Fun Run 2018

The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary is extremely grateful for the generous donors who supported us through the Fun Run. We appreciate each and every one of you! Providing life long sanctuary to wildlife is costly, but we are dedicated to our mission and believe that although it is unfortunate our wildlife are not able to live in the wild, their lives at the Sanctuary are safe and fulfilled because of the support we receive through donations.

Some of our habitats are over 20 years old and no longer meet the needs of our wildlife. Each year we try to update one of these outdated habitats. During 2017 and 2018, we used money from the Fun Run and other grants and donations to expand our wolf habitat so we are able to offer sanctuary to 3-4 wolves in need of sanctuary when it is completed.

We also embarked on our largest project and built a new sandhill crane and vulture habitat. We are finishing this project up and it will allow our cranes and vultures a safe and warm enclosure with natural lighting during our harsh winter months. This also allows our education programs related to these species to continue throughout the year without interruption due to bad weather.

In looking to the future, we are planning on construction of a new felid habitat which will allow our mountain lion, Sacajawea, to have more area on flatter ground and thus she will be able to be more active without having to move up and down an incline which is painful due to arthritis in her front legs. This project also opens up other exciting opportunities for the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary that we will be able to share with the public as construction and updates to the wildcat habitats near completion. As always, we look forward to your visit to see our wildlife and the ongoing progress happening because of your generosity.

Thank you!

 Part of the Fun Run experience is volunteering. Many of the Sanctuary staff and board members were helping out at the Fun Run, including Sue & Lynn, who were race coordinators. Gary (holding the skull above) staffed the Sanctuary’s education booth.

Part of the Fun Run experience is volunteering. Many of the Sanctuary staff and board members were helping out at the Fun Run, including Sue & Lynn, who were race coordinators. Gary (holding the skull above) staffed the Sanctuary’s education booth.

Progress on the Wolf Habitat

Once the snow and rain stopped and the ground dried, we were able to get started on the expanded wolf habitat. As with most construction projects, there were set backs that delayed progress. However, we are happy to report we are nearing completion of this habitat. When you visit us, you will see there is still work to be done, but we are very close to having the habitat finished.

When you visit the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, you’ll see the fencing is installed and the ground where the lockout gates will be located has been leveled. The posts are set for the gates and the guillotine-style transfer gate is being built. This leaves the top wire to be threaded through the top posts to prevent any climbing out. Once these final 3 steps are done (gates installed, guillotine placed, and top wire threaded), we will clean up the construction debris and place the enrichment features.

Colder weather is knocking at the door and we are working feverishly to get these final steps done. We are as excited as our supporters and visitors to have the habitat ready for wolves.

So when do we actually get our new wolves? That depends. It can take a while to find a pack that requires sanctuary, and to do all of the required transfer paperwork, both Federal and state. It may happen in a month, and it may happen next spring. But once the habitat is complete, the process can begin!

  Fencing costs are higher than home chain-link because we have to use heavier (9-gauge) fencing to meet AZA standards, as well as making it 8 feet high and adding top wires.

Fencing costs are higher than home chain-link because we have to use heavier (9-gauge) fencing to meet AZA standards, as well as making it 8 feet high and adding top wires.

  Do those new fenceposts look rusty? That’s because a part of our conservation program centers around recycling and re-use. These posts are actually repurposed pipe stem from an oil rig. They are stronger than regular fenceposts, we get them cut to any length, and they don’t end up in a scrap yard somewhere. Everybody wins!

Do those new fenceposts look rusty? That’s because a part of our conservation program centers around recycling and re-use. These posts are actually repurposed pipe stem from an oil rig. They are stronger than regular fenceposts, we get them cut to any length, and they don’t end up in a scrap yard somewhere. Everybody wins!

  Wolves are excellent diggers, so our staff is laying fencing underground and tying it to the perimeter fence to stop them from digging out.

Wolves are excellent diggers, so our staff is laying fencing underground and tying it to the perimeter fence to stop them from digging out.

  Habitat design doesn’t stop with periphery fences. Landscaping improvements include terracing, addition of about a dozen new trees and bushes, and planting a variety of native grasses.

Habitat design doesn’t stop with periphery fences. Landscaping improvements include terracing, addition of about a dozen new trees and bushes, and planting a variety of native grasses.

YWS Achieves GuideStar Platinum Seal of Transparency

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The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary achieved the Platinum GuideStar 2018 Nonprofit Profile level, which is the highest level of transparency they award.

At the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, we believe that the people who support us deserve to know how we are spending your money. All of our required government reports are posted on our GuideStar profile, along with a great deal of information that is not required by law, but we feel is our responsibility to disclose.

GuideStar is the world’s largest source of information about nonprofit organizations and a leader in advancing transparency in the nonprofit sector. This level demonstrates our deep commitment to nonprofit transparency and accountability. 

The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The word "Yellowstone" in our name doesn't mean that we receive any funding from the National Park Service. We are entirely funded through donations, private grants, visitor fees, and gift shop sales.


Happy lives and the inevitability of death

It is always a happy moment when an animal moves into a forever home, but we know in our hearts that forever doesn’t really mean forever. The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary provides lifelong sanctuary to non-releasable greater Yellowstone ecosystem wildlife. Just like when we get a new pet, we’re aware from the start that lifetimes do eventually end.

In June of 1994, a logger near Phillipsburg, MT found an elk calf whose mother had been hit by a car. He took the orphan to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, and she spent her first winter at their facility in Helena. She was declared healthy but not releasable. The following May, Emily the Rocky Mountain Elk came to The Red Lodge Zoological Society (which would later become the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary) on permanent loan from the State.

When Emily settled in to her new home, the staff knew she was likely to live longer than the expected 10 to 13 year lifespan of a wild elk. At the Sanctuary, she would have adequate food all winter long, she wouldn’t have to fear predators, and a professional staff would be taking care of her every day. Top that off with annual vet visits and a series of enrichment programs designed to keep her physically and mentally stimulated, and you have a recipe for a long and healthy life.

Fast forward to 2018. Emily’s sprightly steps have slowed. Frolicking up the hill has given way to standing quietly next to Speedy the Bison’s fence as they chew their cud together. She’s having a harder and harder time keeping on weight. At 24 years, she’s doubled the lifespan she could have expected in the wild, and it’s definitely starting to show.

  Emily looks toward the bison habitat to see what her buddy, Speedy, is up to.

Emily looks toward the bison habitat to see what her buddy, Speedy, is up to.

The animal care staff discuss Emily’s situation at length and bring the veterinarian out for a consultation. Their decision is heart-wrenching but unanimous: Emily will never survive another winter and it’s unfair to make her try. After a day of treats, head scratches, and tearful goodbyes, her arthritis pains her no more. Her decades of brightening our lives at the Sanctuary are done, though she lives on in the memories of tens of thousands of visitors and the hundreds of staff, board members, and volunteers that have had the privilege of spending time with her.

The decision to bring an animal into a wildlife sanctuary is complex. Staff must weigh the animal’s needs. Not just food and shelter, either. Each species has unique requirements for socialization, habitat design, mental stimulation, stress management, and the ability to perform the ingrained behaviors they are built for. Being a sanctuary for non-releasable animals sometimes means adapting all of those factors to account for the physical or emotional trauma that made the animal non-releasable in the first place.

Every year at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary is a good one, as we watch our visitors marvel at the happy, healthy animals that would have been euthanized had we not been here to offer them a long and fulfilling life.

At the same time, each year at the Sanctuary has those gut-punch moments when the life of one of the residents comes to its inevitable end. This year, in addition to Emily, we’ve had to say farewell to Belle the red fox, Allan the raven, Rudy the mule deer, and Bonnie the coyote. All of them lived longer than they would have in the wild. All of them brought delight to endless streams of visitors. All of them made the Sanctuary a better place for us even as we worked to make it a better place for them.

As we always do, the board and staff of the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary are dealing with the losses and looking forward to what’s coming next. Our expansive new wolf habitat and indoor/outdoor crane habitat projects are in their final stages. The quarantine period for our new raccoon, Cooper, is wrapping up. Rouge, the majestic new ferruginous hawk, is delighting guests. The remodeling of the Education building is starting this winter, which will provide indoor heated habitats for weasels, snakes, and other small local animals.

We have our good days, and we have our bad days. Overall, today is a good day.

Sanctuary Receives Grants for Interactive Signage

The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary has received three grants to start an Interactive Interpretive Display project. The new computer-based signage will augment, rather than replace, the existing signs by the animal habitats.

  One of the screens for the interactive coyote display.

One of the screens for the interactive coyote display.

“Interactive displays will really enhance the visitor experience,” said Gary Robson, the Sanctuary’s Education Director, “and we wouldn’t have been able to start up the project without the support of the O. P. & W. E. Edwards Foundation, the Red Lodge Rotary Club, and the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation.”

  Assembling the development system, which uses a 7" touchscreen display with the Raspberry Pi 3B+ mounted on the back. In the background is a custom stand for mounting the system.

Assembling the development system, which uses a 7" touchscreen display with the Raspberry Pi 3B+ mounted on the back. In the background is a custom stand for mounting the system.

Over two thousand people each year — mostly children — participate in organized educational programs at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, and thousands more take self-guided tours. The goal of this project is to provide a more engaging way to present information about the animals to the self-guided visitors. The audio-visual format appeals to different kinds of learners, and children are more likely to engage with an interactive display than a static sign.

The displays will use touch screens, speakers, and Raspberry Pi computers to present the information. Visitors will be able to listen to animal calls, view dynamic range maps, learn to tell related species apart, and more. All of the programming, graphics, and design will be done by the existing Education Department staff and volunteers (mostly by Robson).

The grant money received so far will purchase the development system and the equipment for the first display, which will go in the viewing cabana for the coyote habitat.

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“A huge advantage of interactive electronic displays is that they can be reprogrammed and repurposed,” Robson added, “where printed signs end up being discarded. Electronic displays can also be updated quickly, easily, and cheaply when something changes, like a new animal being added. We are looking for approximately $4,000 in additional funding to expand the project to other habitats around the Sanctuary, which will require waterproof housings and additional electrical wiring.”

  A functioning demo of the coyote sign, using the small demo screen.

A functioning demo of the coyote sign, using the small demo screen.

For additional information about the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary’s Interactive Interpretive Display Project please contact Gary Robson at 406/446-1133 or Gary@YellowstoneWildlife.org.

  A map of the top-level screens of the coyote sign.

A map of the top-level screens of the coyote sign.

Changing our Twitter Presence

It's been complicated. A while back, the person responsible for some of the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary's social media accounts moved away. We have multiple administrators on our Facebook and Instagram accounts, so that was no problem. We temporarily lost control of our LinkedIn company page, but their tech support group was helpful and we recovered it without much issue.

Twitter was another story entirely.

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There was only one person responsible for our Twitter account — a mistake we won't make again. For quite a while, the account was just ignored, as it had been linked to our Facebook account and everything we posted on Facebook magically appeared on Twitter. As we got more of a handle on our social media presence, one of our staff spent weeks trying to get control of the Twitter account. She emailed, she called, she offered proof that it was ours, and Twitter was of no help whatsoever. They wouldn't even delete the account for us.

So we are doing this the hard way. Today, the last post went out to the old Twitter account (through Facebook), and a bright shiny new one went online. We've disconnected Facebook from the old one and we're spreading the word that all of our Twitter followers need to follow @YWSanctuary instead.

We'll see you all on Twitter!

TL;DR VERSION: Follow @YWSanctuary on Twitter instead of the old @YellowstoneWS account.

Progress on the Crane-Vulture Habitat

It's time for a status update on our new migratory bird habitat, and a big thank you to everyone whose donations are making it possible!

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The new habitat is needed because in the wild, our sandhill cranes and turkey vultures would be spending their winters in Mexico. Since all of them are non-releasable, they are stuck here in Montana for a much harsher winter than they are equipped for. To deal with this, we've been keeping them indoors in the winter, in a heated barn. This isn't the best solution, because it keeps them off display, and they can't enjoy any sunny days that we get during the winter.

Our solution: a new habitat! We broke ground a few weeks ago on a new structure that will provide heated indoor areas for the cranes and vultures, along with adjoining outdoor yards that they can move in and out of, similar to what they have now. This structure will allow us to open their outside door on sunny winter days, allowing the birds to move between the outdoor yard and the heated indoor areas as they please.

  The foundation went in a couple of weeks ago. This picture is taken from the back corner near the keeper's entrance to the crane's heated indoor area. The open area in the center of the "U" is the outdoor yards for the birds.

The foundation went in a couple of weeks ago. This picture is taken from the back corner near the keeper's entrance to the crane's heated indoor area. The open area in the center of the "U" is the outdoor yards for the birds.

  Our contractor Armando is putting the walls up now. The wall that shows in this picture is the side wall of the vulture's heated indoor area, and Armando is standing in what will be the "behind the scenes" keeper area. If you look up at the the top of the hill in the background in this picture, you see our animal care staff working on our other big project: the    new wolf habitat   .

Our contractor Armando is putting the walls up now. The wall that shows in this picture is the side wall of the vulture's heated indoor area, and Armando is standing in what will be the "behind the scenes" keeper area. If you look up at the the top of the hill in the background in this picture, you see our animal care staff working on our other big project: the new wolf habitat.

  Here's an artist's rendering of the finished habitat. We made a number of changes and improvements since this drawing was made, but it shows the key points. The area on the left is for the cranes, and will include a pool and waterfall in the back left corner. The area on the right is for the vultures, and will include plenty of perches for them at different heights.

Here's an artist's rendering of the finished habitat. We made a number of changes and improvements since this drawing was made, but it shows the key points. The area on the left is for the cranes, and will include a pool and waterfall in the back left corner. The area on the right is for the vultures, and will include plenty of perches for them at different heights.

A day of fun supporting the animals at the Wildlife Jamboree

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The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary hosted its annual Wildlife Jamboree fundraiser on Saturday. It was a day of fun and games, but also an important fundraiser and educational opportunity for the Sanctuary.

“Attendance was up this year, with close to 500 people,” said Sue Glock, the Sanctuary’s Finance Coordinator. “We signed up a bunch of new members and had great response in the silent auction and gift shop.”

Sponsors and donations were a big part of the success of the event, and that’s important to an organization like the Sanctuary which is funded by grants, donations, admissions, and memberships. There were sponsored animal feedings throughout the day, paid for by Bank of Red Lodge and Samantha Thomas. Visitors were able to watch bear, mountain lion, bobcat, lynx, raccoon, and porcupine feedings and learn about the animals, what they eat, and how the Sanctuary cares for them.

The Forest Service participated in the Jamboree with bear spray trainings, a bear education table, and visits from Smokey the Bear. There was also face painting, rock painting, barbecued burgers & hot dogs, and temporary tattoos. All of the food and drinks were donated.

YWS Partners with Carbon County Historical Society for Bison Education

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Anyone interested in the history of the American bison will want to take a look at the traveling exhibit from the National Buffalo Foundation that is on display in Red Lodge through June 16.

The majority of the exhibit is at the Carbon County Historical Society and Museum on Broadway. The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary is hosting a trailer with a supplemental exhibit generously donated by Don and Bobbie Woerner. There is also additional signage from the exhibit in the Sanctuary’s Education Building.

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“We’re pleased to be a part of this, and to give visitors a chance to see a live bison after looking through the exhibit,” said Gary Robson, the Sanctuary’s Education Director. “Educational nonprofit partnerships like this enhance the experience for our visitors and benefit everyone involved. I’ve made the bison trailer a regular part of each tour I give at the Wildlife Sanctuary.”

The trailer that is currently housed at the Sanctuary contains a variety of displays from the bison exhibit. It is open during the Sanctuary’s regular hours at no extra charge.

Speedy, a 17-year-old female bison, cannot be released into the wild because she was abandoned by her mother and raised as a pet. She came to the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary when she got too big for the family that was raising her, and has been there ever since.

“We’re very excited about the bison exhibit, and we’ve already seen an increase in museum visitors,” said Historical Society Executive Director Sarah Russell. “Even though our organizations have different mission statements, we share a common goal of making Red Lodge a better place to live and visit. Partnerships like this one bring our community together for everyone’s benefit.”

The exhibit houses a wide variety of artifacts ranging from pelts and skulls through maps, articles, signs, and models. It covers the history of the species, the relationship between the bison and the plains tribes, the slaughter of bison in the 1800s, the history of bison ranching, the re-establishment of wild herds in the west, and more.

Signs of Spring in the Bear Habitat

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Last Thursday, Animal Care Coordinator Nigel Murphy went to one of the bear habitats at the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary to investigate a spontaneous plume of snow. He was greeted by Bo, one of the Sanctuary's black bears, blinking at the bright sunshine for the first time since last fall.

After months of hibernation, Bo decided it was time to remove the snow covering the mouth of his den and look for some food and water. As the 11-year-old bear stretched and worked muscles that haven't been used all winter, Nigel tossed him some apples and encouraged him to go up to his exercise area, where a heaping pile of fresh vegetables and protein-rich kibble awaited, along with plenty of water.

Bo is usually the first of the Sanctuary's bears to awaken in the spring, sometimes staying out and sometimes crawling back in his den for another week or two of napping.

In the fall, wild black and grizzly bears in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem go into a state called hyperphagia, where they eat anything they can find. The layers of fat they add in the fall keep them healthy and warm all winter long. Not all bears hibernate, though. In warmer climates where food is plentiful through the winter, there's no need to fatten up and sleep through the winter.

Bo, who slept through his 11th birthday last month, is the youngest of the Sanctuary's four black bears. In the wild, a black bear can expect to live 10-18 years, but 25-30 year lifespans are not uncommon with well cared-for captive bears. The Sanctuary's oldest bears were born about 1994, and are still healthy and active.