Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Learn about endangered #wolves

Three of the International Wolf Center's four wolf ambassadors, Boltz, Luna and Denali, thread through the woods on a chase that looks like a wolf version of tag.
  Three of the International Wolf Center's four wolf ambassadors, Boltz, Luna and Denali, thread through the woods on a chase that looks like a wolf version of tag.
Photo courtesy of IWC wolf care staff.

You wanted to know
"What do wolves do at night?" "How many canine species are there?" "Have wolves ever been extinct?" Young patrons at the Fremont Public Library in Mundelein posed these questions after attending naturalist Deb Krohn's talk, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"

Luna, Boltz, Aidan and Denali are gray wolves living in captivity at Ely, Minnesota's, International Wolf Center, a wolf preserve and education site.

Visitors can observe these wolf ambassadors through large plate glass windows, enjoy programs about wolves and their environments, and learn what the future holds for this regal, apex predator.
These four wolves -- three males and a female -- amble, run, play and sleep in the acre-plus enclosure where they are as curious about the center's visitors as the visitors are about the canines' habits.

The International Wolf Center's wolves' daily lives are typical of wolves in a captive environment where food is plentiful. They sleep a lot and play. They are more active in the early evening, according to Cameron Feaster, wildlife biologist and wolf specialist at the IWC.

At night, Feaster said, "They are pretty crepuscular (they are active in the dusk and dawn), hunting and roaming around in winter. In the summer, the heat is a problem; it slows them down."

During warmer months, Feaster said, the wolves like to dig shallow dens in the cool soil to keep the heat off. They have an acute sense of hearing and smell, so much so that Feaster believes they can smell visitors through the windows that divide IWC visitors and wolves.

Wolf packs have a distinct family structure, with a male and female at the helm. "The rest of the pack is usually their offspring, if the pups don't venture off on their own."

Feaster explained how they care for their young. "They display a form of altruism. They all help raise the pups, which keeps the gene pool intact."

Wolves breed once a year, having four to six pups, from which about two or three survive. While they don't mate for life, they typically prefer one mate throughout their lives. Life expectancy in the wild is about 2½ to 3½ years. At the International Wolf Center, wolves can live up to 13 years.

There about 30 species of canines, Feaster said, but that's not a firm number. Experts are still confirming ancestry. Canine species include wolves, jackals, domesticated dogs, coyotes, wild dogs, dingoes and foxes.

The two main wolf species, the red and the gray wolf, have about a dozen subspecies. They can be found throughout the globe, with some species living in deserts and others in the freezing arctic snows.

"The red wolf is close to extinction," Feaster reported, "There are about 90 to 110 in the world today. A few hundred are in captivity. Legally, these are called a threatened species."

Hunting and habitat destruction are the main culprits in the near demise of this once abundant species. Today, red wolves live mainly in North Carolina.

One day, Feaster and fellow scientists were on a job following radio-tracked red wolves in the North Carolina tall grass. "We went down wind of the female and were hoping to get as close as possible.

One biologist was walking a few yards ahead and he stopped. He held up five fingers -- letting us know there were five wolves in front of him. They scattered. I got to see two of the pack; they were camouflaged in the tall grass. It was the first time I'd seen such an endangered animal in the wild."

The IWC provides classes, merit badge and advancements for Boy and Girl Scouts, video conferencing, books, educator resources and other educational opportunities. 

Find out more on the IWC website, www.wolf.org.