The team of mostly university students was recording the weight of the 11-year-old wolf, known as Lorenzo, at Wolf Haven International near Tenino.
It took two men to hold a metal rod connected by a chain to the canvas to accurately gauge the animal’s weight: 85.2 pounds.
It was one of many steps necessary during Lorenzo’s annual checkup, which is required by the Species Survival Plan program.
Endangered Mexican gray wolves are “one of the rarest mammals” in the world, said Diane Gallegos, executive director of Wolf Haven.
Students and professionals were at Wolf Haven this week to learn about wildlife handling and chemical immobilization from Dr. Mark Johnson, a wildlife veterinarian and the founder of Global Wildlife Resources, a nonprofit organization based in Montana.
It’s the eighth year Johnson has taught the three-day course at Wolf Haven; his career in handling wildlife spans 20 years.
Johnson became involved with Wolf Haven in the early 1990s while heading up a wolf-relocation project at Yellowstone National Park.
He and the sanctuary have similar philosophies about animal care.
“They learn how to give care, honor and respect to the animals,” Johnson said. “They learn not to joke at the animal’s expense and to work together.”
The 17 students and professionals who signed up for the course traveled from as far away as Alaska, Mexico, Montana and Pennsylvania.
The group spent two days in the classroom before putting its knowledge to use, giving annual checkups to Mexican gray wolves.
The animals were brought to an area covered with temporary tents, protecting against potential rain.
Each wolf was transported from its sanctuary pen to the site in a large crate. Groups anesthetized them, then carried each wolf to a blanket on the ground.
Everyone kept quiet, speaking in whispers to avoid creating further stress for the wolves.
That quiet was interrupted by an occasional chorus of howls from the rest of the sanctuary’s pack.
Anesthesia keeps the wolves down for about 45 minutes.
In that time, the groups drew blood, administered vaccinations, took measurements and constantly monitored the animals’ heart rate and temperature.
Lorenzo’s temperature began dropping shortly after he was brought to the exam site.
Wolves’ blood temperature should be between 100 and 103 degrees, but Lorenzo’s was dropping to about 99.6.
To counteract that, the group put blankets and hand warmers on the animal’s body until he was able to sustain a constant temperature.
Another wolf’s temperature rose to 106 degrees. The team removed all blankets and laid the wolf on the cool ground.
Johnson and some of the sanctuary’s staff and other trained veterinarians were there to offer assistance, but the exam was intended to be headed up by the students.
“We leave it to the group as long as possible,” Johnson said. “We want them to be strong individuals and as confident as possible.”
Many will take the skills they learned this week at Wolf Haven back to their jobs or course work and future careers.
“Talk to each other about how you are going to do this,” Johnson told the group as members divided up tasks.
One kept a close eye on the animal’s breathing and temperature. Another focused on inoculations, while everyone else took turns practicing blood draws.
Kathy Gruenthal, a student at Humboldt State University in California, was having trouble finding a vein.
One of the staffers was able to assist, showing her how to adjust her angle when inserting the needle into the animal’s leg.
The third time was the charm as she eased back the blood-filled syringe.
Colleague Casey Pozzanghera of the University of Alaska Fairbanks said he had taken a class with Johnson at the University of Montana before.
“It’s impressive to do more hands-on stuff,” Pozzanghera said.
Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476