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A Nature Journal

Experience the natural world with east central Illinois master naturalists
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Socializing Wolf Pups

Posted by Maddy Kangas -

This past July for six days, (July 24th-29th) I had an opportunity to spend time with two 11 week old wolf pups that were being socialized for the captive wolf exhibit in Ely, MN. The International Wolf Center in Ely, MN was founded in 1985 by Dr. L David Mech and a group of biologists to educate the public about the behavior of the wolf, in order to further wolf conservation in the US and throughout the world. The emphasis is on the social nature of the wolf in the pack to counter the common misconceptions that people have about the predatory nature of the wolf. It moved to its present facility in 1993 and has maintained a pack of ambassadors wolves since 1989. The Center is a nonbreeding facility and maintains only spayed and neutered wolves. The ambassador wolf pack is comprised of various ages and subspecies of the wolves found in North America. At present the adult wolves are the northwestern subspecies and the Great Plains subspecies. The plan for 2016 was to introduce the arctic subspecies into the exhibit. The Center acquires wolf pups every 4 years to keep the pack vibrant and to avoid behavior problems that might occur with aging wolves and exuberant adolescents. The pups are obtained from another captive breeding facility associated with the Zoological Associations of America between the ages of 10-14 days. They are obtained at such a young age due to the fact that wolves develop avoidance behavior toward humans and other animals shortly after birth and must be socialized to humans at this age so that medical care and husbandry care can be administered to them without stress. They are bottle fed, massaged and touched so that they can be touched throughout their lives. Once at the Center they are in the company of humans for 24 hours until they are introduced to the adult wolves at the age of 12 weeks. Grayson and Axel were born on May 2nd in Canada and transported to the Center on May 25th. During my stay with them they were starting to become more independent and interested in the pack of adult wolves that they could see through a mesh fence. This was also a period of intense play with shows of dominance over each other, caching behavior ( burying food or resources to be hidden from other pack members and dug up later), tug of war and other behaviors seen in young dogs. At this point in their development it was essential to monitor for any physical ailments, food ingestion, stool and urine production and any signs of fear of humans or of the adult wolf pack. Having to monitor their behavioral and physical manifestations for 24 hours turned out to be a very labor intensive project. At this age there were only 2 teams ( 2 people each) along with wolf care staff to monitor them 24 hours every day. My time at Ely was mainly spent on wolf care, eating and sleeping when possible. During the day wolf care consisted of monitoring them and accompanying them to the wolf exhibit where they could be viewed by the public after an educational presentation. It was very important to make this a pleasant experience for them as their mission in life is to be available for viewing by the public. This was accomplished by letting them chew on deer legs, beaver tails and other edible treats while allowing the public to view them for 15-20 minutes at 10, 2 noon and 4. Nighttime care was again to monitor and to distract them from anything that might be frightening such as loud sirens, thunder, and lightening. While in the wolf pen one night I was lying on the ground as they were both sleeping and I suddenly found myself nose to nose with one of the pups. The other pup then woke up and I found myself in the midst of a rough and tumble free for all. I will treasure that forever. Being a Master Naturalist has made me very aware of all the different ways in which we can help to foster the natural environment and my time at the International Wolf Center has strengthened my resolve to help conserve the natural world for all creatures by means of education for our and future generations.


Joyce Eisold '07




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