The Big Bad Project, Recipient

Just about everyone knows the stories about the big bad wolf blowing pigs’ houses down or devouring grandma. Grey wolves, also known as gray wolves or timber wolves, have a scary or vicious reputation that’s reinforced through folktales and other popular media since childhood. But according to The Big Bad Project’s founder Shaunna Costicov-McCombe, that reputation is undeserved. “If people could really see them, it would change the narrative for wolves in general,” she said. “It is hard to see the value in a species that has been vilified so frequently in myths and legends, even when they have proven themselves to be vital to the ecosystems they inhabit.” Officially started in October 2022, The Big Bad Project’s goal is to advocate for the conservation of grey wolves through educational and innovative approaches to species management. Costicov-McCombe was adamant that programs be accessible to as many people as possible. “We want to serve a demographic that isn’t just kids whose classrooms had extra budgets or extra funding,” she insisted. “If our programming is virtual, the majority of the population can access it. And making it free eliminates the cost barrier.” A photo collage of a woman and a grey wolf. Their first initiative, Go Wild Weekends, kicks off this summer and will provide behind-the-scenes glimpses into grey wolf husbandry, training and even playtime, while also discussing conservation issues that impact wolves and the habitats they share with humans. Wolves in the Classroom, the second initiative, has a target date of spring 2024 and will allow K-12 youth to study the lives of wolves as well as the interconnected systems that link us. The program will also look at how the decisions humans make can impact those systems and the world around us. Animal ambassadors help change the narrative The Big Bad Project focuses on the connection between individuals and wildlife, which is crucial to conservation. With that in mind, the organization uses two ambassador animals. Tiberius (Tibbi) and Wyatt have distinct personalities that allow people to see wolves’ behavior and personalities firsthand. “Tibbi will turn three on April 23 and is a trickster,” Costicov-McCombe explained. “He’s silly and will do anything to get a rise out of you. And, believe it or not, he won’t watch anything on TV except Dodgers® baseball.” On the other hand, Wyatt is younger and a bit more reserved, but she is also the undisputed leader of the pair. “She’s named after Wyatt Earp because she’s a new American legend,” Costicov-McCombe laughed. “She hangs out on my bed and watches Netflix. She loves being present with you, and loves attention from her handlers, but she might want to hang back around new people. She’s more vocal and calls the shots on what’s cool and what’s not with Tibbi.” How custom promotional T-shirts pique curiosity and start conversations To help raise awareness for the project and its conservation efforts, Costicov-McCombe uses custom promotional T-shirts for staff, board members and stakeholders. Each shirt has the organization’s logo on the front pocket and an eye-catching design on the back. “On the back it says, ‘Ask Me About My Big Bad’ with a graphic of Tibbi,” she explained. “It helps to spark some interesting conversations about wolves and conservation.” For example, she was recently asked about her shirt while shopping. Since board members live in multiple states, they can raise awareness in their local communities across the country. Eventually, she would like to offer the shirts as giveaways for donors who sponsor the organization for the care of the animal ambassadors. Overall, Costicov-McCombe hopes that The Big Bad Project will help create positive associations through meaningful interactions between people and grey wolves, which will serve as a catalyst for conservation efforts. “Conservation is a really big and complicated topic, so we feel that interaction with an audience or viewers is key. We want them to ask questions so we can give them real answers,” she said. “We have centuries of myths and legends about grey wolves to combat. The truth is, they’re very family oriented and can be outright silly—but most importantly, they are a keystone species that have a significant impact. There is more to them then what we know in our fairy tales.” To keep up with Wyatt and Tibbi and The Big Bad Project’s conservation efforts, follow them on Instagram®.

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