On the morning of January 15, 2012, I went over to the Wolf enclosure to see how the Wolves were. I quickly notice that there are only 5 visible Wolves in the enclosure. After identifying the Wolves I could see, it’s Wa-ta-chee that can not be seen. At the same time I see that Niko Akni appears to be guarding the stone den. Memories of an all too familiar scene of Ohoyo being held in the underground den by the pack come flooding back to me. We had observed from a distance the evening before Wa-ta-chee mating with Woha and I’m wondering if this caused a conflict with Chito who is a strong Alpha Female. I quickly grab my keys and enter just hoping that Wa-ta-chee is all right. It’s a very scary moment for a Wolf caretaker.
As I approach the den, he growls ferociously, not at me but at the Wolves that have followed me there. It’s like deja vu and I’m immediately saddened at the prospect that our Alpha Male has been dethroned. Fortunately, he looks real good and I can see no outward signs of serious injury. I can’t get him to come out to me since all the Wolves are around. I go and get our male caretaker Don to come and distract the Wolves. I also grab my video camera to record the events so I can study them later. We remained in the enclosure for hours making sure that he was in no immediate danger. I took bits and pieces of the video and put them together so you can see for yourself what was going on.
In the opening scene, you will see Wa-ta-chee with his head and front legs out of the den. Niko Akni appears to be keeping a close eye on him as he peeks around the corner of the den. Chito and Nita are lying in front of the den. When Wa-ta-chee moves, you can see that Niko is on guard. I can see that something happened here that change Niko’s opinion about his Dad and Alpha. Just the day before he adored him.
I realize that it’s not exactly the situation it was with Ohoyo. It seems to be Wa-ta-chee’s choice to be there. Something happened to make him feel that he needs the protection of the den. They could barely stand up in there and therefore fighting would be extremely difficult inside of the den. You will then see Waya walking along the fence looking at something outside of the enclosure. Wa-ta-chee is listening and when Niko leaves his position, he decides to leave the safety of the den to see what the rest of the pack is looking at. I then observe a tuft of fur pulled up on his back near his left hip. The good news is there is no visible blood or signs of limping. If you still the picture at 1:35 as Wa-ta-chee approaches the rest of the pack, you will see that two Wolves seem to notice that he is out, Niko Akni, the Beta and Chito the Alpha female. At that point Niko approaches him and the pack escort him back into the den. He is growling but the rest of the pack shows no signs of real aggression. I do see that he is really not happy with them, though. When a Wolf approaches the den he growls and barks a warning. Nita, the Omega, being the pack peacemaker and brave little soul doesn’t let this bother her, she’s used to it. She enters the den submissively and he allows her to. At this point I see that it’s definitely Niko and Chito who are most concerned with the situation. Nita is concerned and trying to smooth things over. The rest of the pack is truly not showing much interest. The caretaker, Don, easily distracts them.
During the next two weeks, the situation has improved slightly. Wa-ta-chee leaves the den for brief periods and there seems to be an area that the powers that be allow him to venture free in. I even observed him jumping up onto the top of the den to join a chorus howl but Chito and Woha chased him back down. He is eating good allowing me to pet him. His wound was very small and scabbed over after the first few days. I also observed a scabbed over wound on Chito’s hind leg. I suspect that the conflict indeed started with these two as I observed very dominant behavior from her and suspect that she would like to be the solo "Alpha” of this pack. There have been some confusing observations as well. I see her submitting to Waya and he’s even put his head over her a few times. He shows no interest in the squabble with Wa-ta-chee or in becoming Alpha again, though. I think Chito is campaigning. We are keeping a very close eye on this situation and our hope is that with hormone levels returning to normal after breeding season, the pack will come to a peaceful agreement. If not, we will have to build another enclosure and put the older Wolves together again.
On a lighter note, I observed Woha desperately trying to dig a den. I’m sure she thinks she’s having pups. I had to cover it up, since it was in a terrible place. She watched me and then immediately went into the culvert in the enclosure and tried digging the acrylic floor out of that. Poor girl.
I recorded this video of the Wolves howling at dawn today, January 31, 2012. It’s done from a distance and through 2 fences., so the video isn't great. My hope was that you just enjoyed the sound we experience every morning. The Wolf on top of the den is Ohoyo, joining the pack in song.
Breeding season is tough on Wolves and their caretakers. I’m looking forward to peace again, soon.