A giant wolf is making headlines for his friendly nature and willingness to play with humans.
Kekoa, an eight-year-old timber wolf, has been raised since infancy at the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center. Though he strikes a fearsome figure at seven feet long and 115 pounds, he’s actually a giant marshmallow who loves cuddles, belly rubs and face licks.
One viral video shows Kekoa playing with a center volunteer named Danielle. Without fear, the woman plops down in the snow and invites Kekoa to come beside her. Kekoa responds with sweet, easy affection, licking her face and nuzzling at her arm. He gets up and walks by her side as she strolls through the trees. At one point, the shaggy gray wolf even rolls on his back and begs Danielle to scratch his stomach.
Another highlight of the video is when Kekoa is joined by his sister, Sakura. She also enjoys playtime with human visitors, and a striking video shot from a visitor’s point of view shows Sakura all but licking the camera with her nose right against the lens.
Neither wolf shows any sign of aggression at any point in the video. According to the wildlife center, this is because of their unique and human-filled background.
“They were both adopted from a facility in Florida called Seacrest Wolf Preserve,” explained Michelle Smith, a long-time employee. The center had hoped that Kekoa and Sakura could become “ambassadors” and get sent out to schools and fundraising events to raise awareness of wildlife issues, but they grew up too shy, preferring the snowy wilderness to large crowds. The center decided to let them “retire” several years ago.
Despite their shyness in groups, however, the siblings enjoy playtime with individual humans. Kekoa in particular is fond of belly rubs, and he doesn’t mind outright begging to get them.
“Since he was raised by people and bottle fed from the time he was born, he is very well socialized, meaning he enjoys the company of people,” Smith told reporters.
Kekoa means “brave one” in Native American, and the name is quite fitting. Timber wolves are usually more frightened of humans than humans are frightened of them, and they’ll go to great lengths to avoid human company in their native habitat. Wolf attacks on hikers and campers only happen when the wolves are scared, sick or otherwise out of their element.
Precaution should be taken when one is in the wilderness, however, since it’s hard to tell at a glance when wolves aren’t feeling like themselves.
“A wolf in the wild would not act this way,” Smith said in reference to Kekoa. She advised readers not to confuse Kekoa’s friendliness with the behavior of wolves in general.
“He is still a ‘wild’ animal,” she stressed. “This is not the same as domesticated or tame.”
But most people don’t care about the details. In the original Facebook post made by the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, commenters went crazy for Kekoa. Some expressed their admiration for wolves; others asked how they could donate money for his upkeep; others still asked wolf-related questions and got personal answers from the wildlife center.
The original post has more than 7 million views and counting, and many people have shared it on other social media networks as well, making Kekoa a legitimate viral sensation.
As for Danielle, the volunteer in the video, she just loves spending time with the wolves.
“I have always had a passion for nature and animals,” she wrote on the center’s website. “These wolves have my heart and I am honoured to have been accepted into their pack.”