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The Wolves in Winter at Wolf Howl Animal Preserve by Maria Ferguson


The Wolves had a good Christmas.  Their freezer is full of venison from hunters and so are their bellies.  They enjoyed their cheese and meat Christmas Tree that has been a tradition at the Preserve since 2005.  You can view the video of their Christmas day celebration below.  My Son Brian is helping me decorate the tree and as you can see they eat them almost as soon as we put them on if not before.  This year we just hand fed Ohoyo her treats as she was afraid of the tree last year and wouldn’t take the treats off of it.  Wa-ta-chee waits until we all go away before he eats but I know he did because I watched him on the live feed camera from my office.  They also enjoyed their squeaky toys and really don’t like if I touch them once they are given to them.

One of the things the Wolves enjoy about winter is their straw or hay. We prefer to give them straw but haven’t been able to find it locally the last few years.  They love to lie on it.  We put it inside their stone den and also spread it in front of the Webcam so you can see how much they like it.  We wait until we know there will be several days of sunshine and no rain before we place it out in the open in their enclosure.  The hay inside their den is changed frequently through the winter months depending on how wet of a winter we are having.

I would like to explain a little about how we feed.  Our Wolves and the dogs at WHAP are on a raw diet, which consists of venison, or chicken quarters as a base.  Then we always give them what we call “appeteasers” so they won’t get bored.  We switch those up daily.  Some of these include liver, hearts, braunschweiger (a current favorite), ribs, oily fish such as Salmon, whole tilapia, beef cheekmeat (another favorite), pork necks, bacon (they love bacon), beef roasts, hot dogs, etc.  On rare occasion we let them indulge on human favorites which they really go crazy for like tacos, shrimp and cheesy ranch fries.  Their favorite canine treats are freeze dried liver courtesy of Norma Garcia.  They also enjoy chicken wrapped sweet potatoes or chicken jerky.  If you watch them eat in front of the Webcam, you will notice that we only bring out a few food pans as they don’t eat their food out of the pan.  They take it to GO.  When it rains, we put their food inside their den because they simply don’t like wet food.  When they have a whole deer carcass, we normally don’t feed them for a few days as it takes that long to polish it off.  If we have an abundance of deer, (one of the days in December we received 5 bucks) my husband, Don, cuts up the meatiest parts, the organ meat and ribs and freezes them.  All of the food we serve except for the venison, we buy from either the grocery store or a meat packing facility.  We get 280lbs of chicken delivered every 2 weeks and buy another 35-40lbs at the grocery store weekly.  It is human grade and when we can get it, organic.  We try and feed at dusk so that the Wolves won’t have to fight off flies to eat in peace.  When the Wolves have a deer carcass we only keep it in their enclosure for a few days depending on weather.  We then remove it, which they are not happy about and put it out for the wildlife.  Here are some photos from our field camera of visitors to who dined on left overs at the Preserve.  There are two visitors that look like they may be Red Wolf Coyote Hybrids and we will run these photos by our Fish and Wildlife inspector for his opinion.

Howling_Wolves_010512.JPGWolves are monoestrus, which means they breed only once a year.  This takes place in the winter months.  For our Wolves, courting begins in October and that is when you will notice flirtatious behavior particularly from the female members of the pack.  That is followed by proestrus.  A bloody vaginal discharge is seen in the females with increase attractiveness to the males due to the higher blood concentration of estrogen.  This period normally lasts for approximately two to four weeks in captive Wolves.  In wild Wolves it can last up to 45 days.  The next phase of their reproductive cycle is estrus.  At this time the female will allow the male to mount her.  She will even solicit it by presenting herself to him by pushing against him while she moves her tail to the side.  This period normally lasts 9-15 days in captive Wolves.  There is no real data on the amount of time that this phase lasts in wild Wolves.  The timeframe of these various stages in their reproductive cycle are normally double or more than that of a dog.  We close the Preserve at this time of year as tension is thickened by the various hormonal changes that take place.  We like to keep their surroundings as peaceful as possible.  Our male Wolves have had vasectomies so they will not reproduce but they are still able, as human males are that have had vasectomies to mate.  Our females are intact, hormonally and go through the complete cycle. Wolves in the wild tend to not inbreed unless it is impossible or too dangerous to seek a mate outside of their pack.  In captive Wolves, there is a history of inbreeding, as the Alpha pair must sleep at some point during this cycle.  Some interesting observations regarding captive Wolf breeding cycles are these; the Alpha Female seems to go into her cycle first.  We were able to observe this as we have had two different Alpha females during the past 6 years.  Another observation is that the Alpha Female dominating the other females will often lessen or hasten their cycles.  Our Beta Male, Niko Akni takes on most of the responsibility for stopping the subordinate male Wolf Waya from mating with the females.  He seems to understand that it is only the Alpha Male, his Father that should mate.  It’s amazing to me.  Our current Alpha Female is only willing to mate with the Alpha Male as the subordinate females seemed to just want to mate with any male except their brother.  It appears they have their own set of rules designed for their situation as living as a captive pack.

There is an increase in howling during this season.  We find that it doesn’t take much to get them going.  We also have observed the wild coyotes coming onto the Preserve during this time and have heard them singing with our Wolves.  The other night we heard a solo howl from Wa-ta-chee.  He has a distinctive beautiful howl, something right out of the wild.  It caused us some concern for two reasons.  The first is that normally the other Wolves will join in and they didn’t.  The second was that it so just so mournful.  So, we put our jackets on and went into the enclosure to make sure all was well.  I’m happy to report that it was and that they were happy to see us at a time we normally don’t venture into their territory.  Last night I took some photos of Nita singing her Wolfie heart out and put together a slideshow with our Wolves howling as the background music.

Now we are waiting for the snow that will complete a perfect Wolf winter.


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