Credits: National Geographic
Tucked into a lush swath of woods in Washington’s South Puget Sound—where light filters through mossy trees and ravens circle overhead—sitsWolf Haven International. The 82-acre sanctuary is home to 56 residents, including gray wolves, coyotes, wolf dogs, endangered Mexican gray wolves, and critically endangered red wolves.
Photographer Annie Marie Musselman, who built her artistic career telling the story of an animal rehabilitation center, first learned of Wolf Haven in 2010. She had received a grant from Getty Images to collaborate with an ad agency on a project for a nonprofit. Her original plan to document rescued chimps and orangutans in Indonesia was called off when she became pregnant and doctors encouraged her to find a story closer to home. She scoured the Internet and discovered the important conservation work Wolf Haven was doing in her very own state through their breeding program. “If it weren’t for these captive breeding and recovery programs,” she says, “Mexican gray and red wolves would not exist today.” The haven became her new focus.
As soon as she laid eyes on the wolves in the sanctuary, she was enchanted. “Wolves have a way of disarming you,” she says. “They are quiet and contemplative, yet fierce and powerful. You can feel that they are in this very moment—they don’t miss anything.”
Despite the fact that all of her interactions with the canids were buffered by a chain link fence, when she first began photographing them, she was intimidated. “I felt as if they could see through me,” she says. “I could feel them saying, ‘We don’t want to be photographed—leave us alone!’”
She didn’t let that deter her. Instead she spent long summer days in her father’s old fold-up artist chair, giving the wolves a chance to accept her presence. “I shoot with short lenses, so I would wait for the wolves to come close. I pretended not to be interested at first. As soon as I walked away, I would turn around and there they were at the fence, smelling me, staring at me. When I [came back], they would disappear again. All the wolves did this for weeks, until finally they began to trust me.” She’s been photographing them for six years now.