Friday, April 8, 2011

Young wolves join Northern Trail

Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications


The sound of howls and yips may be heard through the zoo as a pack of 1-year-old gray wolves explore their new home in our award-winning Northern Trail exhibit.
The four canids, all female, were born at New York State Zoo and arrived at Woodland Park last September. After a 30-day standard quarantine, the wolves have spent the last several months in an off-view enclosure getting acclimated to their new surroundings and routine. Last week they took their first steps out into their exhibit at Northern Trail and have adjusted well.

The wolves are conservation ambassadors representing the complex and volatile story of the return of the wolf to Washington state and the challenges their endangered cousins in the wild face.

Although the wolves are nearly full grown, ranging from 75-85 pounds, they are young and still very curious and active. The best way to observe them is to stand quietly and watch the natural behaviors of a wolf pack. They are hierarchical by nature and you’ll be able to pick out the alpha female by watching her behavior. She is playful but also the most relaxed, so you’ll see her at the top of the exhibit while the most submissive wolf spends much of her time at the lower part of the exhibit.

In their Northern Trail exhibit, you’ll be able to spot the wolves in the foreground and elk in the background, demonstrating a predator-prey relationship. The elk add daily enrichment for the wolves. The elk actually venture down to the fence line and stand nose to nose with the wolves.

Before the young pack moved in, a 16-year-old female was the zoo’s sole remaining wolf in the exhibit after her male companion died a couple of months ago from geriatric-related health issues. Since introducing an elderly wolf to a young pack is not possible, she was moved to a retirement enclosure that is off view to visitors. Her keepers tell us that she is already adjusting quite well to her retired status and likes lying on a rock overlooking lower Woodland Park.

The gray wolf (Canis lupus), also called the timber wolf, is listed and protected as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act and by the state of Washington. Wolves have been hunted almost to extinction in the U.S. with the exception of Alaska and Minnesota. One of the most feared and controversial animals of our time, wolves generally hunt in packs and are an important northern predator. State and federal wildlife authorities are monitoring the activity of resident wolves to learn more about their use of habitat and to reduce potential conflicts.

We have had wolves at the zoo for more than 60 years. Given the rising political pressures and increasing conflict between wolves and people in the Northwest and Northern Rockies, it’s important for people of all ages to connect with wolves at the zoo and learn about the challenges these predators face in the wild, the unwarranted fears and their contribution to our ecosystems.

Learn more about wolves at our annual Bear Affair and Big Howl for Wolves conservation education event on June 4.

Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

7 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I love to hear the details of the animals at WPZ. I can't wait to see the new pack, they look amazing!

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  2. Every time I read Woodland Park Zoo's blogs, I can learn something new, and this time, I learned something about the gray wolves' social customs!

    The article mentions that because of some unwarranted fears, the gray wolves are endangered. I think many species face a similar problems, like some species of snakes. Maybe educating people about these creatures can help solve this problem.

    I expect to read more about the animals.

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  3. I was curious; what's the carrying capacity of that exhibit? The wolves seem pretty relaxed and happy!

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  4. Barbara - The carrying capacity of the wolf exhibit depends on the dynamics of the pack and how much the alpha female will tolerate. What works for our pack might not work for another pack because it really depends on the individual wolves. Right now our wolves are young, they are siblings and there is no competition to breed with a male so there is not a reason for our alpha to decide that one of the other females would need to leave the pack. As they get older, it is something we have to watch.

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  5. I hope the retired wolf has a good relaxing rest of her life. She was my favorite zoo animal for years. We have several great clips of her scent marking (rolling, not peeing!)the pumpkins you would provide as enrichment each year at Halloween. Sixteen is an amazing age for a wolf to live to. You folks have really taken care of her well since you got her!

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  6. The wolves looked to be having a great time on July 2nd, pulling things out of the tree branches and stealing each other's bones, but they seemed to be the most interested in the zoo staff who were trying to coax the falcon out of the tree in the elk exhibit! We've seen you provide them with tidbits to eat over the past few months since the new wolves have arrived, but how do they get a drink of water all day? Thanks! - Scott H

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  7. Hi, Scott. The wolves have, as do many of the exhibits, automated drinkers that supply a constant source of fresh water. These drinkers are usually hidden within the exhibit in order to maintain the naturalistic appearance.

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