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Wolf Breeding Season by Maria Ferguson
The Wolves are now officially in their breeding season at Wolf Howl Animal Preserve. Puberty in Wolves occurs at 22 months of age in both males and females. First sperm production and first ovulation define puberty, respectively. Our female Wolf, Ohoyo, is presently in proestrus, which is the phase before she will actually ovulate. This cycle phase lasts 6 weeks. This means that Ohoyo is right on target. She will be 22 months exactly when this proestrus period is over and she is actually in estrus (ovulating). Proestrus symptoms include an increase in estradiol that stimulates a uterine discharge which typically begins in late fall or early winter. Again our girl is right on target. A uterine discharge associated with proestrus was first observed on December 3rd. Spontaneous ovulation follows and is preceded by a rise in progesterone that in combination with estradiol activates estrus. Estrus is the phase that allows the female to become receptive to a male. Ohoyo has not at this time reached this phase of her reproductive cycle.
The Gray Wolf species, Canis Lupus, reproduction is literally seasonal. They come into season in the winter months. This is not unusual for temperate zone species. What is unique to the species is that they only have one ovulatory cycle (monestrum) annually. Most other mammals are polyestrum, which means they cycle continuously. Research studies have been done on this subject and the conclusions are that the reasons for this monestrum cycle relate to the Wolves social system and structure. It helps to eliminate the chance for additional periods of estrus in subordinates that typically do not mate. This monestrum cycle helps to reduce the aggression and strain that may be bestowed on less dominant animals during the breeding season. The lengthy proestrus cycle enables the male and female to locate a mate and pair bond which enhances the chances of a conception taking place during estrus. Pair bonding is not limited to the breeding season.
The inception of proestrus sparked a nervous Alpha, Wa-ta-chee in Wolf Howl Animal Preserve’s pack. Coyotes were observed on several occasions coming onto the Preserve. We also recorded Waya, our subordinate male exchanging howls with a female coyote, who was also spotted coming on to the Preserve to look for a possible mate. Ohoyo is slightly more than half over with her proestrus phase. Wa-ta-chee has settled down somewhat but we are confident that his anxiety will only increase during the full-blown estrus phase of her cycle, which thankfully only lasts approximately 7 days.