A litter of red wolf pups at Wolf Haven International has reached their 5-week birthday and are starting to get a little more adventurous.
“Each day, it’s really interesting, they start exploring further and further away from the den,” said Wendy Spencer, director of animal care at the Tenino-area sanctuary for displaced, captive-born wolves.
About a week ago, the pups, which were born May 10 or 11, began experiencing life beyond their 15-foot natural den. And thanks to strategically placed video and game cameras in a wooded enclosure, the nonprofit’s staff members have been able to monitor the five pups and their parents. The family is considered to be on loan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan program.
Mom is 4-year-old F1945 (called “Nash”) and dad is 10-year-old M1482 (called “Tala”). The first-time parents are naturals, according to Wolf Haven executive director Diane Gallegos.
“They look pretty good,” she said.
The pups are still nursing, but are expected to transition to solid food soon. The sanctuary has a permit for road kill, so the pups’ diets will eventually include deer and elk, along with easier to procure meats such as turkey necks and chicken.
“Both the mom and the dad will assist as they transition from milk to solid food,” Spencer said. “Both parents will feed them by regurgitating.”
The pups’ genders won’t be known until after their first health checks at 8 weeks of age. That’s when they’ll be vaccinated, weighed and dewormed.
“Just like domestic dogs, they have to go through their series of vaccinations,” Spencer said. Additional health checks are scheduled for 12 and 16 weeks.
Tala has been at Wolf Haven for about four years.
“He was with another female for a couple of seasons, and she passed away last year,” Spencer said. That pairing didn’t produce any litters of pups.
Nash arrived last year. Both came from Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium’s satellite facility adjacent to Northwest Trek near Eatonville.
“That’s where most of the captive animals in the red wolf program are housed,” Spencer said.
The Red Wolf Species Survival Plan was established in the 1980s to restore the red wolf population. It began with 14 founding wolves.
Each pairing is evaluated for their genetic suitability and sometimes wolves are relocated to other facilities for breeding.
“It’s really like computer dating for wolves — it’s super sophisticated,” Spencer said.
“Gene diversity is a huge challenge. At one point, this population was almost wiped out and they literally came back from the brink of extinction.”
The endangered species was bred in captivity and reintroduced into the wild in 1987, and now there are about 50 wild or free-ranging red wolves at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. There are about 200 red wolves that are part of the survival plan program.
“There are, like, 44 facilities across the country that house red wolves,” Spencer said.
The captive red wolves are “primarily a reservoir in case something catastrophic happens to the wild population,” she said.
Because the family is part of the species survival plan, it’s unlikely that members of the public will get to see them during a sanctuary visit, Spencer said. The wolf family is expected to stay at least a year.
“As they get older, they most likely won’t go out into the wild, but they may go to other facilities that house red wolves,” Spencer said.
People are invited to stay up to date with the wolf family’s progress through social media. Staff members have been posting wolf pup photos, videos and updates on its Twitter account and YouTube channel.
“Their world is so small, there’s no concept of humans because they haven’t seen them yet,” Spencer said. “For all they know, they could be in the wild.”