Henri Bonner (C’20) uses life-long passion for wolves to propel her capstone project

Pictured: Henri Bonner (C’20) in front of Gailor Hall. Photo courtesy of Dakota Collins (C’23).

By Charlotte Suttee
Staff Writer

“I have since my childhood been obsessed with wolves,” said environmental arts and humanities major Henri Bonner (C’20). “I wrote a story in elementary school about a girl dying and coming back to life as a wolf and becoming the leader of the pack. She could protect the other wolves from humans because she understood them.” 

This anecdote came from the mind of Bonner, whose father established the major as an option with his alma mater. Her love of wolves has accompanied her all the way to and through her final year of college. Recently, she journeyed to Asheville to interview the author of The Secret World of Red Wolves, DeLene Beeland, in preparation for her capstone.

“My capstone project is on red wolves,” said Bonner. “By working with red wolves I have met so many incredible people. Even though this is a new instance of meeting someone else passionate about red wolves, throughout my life I have met people who show me how passionate they are about the arts and the environment and taking care of one another.”

She explains how these three things–– art, the environment, and caring people–– are the “pillars” of her life and what led her to her specific major. Both of her parents are artists, and she grew up in close connectivity with the natural world around her, reading books in trees and exploring fields home to white-tailed deer. 

“About a year ago, my aunt told me she had a connection to Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center. I contacted them, and I helped by volunteering and taking footage and photos. Tish [Gailmard] and Taylor [Berry] were rehabilitators that showed me around, and I got to go in the bobcat enclosure to see how they keep [the bobcats] active. Then we came across the red wolf.” 

Red wolves are native to the southeastern region of the United States, and thought to be extinct by 1980, scientists now estimate there are less than 20 in the wild. Two of them are held in captivity at the Arboretum and Nature Center. Their names are Apollo and Rudy, and Bonner was assigned to take photos of them.

They were shy and hid from her in their respective enclosures, peeking out from behind their structure with curious eyes. Bonner describes how they looked like coyotes with their tawny-gray fur. But as Bonner returned again and again, they grew more comfortable with her and she got to know them as the unique and lovable wolves they are.

“They’ll often run around when I point my camera at them as if it’s a game,” she explained,“The emotional connection that you feel when you see this gorgeous animal is awe inspiring. And the idea that anyone could dislike them hurts in a way that’s really hard to explain.”

The plans to showcase her work with the red wolves are still in the works. She’s been challenging herself to let go of some of her initial ideas for the sake of time and energy.

“I’m trying to figure out what I want my art to be… I’m hoping to set up a charity event for the red wolves to use as part of the gallery showing. I might just end up doing something like a children’s book. No matter what, I want it to be something that leaves a positive impact on the red wolves and the Arboretum Center in Chattanooga.”

This is not the only big project Bonner has been working on. She is using her independent study class to create a pilot episode of a children’s TV show.

“[The show] would teach religion and ecology to children. It breaks down a story from whatever spirituality is represented,” she said, “It’s a way to teach children how different people connect with the earth around them.”

This includes interviews, animation, and her own cinematographic work. Her interest in children’s programming stemmed from her experience having conversations with people who disagree with her. Bonner discovered the power of education and objective facts. She found that people’s opinions are deeply rooted within themselves and they can’t be fought with more opinions. Showing real life sounds, film, and stories of the earth and people is an effective way to communicate the truth.

“For anyone interested in environmental arts and humanities: definitely look into it,” she said encouragingly,  “There are a lot more options for jobs and furthering your education in that major than people realize. For me its environmental programming, for others it might be advocacy. You will have the ability to write and produce thoughts that are understood by more people than the scientific community.”