CHIPLEY, Fla – Whether you are a wolf lover or an animal enthusiast, this experience will leave you woofing of fun and for some, this place is their childhood dream come true.
Meet Seacrest Wolf Preserve’s Director
Some kids love watching cartoons, and some love watching documentaries about wolves while reading every book they can read about wolves.
“I grew up as a kid who was fascinated with wolves,” said Lindsey Banks, director and license holder of Seacrest Wolf Preserve. “I was one of those that didn’t want to be a pretty princess, I wanted to be a wolf.”
Banks said she went into veterinary medicine and became a vet technician, and she worked in that career for a long time and moved to Florida in 2018.
She said she worked at a local vet clinic and the veterinarian mentioned to her that there was a wolf preserve in Chipley that she should go check out.
“I went into the website and I was like, ‘oh my goodness I have to do this,’” Banks said. “‘This is like my childhood dream to go interact with a wolf.’ So my mom and I scheduled and we went on a VIP tour, and for a lack of a better term, I just never left. I loved it.”
She said she started as a volunteer, got into a part-time position, then full-time, and worked hard to get where she is now, the director and license holder.
“It reignited that childhood passion I had for the wolves,” Banks said. “I am so thankful every day because I get to go to work and do something I absolutely love, something I am passionate about and I get to share my passion with hundreds of people who come through every year.”
Banks said Seacrest Wolf Preserve’s goal is to take care of the wolves and educate people about what a wolf really is and why they are so important.
What is Seacrest Wolf Preserve?
Seacrest Wolf Preserve is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 1999 by Wayne & Cynthia Watkins, dedicated to wolf and wildlife conservation, according to their website.
Banks said everything started when a Michigan Zoo had a captive wolf case that needed placement and the couple had a huge background in conservation and it just kind of spun off from there.
“Wolves are highly social creatures, they don’t do well by themselves,” Banks said. “In long terms of being alone, they’ll begin to mourn themselves to death and essentially die of a broken heart. They are very reliant on their pack mate for everything, including livelihood.”
Seacrest started as a rescue facility with a pack of three and the whole educational aspect grew from that, as people in the small community of Chipley started getting curious about what was going on at the farm, Banks said.
She said the couple started allowing people to watch the wolves through the fencing.
Banks said the couple quickly realized that Hollywood had created a big bad wolf mentality and everyone was scared of them.
“People think that they huffed and puffed and blow the little pigs’ houses down and steal grandma’s identity,” Banks said. “But we like to say Little Red Riding Hood is a liar because these wolves are highly social and very caring animals and they want to avoid humans in the wild because they are a very big threat to them, but they just want to happily coexist.”
She said the couple decided to educate people with a hands-on experience to allow them to have a memorable experience and ignite a spark of passion. It was a way to get them to understand what a wolf is and the importance they have in the ecosystem.
“Wolves are constituted as a keystone species and are highly important to their ecosystems’ help,” Banks said. “When the wolves were killed out of Yellowstone, it turned into a barren wasteland.”
She said that when they disappeared, the hoofed animals were able to overpopulate because they did not have a predator picking out the weak and the sick, so they overpopulated and trampled vegetation, making birds and bees leave, and the river was trampled an entire mile off course.
When the wolves were reintroduced everything went back into place, Banks said.
Seacrest Wolf Preserves is located in Chipley, Florida and they have 10 enclosures of an acre or more, where they keep their wolves.
Banks said the enclosures have trees and grasses and they are large in size. They have a pond in each enclosure where they can swim because they love swimming.
She also said that they are carnivores and are fed a variety of meats like chicken, beef and pork.
“They are very well cared for and they love the attention,” Banks said. “All these wolves have been imprinted on since they were very young, so they are highly human social and they thrive off of that interaction.”
She said that they have been taught to be highly human social since they were about 10 days old. They are bottle-fed and trained to be used to a variety of sounds, equipment and different people touches during the imprinting program.
When guests go visit the wolves, they are monitored at all times by trained staff, Banks said.
To visit the wolves, Seacrest Wolf Preserve offers a private VIP tour of $250 plus tax per person for the first two people. Each additional person after the first two is $150 plus tax, according to their website.
The VIP tour is very popular, so they recommend people make the reservation in advance. To make a reservation, visit the preserve’s website.
Seacrest has a dress code to make sure that wolves are not fascinated with people’s clothing. They required people to wear cotton shirts, jeans or khakis.
They only allow visitors who are 10 years old and up.
Seacrest Wolf Preserve used to have public Saturday educational tours and overnight camping, but due to COVID-19, they are understaffed and are hoping to bring back the camping and the public educational tours soon.
“We are completely funded off of donations, tour fees, and gift shop purchases,” Banks said. “To support Seacrest we have an Amazon Wishlist. Go on there, order something off of that, we have donor programs in our website, and come visit us for a tour to learn about the wolf, and then go be a voice for the wolves.”
She said that there are petitions online to help get the wolves back on the endangered species list and she recommends people go listen to speakers and learn even more.
“The biggest thing is to raise awareness for how important the wolf truly is and to help get rid of that big bad wolf mentality, teach people,” Banks said. “If you hear somebody talking about wolves and how they are bad and scary, tell them they are not. I went to see them at Seacrest and this is what I learned.”
Address: 3449 Bonnett Pond Road Chipley, FL, 32428.
For more information about Seacrest Wolf Preserve, click here.