When the Cadettes of Girl Scout Troop 1819 were earning their Outdoor Art Badge, they had no idea they would be inspired to begin a journey to help save the critically endangered American red wolf.
In summer 2018, the Cadettes visited Dale Weiler and Loti Woods, of Weiler Woods for Wildlife, to learn more about what a wildlife artist does and view Dale’s newest endeavor carved out of alabaster. The sculpture, named “Just Settling In,” portrayed an American red wolf and her newborn pup. The middle schoolers were, in a word, mesmerized. They could not believe there were less than 20 wild red wolves living on the planet, and that those lived in their home state of North Carolina.
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.
Troop leader Lori Nichols has been impressed with the girls’ commitment to these animals: “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. The Silver Award is available to middle school girls that are Girl Scout Cadettes and is designed to empower them on through discovery, leadership, cooperation, organization, and accountability. 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.”
Using Art to Raise Awareness
For Dale and Loti, the girls’ reaction was exactly why Weiler Woods for Wildlife exists. Even after 30 years of sculpting wildlife, Dale is still captivated by the medium: “It never ceases to amaze me the power that art possesses. It can literally touch your soul. Watching the Girl Scouts connect with my red wolf sculpture was what every artist hopes to attain in his/her efforts.”
Dale and Loti have long been advocates for the underdogs, using sculptures crafted by Dale to raise awareness of and share their passion for misunderstood and endangered animals like the American red wolf. The wild American red wolf population is critically endangered with as few as 20 red wolves left in the wild in a tiny corner of eastern North Carolina. It became a labor of love for Dale and Loti to raise awareness about the crucial and immediate need to save red wolves from extinction.
To share their message with as many people as possible, more than 30 limited-edition castings of the original “Just Settling In” sculpture were made and donated by Weiler Woods for Wildlife 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, located in Asheville, North Carolina.
Where Art Meets Reality
Zoos accredited through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, like the WNC Nature Center, play an important role in saving animals from extinction. 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.
While the seed to help the red wolves was planted in 2018, due to the pandemic, it was not until late 2020 that the Cadettes were able to see the muse for Dale’s sculpture first-hand at the WNC Nature Center. With some special coordination between the Friends of the WNC Nature Center and Weiler Woods for Wildlife, the troop was able to visit the Nature Center in mid-December for a special outdoor program that included a tour of the red wolf habitat and watching the red wolves interact with enrichment.
Community Outreach Coordinator Candace Poolton gave the Cadettes a guided tour and shared more about the red wolves with the girls: “I loved Annie, Ellie, and Bella’s enthusiasm for the red wolf. 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.”
Seeing the animals in person solidified the girls’ commitment to a bright future for the red wolf. “Getting to see the red wolves was something I will never forget,” said 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!”
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.
The Cadettes of Girl Scout Troop 1819 are excited to work toward their Silver Award in 2021 by assisting in the education and awareness of the American red wolf. “We want to convey that sense of urgency that Dale, Loti, and the WNC Nature Center gave us,” said Lori Nichols.
Eighteen months ago, Dale and Loti never would have imagined they would be collaborating with the Girl Scouts to bring awareness to the plight of the red wolf. But the strength of the wolf is in the pack, and by combining forces through the breeding program at the WNC Nature Center, the red wolf sculpture of Weiler Woods for Wildlife, and the Girl Scouts’ Silver Award, the conservation plan to save the American red wolf is stronger than ever.
“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.”
“Watching the power of art inspire a group of Girl Scouts was life changing for Dale and me,” said Loti Woods. “To have these girls fall in love with our American red wolf and want to help save it, just by looking at a sculpture, shows how impactful art can be in conservation. I believe this will be an experience which will set the girls on a path toward wildlife conservation.”
And Loti and Dale want to inspire more people to take action to save the red wolves. With two breeding red wolves right at the WNC Nature Center, the community can help a local effort to save this 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 www.wildwnc.org/donate or mailed to Friends of the WNC Nature Center, PO Box 19151, Asheville, NC, 28815.
To learn more about the plight of the American red wolf and Weiler Woods for Wildlife, visit www.weilerwoodsforwildlife.com/red-wolf-facts/.
About the WNC Nature Center
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 www.wildwnc.org.