Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Pack mentality: Bays Mountain ready to add to #wolf population

March 10th, 2015
by Matthew Lane

Pack mentality: Bays Mountain ready to add to wolf population
Not quite a year old, the wolf pups at Bays Mountain Park won't be the new kids on the block much longer. Photo by Jay Huron

KINGSPORT — For the second year in a row, Bays Mountain Park hopes to expand its wolf population by adding a third generation of gray wolves to the habitat in an effort to better strengthen and maintain pack cohesion.

“I’ve already ordered three new pups — two boys and girl. I did that about six weeks ago and I’ve already paid the deposit,” said park naturalist Rhonda Goins. “They’re normally not born until the end of April, so it’ll be mid-May when we receive them.”

Bays Mountain Park’s wolf program first began in 1992 with the arrival of three 6-month-old pups, with additional wolves added in 1995, 2004 and 2007. Ideally, the park likes to keep about 10 wolves in its habitat at any given time, a good mix of older and younger pups in order to maintain a healthy pack dynamic.

Two years ago the park’s wolf habitat lost all three of its elder wolves, and when the park attempted to replenish its numbers, the usual source experienced two years of failed breeding seasons. As a result, the park went with another wolf breeder last year — the Minnesota Wildlife Connection — and secured the four new pups.

In a recent Times-News article, Goins said the new wolf pups are doing great, have integrated well into the pack and are some of the best wolves the park has ever had.

Which is another reason why the park is going back to the Minnesota Wildlife Connection again this year.

“We’ve only got two generations. We like to keep three in case the elders die and we won’t end up like last time with only three wolves,” said Goins, who virtually lives with the wolves during their first three months at the park. “We’ll have seven-year-olds, one-year-olds and we’ll be stopping this year. We’ll probably stop (adding wolves) for four to five years until the elders start dying off.”

Bays Mountain Park secures sponsors to cover the $500 cost of each wolf, and in return the sponsor can pick the name of the wolf from an approved list of Native American names, such as Tanasi (the current alpha male) and sisters Netar and Aiyana — all of whom arrived in 2007.

In addition to new wolf pups, Goins and the Bays Mountain Park Association have also launched a fundraising drive to purchase a permanent structure to be used in support of the wolves. When the park receives new pups, volunteers stay with the wolves for the first three months of their lives, essentially serving as their mothers in order to better socialize them to humans.

In the past, the volunteers have stayed in a borrowed camper parked on the park’s grounds, but that won’t be the case this year.

“We usually borrow a camper from Kingsport Motors, but it closed and it’s hard to get a camper anymore,” Goins said. “I want a permanent structure we can use forever; stay in it for the summer (when we socialize the wolves) and to store all the records and food.”

This permanent structure will be a 14-by-30 building with a tin roof, door and windows with water and a bathroom. The cost of the building is $6,700, though Goins said she needs to raise $10,000 to $12,000 to complete the overall project.

Goins has launched a Go Fund Me initiative called Wolf Puppy Cabin ( www.gofundme.com/ ? wolf-puppy-cabin) where people can go and donate any amount to the project. To date, Goins has raised just over $2,300.

“You can donate any amount or donate straight to the park at the gift shop in the nature center,” she said. “And I plan to build it within a month if we get the money.”