The atmosphere fizzes and crackles and the endless sky is a swirling symphony of jewel colours. You are wrapped up against the elements, snuggly and warm in snow boots, jumpsuit and eiderdown jacket, and in your arms is the most magnificent of companions. He leans in for a kiss, (his breath could be sweeter), and enthusiastically licks your face…
No. It’s not the worst dating disaster ever, it’s an enchanting reality at Norway’s Polar Park, billed as the ‘World’s Northernmost Wildlife Park’, and where you can watch the Northern Lights and cuddle a grey wolf at the same time. The park is a wildlife sanctuary in the far north of Norway, on the edge of the Arctic Circle near Troms, and visitors can book a ‘wolf experience’, which allows them to mingle with a tame pack under the close supervision of Polar Park’s knowledgeable staff.
Norwegian wolves were listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the World Wildlife Fund’s 2010 Red List of species at risk of extinction. This came about principally thanks to unregulated hunting, the encroachment of industrial developments into the wolves’ natural habitat, and human fear and misunderstanding. The purpose of domesticating some of the sanctuary’s wolves to the point where they can be stroked by humans, and will even reciprocate with affectionate licks, is to educate the public about this extraordinary species’ vital role in the eco-system and to generate funds to facilitate Polar Park’s conservation programme.
As well as the wolves, Polar Park is home to other endangered Arctic species, including brown bears, lynx, golden eagles, Arctic foxes, red deer, musk ox, mink and reindeer, and with 1100 decare (1 decare = 1000 square meters) divided into just 12 enclosures, it has one of the world’s largest allocations of reserve space per animal. The ethos of the Park is to preserve and breed endangered species in an environment as close as possible to their natural habitat, so they have plenty of space to roam.
As if just cuddling a wolf for an hour or two isn’t enough of an adventure, construction of a wood cabin is underway in one of the enclosures and, from January 2016, more intrepid visitors will be able to spend the night surrounded by predators.