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LOCKPORT - When John Basile bought his house here 22 years ago he had no nearby neighbors. He also had a lot of land. So combined with his love for animals, it seemed a perfect spot to raise some.

"It actually started out for my own interests, just getting some livestock and such,'' Basile said.

Now, after more than two decades, it is a ranch where people can come to learn about ecology, fragility of a species and, perhaps most importantly, wolves.

Big Run Wolf Ranch is Basile's labor of love. "I was always fascinated by wolves,'' he said.

Basile's road to owning a wolf ranch began more than 20 years ago. When it was still legal, he owned a wolf hybrid - part wolf, part dog. His first wolf was Odin, who died in 1993. Little Odin is a descendant of the original.

Basile lives on his ranch with his wife, Julie, who has a master's degree in biology education as well as a teaching certificate in secondary education. She is currently a full-time high school biology teacher.

The most difficult part of having a ranch is the requirements for keeping them. Pens have to be a certain size, and the pens of certain breeds have to be kept a specific distance apart.

Three breeds of wolves

Basile said his ranch has three breeds of wolves - black British Columbian, which are native to the western coast of Canada and are the descendants of Odin; gray Timber wolves, which will be coming off the endangered list; and pure snow white Ellesmere Arctic wolves, descendants of animals that came off an island in far northern of Canada.

Basile took the original Odin in as a kind of rescue. Another family that was licensed and had started keeping wolves was unable to keep them any longer for financial reasons. So Basile, who had already sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a license, bought the wolf.

Two-thirds of the animals on the ranch are rescues. Perhaps the most unusual is Kuma, a North American black bear. In March 1999, Basile got a phone call from Will County Animal Control. They had just confiscated a bear that had been bought at a flea market in Kankakee for $300.

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There was no other place for the bear to go and if Basile did not take him, officers said, the bear would have to be euthanized.

"I'd say he only weighed 10 or 12 pounds,'' Basile said. "He was the size of a raccoon…. They talked me into it.''

Basile said Kuma is now 7½ feet tall and weighs 450 pounds.

Every day at 9 a.m., Basile, who also works full time at UPS, begins to care for his ranch.

First he does an inspection of the enclosures and the animals in them - wolves, the bear, a cougar, a llama and a peacock, among others.

Then he begins feeding them. The wolves do not eat every day. "We feed the wolves like they eat in the wild,'' he said.

That means the wolves get a large amount of food when fed and, like they would in the wild, they eat to their fill and then hide the rest.

Although feeding the animals is important, Basile said it is just a small part of what he and his volunteers do every day.

"Eighty percent of this place is just sanitizing and scrubbing,'' Basile said.

Thanks to grants that help support the ranch, Basile said he is implementing new experiences for visitors. A new pavilion was built and will open this year. Basile said he can enclose three sides and, with a heater, he can have a presentation, even in inclement weather.

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