A wolf named Aqutaq, which means “ice cream” in the Yupik (or Western Eskimo) language, is 3 1/2 years old. She hails from a breeding facility that produces ambassador animals for education and lives in the Sierras with her owners, Oliver and Thanya Starr —and a large Alaskan Malamute named Bixby. Thanks in part to the efforts of Menlo Park resident Michele Chandler, she came calling at Hillview School last week.

Wolf in grassThe assembled students and teachers got to learn about why wild lives matter. “The wolf is a keystone species,” explained Oliver. (Wikipedia defines keystone species as one “that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance.”)

“Dogs are a subspecies of wolves,” he told us during a walk through the day before Aqutaq’s appearance. “All dogs are a form of wolf. I call them micro wolves.”

Michele said that she met Oliver a couple of years ago, and they’ve joined forces to get kids back in touch with nature through the wolf. “Oliver has spent a lifetime learning what it means to be wild,” she said. “We want to give kids a better sense of why nature is something to preserve.”

Oliver with wolf and dog

Oliver explained that wolves are social animals and form intensive social bonds. “[Thanya] and I are her pack. She is closest to me than anything. I’ve put in over 10,000 hours working with her.

“She is definitely not a dog. Living with her is not like living with a dog in any respect.”

More information about Oliver and Michele’s effort can be found online.

Photos by Irene Searles