a Moment Of Connection
Capturing the Beauty and Fragility of an Indicator Species
Inspiration: A Moment of Connection
Musselman’s love of nature and animals (working with them since a young age) would propel her to dedicate her life’s work to raise awareness of both the beauty and fragility of endangered and indicator species, animals whom, if preserved, would continue to save an innumerable amount of species. Musselman’s aspiration is to “… confront the destructive side of human impact on the survival of all wild creatures,” documenting animals in sanctuaries around the world, and the compassionate people who dedicate their lives in the care and survival of these precious beings. Musselman’s first project, Finding Trust, (published by Kehrer Verlag, spring of 2014 in Germany), shares the story of Angel, along with her fellow survivors who has called the rescue their forever home. It was important for Musselman to volunteer with sanctuary, and to be a part of the injured residents’ journey, in order for her to capture the truth and beauty of these survivors, as these photographs exist as a tribute to the animal residents of a sanctuary which has a special place in her heart.
Angel, with her deep, brown eyes, full of wisdom, would be Musselman’s savior and inspiration, when Musselman faced difficulties during her time volunteering at the sanctuary. When Musselman looked into Angel’s soulful eyes, Musselman felt as if Angel was someone she knew, a feeling Musselman never experienced with any other animal. When the days were particularly tough for Musselman, she felt consoled by Angel, who herself, was injured. Musselman felt the compassion radiating from Angel, as if she was telling Musselman, “Things will be okay,” despite her own injury, much like a friend or family would do, despite the pain and hardship he or she felt. When it was time for Angel to end her journey and leave this world, it was particularly difficult for Musselman, as it felt like she lost her friend or family member; Angel will always remain Musselman’s first muse, remembering Angel as “an ancient spirit [who] spoke to me.” Musselman’s deep connection to Angel was something special and extremely rare, where Musselman feels lucky to have the open mind to allow this type of experience, and to feel that connection, something Musselman considers a great gift.
Finding Trust won first place in the 2006 Environmental Invitational and was featured in American Photography 22 and 25.
Wolf Haven International
Musselman was awarded the Getty Images Grant for Good, where she began photographing the majestic wolves who live at Wolf Haven International, or Wolf Haven. According to Kim Young, Wolf Haven International Director of Communications, establishing the sanctuary as a necessity was recognized by Wolf Haven Founders, Steve and Linda Kuntz, when they had purchased a wolf pup, Blackfoot, in 1978; they soon realized they were not prepared to provide a healthy environment for Blackfoot. The Kuntzs discovered many other people were in a similar situation, “owning” a wolf without the knowledge in the implications of caring for one. The Kuntzs would begin a sanctuary for other captive-born, displaced wolves who had no other place to live, who would otherwise be euthanized, providing a home to approximately 200 of these magnificent beings.
Wolf Haven rescues wolves from a variety of sources, including tourist attractions, animal hoarders, and zoos which no longer want a wolf exhibit; the primary source for rescued wolves: private owners who no longer want the wolves, or to care for them. As Young observes, “When Wolf Haven rescues these wolves, they have a home with us for the rest of their lives,” while also acting as a foster facility for two endangered types of wolves, the Mexican gray wolf, or “Mexican wolf,” and the red wolf, participating in two separate Species Survival Plans (SSP), after applying and undergoing a rigorous review and inspection process. The SSP program is a long-term plan involving conservation breeding, habitat preservation, field conservation, habitat preservation, and supportive research with the ultimate goal of ensuring the survival of the world’s threatened and endangered species.
According to Wolf Haven, the Mexican wolf is one of the most endangered mammals in North America, the most highly endangered subspecies of the gray wolf, and one of the rarest mammals in the world. An estimated of at least 4,000 Mexican wolves roamed across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and were “equally abundant in Mexico.” The Mexican wolves would be exterminated by government programs and private individuals to the point of near extinction, where a recovery program was initiated in 1977 with the capture of the last five remaining wild Mexican wolves in Mexico; the only option for the restoration of the Mexican wolf was captive breeding and reintroduction. Reintroduction efforts began in 1998.
The Mexican wolves were exterminated by government programs, essentially due to the wolves often being a misunderstood keystone predator, leading to their demonizing. Young explains, fairy tales and myths have proliferated for hundreds of years about the wolf, “mistakenly labeled an indiscriminate killer… sometimes viewed as a not so necessary evil on the landscape,” a view prevalent in the 19th century, as the wolves were exterminated from nearly every state, except Alaska and Minnesota. However, wolves are a keystone and apex predator, with the essential role of maintaining a homeostasis of the ecosystem. The concept “Trophic Cascade” has emerged to explain the trickle down effect, or consequences of the removal or reintroduction of a species on the environment and other species. Wolves were considered a threat to humans and their domestic animals; as ranching and farming interest spread throughout the country, the wolves were lethally removed “due to the false notion that if left on the landscape, they would decimate herds of sheep and cattle,” viewing it as a method of successful animal husbandry, once keystone predators were removed.
In 1994, Wolf Haven was approved to participate in the Mexican Gray Wolf SSP as both a captive breeding facility, and a pre-release facility. Wolf Haven is one of only three US pre-release breeding facilities for the Mexican Gray Wolf program, where two packs were released into Arizona’s Apache National Forest (the original Hawk’s Nest Pack in 1998 and the Cienga Pack in 2000). As Young explains, a total of five litters of Mexican wolf pups were born at Wolf Haven between 1996 and 2008, where “some of the first Mexican wolves released back into the Southwest—after an absence of nearly 40 years—came from [Wolf Haven].” The two packs of wolves, 11 individuals total from Wolf Haven, have fared extremely well in the wild, also making substantial contributions to the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery. Four pairs of Mexican wolves were recommended for breeding at Wolf Haven during the spring of 2015: Coal and Nieta, Brother and Hopa, Moss and Betty, and Diablo and Gypsy. Wolf Haven is excited to report that one of their Mexican wolf families is one step closer to being released into the wild, possibly as early as April.
Capturing Beauty and Fragility
Originally, Musselman had planned on traveling to Sulawesi, Indonesia, to photograph the residents at a sanctuary which provided refuge for endangered animals who were victims of the international outlaw animal trade, focusing on the indicator species, specifically, the keystone species; however, it would have been unsafe for Musselman to travel to an island with residents afflicted with malaria, as she was expecting a child, and could not take the anti-malaria medication. Perhaps it was serendipity, when Musselman discovered Wolf Haven.
The project’s focus was on the indicator species, particularly the keystone species. When Musselman discovered Wolf Haven was only two hours from her home, she felt blessed. Musselman had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of wild wolves, living in a sanctuary which was as close to “the environment of their births as possible. The wildness of their surroundings that had been stolen, had been returned in the gift of true sanctuary.” Musselman has tremendous respect and admiration for Wolf Haven, characterizing the sanctuary as “a wonderful, wonderful, place,” filled with people who do an “amazing job in caring for the animals,” in treating each wolf with dignity and respect, as each wolf is given a large enclosure with freedom and a companion to co-habitate with.
Musselman photographs these wolves, capturing candid moments, while falling in love with these beautiful beings in the process. With a laugh, Musselman comments, “I didn’t fall in love with them right away! They’re intense when you first meet them.” Photographing the residents of Wolf Haven was a journey, as wolves in general, are difficult to photograph, as they hate being stared at; Musselman knew she had to earn their trust, which took time.
Musselman spent long days with one of her favorite residents, the stunning Jesse James, a playful, curious, and spirited gray wolf, and her companion, Shiloh, a Wolfdog. As Wolf Haven accounts, Jesse James was born in 2000, where she was famous among at the County of San Diego Department of Animal Control, when neighbors of her owner continually complained of Jesse James’s numerous escapes and attacks on pets. The county tried repeatedly to convince Jesse James’s owner to confine her “pet,” but the individual didn’t have a proper enclosure, and Jesse James was consequently confiscated as a “nuisance animal.” Jesse James faced euthanasia for simply following her natural instincts. Fortunately for Jesse James, a lieutenant in the department was committed to finding her a safe home, at Wolf Haven; she was transported to Wolf Haven in February of 2004. Jesse James enjoyed a new enclosure, featuring a large water feature and rock piles, as she spent her days playing and lounging with Shiloh, a Wolfdog.
Musselman would sit on her father’s old folding artist chair, spending quiet moments with Jesse James and Shiloh, as they approached the strong fence (which protects Musselman as she photographs the wolves), smelling and staring at Musselman; approximately four weeks later, they began to accept Musselman. Musselman would continue spending quiet moments with Jesse James and Shiloh, observing their relationship amongst the serenity of the forest. Musselman would watch Jesse James and Shiloh for hours, before she could “uncover a moment of connection between two beings,” as she began to develop a connection to them. “We connected through our eyes, and I believe, our hearts,” as Jesse James and Shiloh will always have a special place in Musselman’s heart. Jesse James passed away from complications, due to old age, in 2015, within days of Shiloh’s sudden death. As one of those rare couples, so deeply in love, who could not live another day without the other, “They were truly in love.”