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International Wolf Center educates, entertains

Walk into the vaulted International Wolf Center in Ely, and you'll hear the stars of the show before you see them. Howls emanate from the space that houses "Wolves and Humans," an exhibit that provides fascinating facts about wolves, including a display on wolf communication with recordings of the animal's haunted cries. A diorama in the middle of the room doesn't sugar-coat the reality: It depicts a pack of wolves -- some baring teeth -- devouring a deer.

The chilling visual sets the stage for the true attraction: so-called "ambassador" wolves. The animals reside in a 1.25-acre environment. There's no guarantee visitors will see a member of the resident pack, but odds improve during "Wolf 101" presentations held daily in the auditorium. After talks, staff have been known to rally the wolves by throwing ice cubes made with blood into the enclosure.

To be assured of a viewing, attend one of the weekly "What's for dinner?" sessions, when the wolves are fed.

Given such splashy opportunities, it's almost easy to forget why this gem of a place exists: to enhance our understanding of these iconic, social animals and, in doing so, to bolster their survival in the wild.

The center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; days and hours of operation expand beginning May 15. The center also offers learning vacations in Alaska, Yellowstone, Isle Royale National Park and northern Minnesota, including a sleepover at the center (1396 Hwy. 169, Ely; 1-218-365-4695; www.wolf.org).

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