Take a walk on the wild side at Wolf Haven International, a wolf sanctuary that has rescued and housed 200 displaced, captive-born animals in its 35-year history.
By Brennan Stoelb, Animal Care Specialist
Springtime is here. I know this not only because the trees are in bloom, but also because my house is covered with a thin layer of dog fur. As a matter of fact, after I typed that last sentence, I proceeded to pet my husky Winnie who was wet from the rain and my hand is now covered in a layer of fur.
If you have been to the sanctuary in the winter months you could be fooled into thinking that wolves weigh 150 pounds or more, based purely on their perceived girth. The reality is that wolves are so well insulated that their bulkiness in winter is just fur! A wolf’s coat is comprised of two different types of fur; a soft undercoat and coarser outer coat with longer guard hairs. The longest fur is on the back by the shoulders, often referred to as a “cape.”
Wolves also have more fur in their ears than dogs to help protect the inner ear from the elements. When wolves are in extreme cold temperatures, say -30 degrees, their undercoat keeps them warm and you will often find them curled up in a ball with their noses tucked under their tails, like this husky.
So with their size in winter attributed to their fur, we can assume that the rest of the year they appear smaller.This true, but not for the reasons you may think. It makes sense to have more fur when it’s cold and less when it’s hot, but temperature isn’t the reason for the fur loss. Wolves, like all mammals, are photoperiodic- meaning that their endocrine cycles are regulated by the amount of daylight hours. In the spring as daylight hours increase, melatonin mediated changes cause prolactin levels to rise in both male and female wolves.
Prolactin is a hormone that triggers maternal and paternal behavior in wolves, among other species, such as denning, lactation, and shedding. The peak levels of prolactin coincide with the onset of summer and decrease throughout the rest of the year.Right now, the wolves are starting to look a little ragged, with clumps of fur hanging off of them.
You may even see a fence line or two that looks like it’s growing some fur. If you come and visit us this summer, just don’t be surprised if the wolves look smaller than the last time you were in the winter and be thankful that the hair isn’t on your furniture!
So Why Work with Wolves? by Brennan Stoelb, Animal Care Specialist
When it comes to getting messy, it’s part of the job. I obviously shop at Goodwill. I know that the animals are getting a great variety of food and that care and thought is used to ensure that they remain healthy. It’s also great to know that the road kill is being used for a great cause.
So at this point, we’ve learned that 1) animal care doesn’t play with wolves 2) it can be pretty unpleasant to work in inclement weather and 3) animal care staff not only deal with wolves, but can also be terrorized by the local wildlife (snakes and hornets, for example) and 4) it can be a pretty stinky job. That hits the nail on the head, doesn’t it?
So why do I it? Well, when an animal wants nothing to do with me, doesn’t seek my attention, as in the case of wolves, they are simply doing what they should be doing. It means they are acting as a wild animal. We all want to be wanted and needed, but all they need is to be is left alone. Our residents always arrive at Wolf Haven with varying degrees of human sociability, due to their unique circumstances, and that’s ok. As long as they are comfortable with my presence as I go about my day, performing tasks to allow them a good life, I’m content with that.
As for the weather, very rarely do I look at the forecast. I simply assume that every day the weather will be awful and then I’m never let down. I get to be outside, and I’ll never argue with that.
As for the local wildlife……there is nothing redeeming about snakes and hornets.
What’s that smell? by Brennan Stoelb, Animal Care Specialist, Wolf Haven International
Even if our clothes stay dry, they are not out of the woods yet. Our clothes are constantly subjected to the various aromas we encounter on a daily basis. I’ll use today as an example. For our Species Survival Plan (SSP) enclosures, we do fecal clean-ups every other day. It was decided that fecals would be done at the same time that we did rounds (when everyone gets fed). So, this morning Pamela and I did routine fence line work in Ruby and Tala’s (two red wolves) enclosure. We set the barrel full of woodchips down for a second and then continued towards are work area, where I dumped a pile of chips to spread. I began to notice that something didn’t smell right. My hand was muddy, but mud doesn’t smell like this. I then looked at my pant leg and found some more unsettling news. Apparently when we set the barrel down, we set it on a pile of excrement, which was conveniently placed by the bottom handle so I could grab it and then rub it against my leg. For one last bit of information, consistency changes depending how much raw meat an animal consumes……we’ll leave it at that.
I’ve mentioned in a previous blog (“Barrel O’ Fun” posted Oct 2, 2013) about the meat donations from a local retailer through the Sustainable Solutions through Quest Recycling program. Basically, this is a donation of a variety of unsold meat, so imagine what those meats smell like. Other sources of meat include fresh road kill. Yes, that’s right. We only feed road kill that is relatively fresh, no maggots or other predatory evidence being present, to our SSP residents. We often freeze the deer when they arrive to kill off any ticks or other parasites that may be present. We then thaw the animal and divide it up. This includes legs and carcass often going to different enclosures. I will leave it at that. After a couple of days, the remnants are then removed from the enclosures.
This also goes for salmon, pumpkins etc. Wolves will often cache things and you can imagine what a salmon smells and looks like after basking in the sun, partially buried.
Bottom line, sanitizer is our friend. (to be continued…)
Up Next: Why Work with Wolves? – the final installment of the series
Working “with” Other Creatures by Brennan Stoelb, Animal Care Specialist, Wolf Haven International
Since Animal Care staff doesn’t go into enclosures for unnecessary reasons, and we take the highest precautions when we do go in, my biggest fear at Wolf Haven isn’t the animals – at least not the resident animals. I am afraid of snakes.
There, I said it. I was astonished by the amount of Garter Snakes that were on this property in the summer (and those are just the ones that I can see!) One sneaky snake gave me a heart attack after he maneuvered himself to the top off cedar fence, just soaking up the sun. I walked past him at least twice before I saw his beady little eyes staring into mine.
As a side note, should a snake have the misfortune of being in an enclosure, they may be used as a toy. Carosal the coyote is a great snake catcher. Not that I want to see snakes die, mind you.
Since we’re talking about non-resident creatures, I want to mention the bees and hornets. While weed whacking in the back part of the sanctuary, wearing my protective face mask and weed whacker vest with attached weed whacker, I must have stumbled upon a nest. I was immediately stung four times on my right shoulder and once on my hand, as I was running and stripping off my gear.
Up Next: What’s That Smell?
Brennan Stoelb, Animal Care Specialist/Wolf Haven International
Working with Weather
The weather can make daily work life challenging. Since it is the Pacific Northwest, rain is not surprising, so be prepared to be wet. As I write this blog entry, my pants, flannel shirt, and undershirt are soaked from pressure-washing log feeders (carved logs that we put kibble in for our Species Survival animals, the red wolves and Mexican gray wolves).
The howling wind doesn’t help either. When the wind gets to blowing at 30 knots, Wolf Haven closes the sanctuary, not only for tours but for staff as well. We do this for a couple of reasons. First off, we have trees in enclosures and the limbs can break off and fall into enclosures or come flying towards an unsuspecting tour group. Secondly, blowing wind with swaying branches can be a source of stress for the wolves and we don’t want to add to a stressful situation. A tour can come back at another time. Whatever the task, it can wait.
This summer we also had some very hot weeks. As much as we like to bask in the sun when it’s around, we limit our time in the sanctuary during the heat spells. Just as during high winds, we don’t want to stress animals out and cause them to run. Running and heat don’t mix for humans, or animals. On an afternoon in the summer, it’s probably not the best time to see wolves anyway. They are lying in
the tall grass, under a shady branch, just as they should be.
Word of advice, come in the cool of the morning!
next up: Working “with” Other Creatures
by Brennan Stoelb, Animal Care Specialist/Wolf Haven International
So You Think You Want to Work with Wolves
First off, why would someone want to work in animal care? Usually people will say that it’s because they love wolves, which I believe, (as someone who has been fascinated with wolves for as long as I can remember), is a totally valid reason! However, I think there is a misconception about what the job entails. Often, after telling someone I work at Wolf Haven and in the Animal Care department, the question “so you get to play with wolves all day, huh?” is asked.
The answer is No. Neither I, nor any member of Wolf Haven’s staff plays with wolves all,
part, or even some of the day. Wolf Haven actually takes a more “hands off” approach when managing the resident wolves. Animal Care staff goes into enclosures rather infrequently. When an enclosure is in need of repair or routine maintenance, two or more people will enter it while someone keeps an eye on the animals at all times. The ideal system would allow the wolves to move to a vacant enclosure, completely sealed off from the one we are entering. Wolf Haven is currently very close to having this system in the lower portion of the sanctuary! So as you can see, as far as caretaker/resident interaction, there really isn’t much.
I stand 6’3,” so I can be an intimidating individual to some of our shyer wolves. Out of the 51 animals at Wolf Haven, four present for scratches at the fence, a behavior that we indulge only if the animal wants that interaction. The rest want their food tossed in a timely manner and that’s about it. For a feeling of love and acceptance, I go home to my dogs….and some days my fiancé. (to be continued…)
Next Up: Working with Weather