Thursday, June 16, 2011

New generation of wolves replenish ambassador pack

After years of being the youngster of the group, Atka, a member of the Wolf Conservation Center’s ambassador wolf pack, is now the group’s elder.
The Wolf Center, in South Salem, recently added pups to its ambassador pack for the first time in nine years, when Atka was brought to the facility as a pup.
Alawa and Zephyr, siblings born on April 20, arrived at the Wolf Center on May 27 and will be raised there by staff members and wolf-care volunteers. The two new wolves will be the first additions to the ambassador pack in nearly a decade. Atka has been the lone ambassador wolf at the center since 15-year-old Kaila died in February. Ambassador wolves Lukas and Apache died in August and March 2010, respectively.
Wolf pups Alawa, top, and her brother Zephyr arrived at the Wolf Conservation Center on May 20 as its newest ambassador wolves.Wolf pups Alawa, top, and her brother Zephyr arrived at the Wolf Conservation Center on May 20 as its newest ambassador wolves.
Unlike Atka, a white wolf, the pups are mixes of several gray wolf subspecies but are primarily Canadian/Rocky Mountain gray wolf, a subspecies that traditionally inhabited the western United States and Canada.
Alawa, which means “sweetpea” in Algonquin and is pronounced “ah-lay-ewa,” is a brown and gray female, while Zephyr, meaning “light or west wind,” is a black male.
The pups have not formally met Atka yet, but the elder wolf is aware of the youngsters’ presence through scent. When the three of them will meet up has not been determined.
“We’ll play that by ear,” said Maggie Howell, managing director of the Wolf Center. “We’d love to have them live together. Once they grow to a certain age they’ll be living adjacent to Atka. That’s something that Atka is going to have to get used to.”
It’s unclear how the pups will interact with Atka once they have met.
“We actually really don’t know [how they will interact],” said Deborah Heineman, executive director of the Wolf Center.
One thing the pups are getting used to is interacting with people. As part of the ambassador pack, Alawa and Zephyr will eventually make public appearances with Atka to promote wolf conservation.
“We’re just making sure we’re sanitizing them and interacting with them,” Ms. Howell said, “because they’re very vulnerable. As visitors come to see them they will have opportunities to see them through the fence.”
Ms. Heineman said there are about 10 people, including staff members and volunteers, who are constantly around the pups and taking care of them. That kind of attention is vastly different than the care needed for adults like Atka.
“What’s really challenging is the 24/7 care,” Ms. Heineman said. “There is a human being with the pups every minute. It’s a very, very different dynamic right now. It’s stressful. There’s a lot going on for everybody. You have to put everything else on hold.”
“We’re being very cautious. They’re not venturing out farther than their little area. People get to observe them but not touch them, because this is the time when they’re very susceptible to diseases.”
Despite the nurturing and protective care, the pups are beginning to express themselves and reveal their unique personas.
“Their personalities are there,” Ms. Howell said. “Zephyr really seems to be hamming it up. He engages people and looks them in the face. It’s going to be interesting to see how their personalities develop. They already have strong personalities, which is pretty cool.”
“She’s quiet and sweet,” Ms. Heineman said about Alawa. “Zephyr has a lot of Atka-like traits. He’s extremely vocal. He put his head back and made an ‘O’ sort of shape with his mouth to howl and nothing came out. The howl came out on the third try.”
For now, the pups are spending their time as many youngsters do — sleeping and playing — in a small workshop-turned-nursery with a yard outside of it.
Ms. Heineman said it’s too early to tell when Alawa and Zephyr might be ready to travel with Atka and make public appearances. She said the staff will monitor how the two of them continue to interact with people and that maybe they will conduct an experiment at the Wolf Center to see how the pups would act in a public setting.
In the meantime, staff members are simply enjoying the opportunity to care for the newborn wolves.
“What could be better than raising little baby wolf pups?” Ms. Howell said.
In addition to the ambassador wolves, the Wolf Center has 16 Mexican gray wolves and six red wolves that it is raising with little human interaction because they are going to be released into the wild.