May 25, 2016
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The sound of wolves howling is a common one at the Wildlife Science Center in Columbus.
But that haunting sound has been eclipsed lately by the sounds of whimpering puppies. The adorable and energetic 5-week-old pups are helping answer questions in captivity that cannot be answered in the wild.
The center is in partnership with Duke University to study cognition and social interaction by bottle feeding the pups. “They’re so different than dogs. They’re capable of movement and interaction so much earlier than dogs,” said Peggy Callahan, the center’s founder and executive director.
And they are involved in more than one study. The North American grey wolf puppies are actually being used in a study to help learn about the breeding struggles of the Mexican wolf. “We are always looking at things before it gets tested on a very endangered species, so we are using contraceptives on these guys that prevents breeding. But then the question is, ‘Is it going to be reversible?'” Callahan said. “Because if you interfere with breeding success with even one or two Mexican wolves, that has profound implications for the database, the DNA of those wolves.”
The six puppies in the study are part of four litters, but not all the females were able to reproduce after being taken off the contraception. “There are implications that there is some long-term impact on fertility, and that’s unfortunate,” Callahan said. “No big deal for us, but it’s a big deal for the Mexican wolf.”
Callahan also has a K-9 helper named Sean, a German Shepard who acts as a surrogate parent. “No matter how much time I spend with them, I can’t mimic that dog behavior down to the letter like he can,” she said. “So it gives them comfort. He corrects them, he makes them go to the bathroom, he’s just amazing.”
The puppies already weigh 10 pounds at 5 weeks old. As adults, that subspecies of gray wolf, called the tundra wolf, tops out at about 130 pounds. You can see the adorable pups in person for the first time Saturday, June 11 at their annual spring festival — The Canine Carnival.