctic Wolves of the Great White North.
Each of these breeds is a keystone species.
"Being a keystone species means your key to your ecosystem's health," Banks said.
Without the species, it can throw the entire ecosystem off in an area.
"About a year ago, a lot of states made the decision to allow wolf hunting again," Banks said. "They're allowing 90 percent of their population to be killed, and we're essentially going to throw ourselves back out of balance because we can't get past a hatred if an animal that has no reason to be hated," Banks said. "We're scared of something we don't understand."
Banks said the truth is they're more scared of humans in the wild than we are of them.
She hopes continuing to give people this hands-on experience will inspire change for generations to come.
"Wolves are incredibly misjudged," Banks said. "The public has a really bad tendency to see these guys as the big bad wolf, who huffed and puffed and blew the little pigs houses down. In all actuality, Little Red Riding Hood's a liar and these guys are better friends and family then any of us could ever be."
Seacrest is not open for public hours, and all visitors require a reservation.
Seacrest Wolf Preserve operates six days a week, with different types of Private Tours Mondays through Fridays, and our Group Educational Tour every Saturday.
The Preserve is only closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and the 4th of July.
General office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Seacrest Wolf Preserve is always closed Sundays.