Friday, May 11, 2012

Seeing is believing

Spring is almost over, and one of wildlife’s most constant events has come for many species already: the birth of their young. Whether in captivity or in the wild, the biology of reproduction is difficult to ignore.

At our interpretive facility in Ely, Minnesota, staff care for five adult captive gray wolves, and although all males, these wolves are also expecting young.

Wolves are instinctual creatures driven by the urge to reproduce—even in captivity. To manage these natural behaviors, all wolves at the Center are altered (spayed and neutered) by one year of age. The altering not only prevents reproduction but also mellows the hormonal surges associated with the breeding season that can heighten tensions within the pack. However, altering the wolves makes it a more difficult task to obtain pups.

In order to maintain a socially cohesive group of wolves for our exhibit, new life must be added. Approximately every four years, the Center plans for pups.

Bolts (male)                                               Peanut (female)

“Bolts” and “Peanut,” nicknames until permanent names are established, arrived at the Center in April and are quickly growing into their role as the newest ambassador wolves at the Center. In just a few short months they will join Aidan and Denali in the Exhibit Pack.

While there are many individuals that would prefer pups every year for the entertainment value, we attempt to add pups to the exhibit every four years, allowing enough time for the pack to be cohesive but not allowing the pack to age to a point that new pups would be stressful and testing of the older animals’ weaknesses. This creates a safe and dynamic environment for the wolves but just as importantly, for the visitors who come to learn.

Based on the experience of over 100 combined years of experience, staff and Center advisors believe that our ambassador wolves help foster visitors’ respect for an animal that they may never see in the wild.

From personal experience, I see and appreciate their value as teachers. I can’t tell you the incredible opportunity these wolves offer on a daily basis to learn about wolves.  I am so fortunate to be a participant in helping others better understand the wolf.

Learning about wildlife from a book or even a documentary on TV certainly has its value. However, taking that information and cognitively applying it while observing wildlife provides opportunities for a vast array of social and ecological connections.

The ambassador wolves here at the Center have the ability to help children decipher fact from fiction, students connect the strands of the food web, and busy adults remember the wonder of nature.

Although I feel I provide a great learning experience to visitors at the Center, no one comes to here to see me. It 's the wolves who draw them in and the wolves who are unknowingly the best teachers.

To facilitate long-distance learning from our newest ambassadors, a live-streaming pup cam from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Central Standard Time daily.

Participate in the “Name the Pups” contest.