Portage Wolf Pack Formed

By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette

Marc Donadieu / Glacier City Gazette Lothario surveys his new enclosure.
Marc Donadieu / Glacier City Gazette
Lothario surveys his new enclosure.
Marc Donadieu / Glacier City Gazette Dirus, Bri and Lothario display wolf behaviors while getting familiar with each other after being placed in the same enclosure.
Marc Donadieu / Glacier City Gazette
Dirus, Bri and Lothario display wolf behaviors while getting familiar with each other after being placed in the same enclosure.

Two adult male wolves have been introduced to the resident female wolf pair at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) with intention to creating a new pack.

The male wolves were donated by the Zoological Conservation Wildlife Center in Oregon, which wanted them to go to a home where they could be education ambassadors.

After arriving in Portage, Dirus and Lothario were placed in thirty day quarantine to make sure they were healthy before introduction to the female sisters, Deshka and Bri. With quarantine concluded, the wolves were placed in side-by-side enclosures as a familiarization tactic prior to placement in one habitat.

The four wolves were placed together for the first time in late November, with the next progressive step being full time cohabitation. Current results of the comingling are in keeping with Center hopes.

All of the wolves exhibited excited, playful behavior as they chased and romped through the fresh, dry snow on a chilly, overcast afternoon.

“Today was their official introduction to each other,” said Animal Behavior and Training Manager Chandelle Cotter. “They have been seeing each other. This is a great time to come watch behavior. Watching them together the first hour was the most diverse wolf behavior that I’ve seen in eight years of working with wolves with all of the new dynamics and different kind of behaviors going on.”

Hopes remain that the wolves continue to bond, form a pack and develop new behaviors. During the introduction, Deshka showed traits of becoming the pack matriarch by looking after Bri, defending her against occasional rough play by the males. But wolf breeding is non-factor as Deshka, Dirus and Lothario have been neutered, with similar plans in place for Bri as well.

“They get along quite well,” Cotter said. “Wolves are incredibly social. They’re used to living in family groups and meeting other wolves out in the wild, so it works well to have a group of them together. We anticipate them to have some working out of the social structure. Overall it’s going very well.”

As a precaution, both males were placed in the shift pen at night for a month before residing full time with the females. Daily joint visits help to maintain cohesion and verify that the transition is going smoothly.

“We want to make sure it’s safe for them and safe for the girls, that they can get all of their hierarchy stuff worked out before we leave them unsupervised,” Cotter said. “We know the best thing for our females is to have a balanced family group of males and females, so we’ve been on the lookout. If the right situation came along, we’d like to be able to add males to our family group. If you just have females together, as they get older, they will fight with each other.”

In the near future, AWCC plans to expand the wolf enclosure. A bear cub currently occupies the pen that will be used. As soon as the cub is ready to leave, the pen will be made larger to accommodate the wolf pack and allow for more running room.

The wolves will be a key component in AWCC’s public education program.

The males are being trained how to behave on a leash so they can go out of the enclosure and become ambassadors to the public. In the future, educational talks will be given throughout the day while trainers are working with the wolves.

“We’re really focused on teaching them good manners while they are on leash so that we can have control over them,” Cotter said. “They’re big boys. We don’t use any kind of punishment or any sort of dominance techniques. They look at us as part of their pack, as someone who is overseeing them and taking care of them, making sure they’re fed and happy.”

The wolf pack’s presence is intended to motivate the public to learn more about wild wolves and help protect them.

“We really want to teach people what is going on with wolves out in the wild and create experiences and connections with people so that they want to be involved, so they want to help with animals in the wild and figure out how they can protect their wild counterparts. We hope to accomplish that by giving educational presentations,” Cotter said.

All of the wolves are receiving operant conditioning training to teach specific beneficial behaviors. For example, the females are in training to learn how to take injections so they can voluntarily receive vaccinations. Cotter said she wants them to be comfortable going to specific areas in the enclosure in case there is a health problem or if one needs to be separated from others.

“The biggest message I want to get across is just how important wolves are to us here in Alaska,” Cotter said. “They’re a keystone species, so their presence affects everything around them. We really hope as people come here, and they see our wolves, they’ll have an experience and a connection that they want to take home with them, learn more about wolves and what they can do to help protect the ones we still have around.”

Marc Donadieu / Glacier City Gazette This time Lothario rolls on his back while the other wolves engage with him.
Marc Donadieu / Glacier City Gazette
This time Lothario rolls on his back while the other wolves engage with him.