Last week our animal care staff caught up all nine Mexican wolf pups, who were born to F1422 (Vida) and M1360 (Kochi) this spring, for their second health check.
Mexican wolf parents M1360 (Kochi) and F1422 (Vida) had a litter of nine pups at Wolf Haven on April 30. Although Wolf Haven does not breed the rescued wolves who call our sanctuary home – we wouldn’t want to contribute to the tragedy of wild animals living in captivity – we occasionally have litters of species who have been designated as critically endangered: red wolves (Canis rufus) and Mexican wolves (Canis lupus baileyi).
Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs are cooperative animal programs designed to oversee the population management of select species in captivity in order to enhance their conservation in the wild.
Mexican wolves were declared endangered in 1976. Since 1994, Wolf Haven has actively participated in their recovery, both as a captive breeding facility and one of only three pre-release sites in the US. Toward that end, there have been 10 litters of Mexican wolves born at Wolf Haven, the first one arriving in 1996. Three families from Wolf Haven have been released into the wild, with the Hawk’s Nest family group being among the first three packs of Mexican gray wolves released into the federally designated reintroduction area in Arizona’s Apache National Forest.
From our first “official” photo of Vida and Kochi’s litter, all in a furry pile in their den, to their first required health care check six weeks later, these five males and four females have certainly grown. They will receive their second round of inoculations, deworming and also get microchips later this month. In the meantime, the nine pups all appeared healthy and robust, as you can see at their first checkup.
The first pack of Mexican gray wolves that were transferred from Wolf Haven for release into the wild was the Hawk’s Nest pack, in 1998. Two year’s later, on March 12, 2000, a second group of endangered Mexican wolves, the Cienega pack, left Wolf Haven for Seattle, WA, and then flown to AZ. Once there, the pack was transported to the heart of the Apache National Forest.
The group was placed in a soft wire mesh acclimation pen in the hopes that they would spend some time acclimating and subsequently localizing in the area once released. However, the pack had other ideas. Within 45 minutes, they chewed through the mesh and all but one male pup (m620) self –released and left the pen. By March 14th, the pup ventured from the pen and reunited with his family and together, they roamed the wilds of their new home.
Today while doing the walk through I observed some posturing between our 3 sibling male Mexican gray wolves. The brothers, who are housed together, were born here at Wolf Haven (2 were born in 2007 and the other in 2008) . While the boys lived with their parents and female siblings for several years, they have been living alone as bachelors since 2010.
Fortunately they had the benefit of being parent reared and as such, learned appropriate behavior. We would often observe (via remote camera) the parents chastising the pups when they got out of line and because they were a multigenerational group, they had lots of siblings (8) to not only play with, but to practice ritualized fighting with as well, subsequently developing good social skills.
Even though the parents are the ones in charge, there is a linear hierarchy that exists within the group that is not only age graded, but sex graded as well- meaning that the males and females work out their own chain of command and rarely do dominance disputes cross gender lines. Very early on the 3 boys established a hierarchy among themselves and it has remained pretty stable up until recently. Even when they moved into their own enclosure, away from their sire, the male who had been in charge (M1066) retained the dominant role. However, the youngest of the 3, M1135 has started to test the waters this season and it appears that there may be a shift in dynamics. This is not uncommon, particularly in a disrupted pack. For although the alpha pair’s (or parents’) leadership will stay stable, the rest of the group’s dynamics are in flux. Things like dispersal, injury, or attrition can lead to an opportunity for a lower ranking animal to move up in status. In the case of captive wolves, something as seemingly benign as a move from one enclosure to another can prompt a shift.
So far, our 3 bachelors have lived a pretty peaceful coexistence. During breeding season we saw them periodically get a little testy with one another but usually it presented in raised tails and/or hackles. There were never any actual physical confrontations (that we observed). Same sex groupings, particularly males, seem to get along pretty well together – of course, all bets would be off if we were to introduce a female into the fray- and our boys are no exception.
Breeding season has come and gone, so naturally we would expect to see less posturing. However, today as I rounded the corner to their enclosure, I observed M1135 facing off with M1066-his tail and hackles were raised, his face was set in an agonistic pucker as he emitted a low growl. M1066 had his head turned away in avoidance, which is a submissive behavior, but the rest of his body language sent a different message. His tail and hackles were also raised and his body was rigid, indicating that he wasn’t quite ready to submit. However, his brother body slammed him and M1066 tucked his tail and turned away, redirecting towards the other brother, M1067, who is the lowest ranking of the 3.
There is never a dull moment when you work with animals (especially wolves) and it will be interesting to see how this all plays out. Stay tuned….