Being able to distinguish Blackstone and Caz can be a challenge.  For those of  us that interact with them on a daily basis, we have some pointers to make the ID easier.   Caz has an intense predatory drive, so if you see one of the 2022 pups (now known as yearlings) attempting to grab a piece of meat or intently protect a deer hide, it is likely Caz.   Another physical clue to identify Caz relates to to this intense predatory drive;  As a wolf pup that is more inclined to be in conflict with the rest of the pack over food possession, he is also more likely to get rolled to the ground and pinned for his intense food aggression.  This constant force of getting rolled on his back has worn off some of his young guard hairs, leaving a sparse winter coat.  We witnessed a similar issue with Aidan in the winter of 2009, not because he was food possessive, but he lived with a dominant female Maya that seemed to focus on keeping Aidan in a subordinate position.   With Aidan as we likely expect with Caz, his guard hairs will fill in as he approaches next fall as a maturing  young adult.   Caz and Blackstone turned one year of age on April 6th; Caz is tracking about 8 pounds smaller than his littermate, weighing 92 pounds on his birthday, compared to Blackstone’s 100 pounds.  We also notice that Caz is more reserved in his social interactions with the wolf care staff.  The 2022 litter was acquired after the critical bonding period, so you may notice a difference in the sweeping tail wags of Rieka towards the staff compared to Blackstone in Caz.  The trust and bond towards staff is best formed in the first 21 days of their life.  The result of a weak trust may result in behavior that is more neophobic or fearful of new experiences, strange people and even the heater in the Wolf Care Center.  The morning procedure checklist includes turning this heater off before Caz comes into the building to get weighed.

As spring arrives, snow still falls in Northern Minnesota.  The change of seasons can mean that snow holds more moisture and more ice sticking to the hair between the wolves pads.  In this photo, Blackstone is working to remove those ice chunks.  We are all anxiously awaiting spring, for a lot of reasons.  The seasonal hormones of wolves change with the warmer weather, but with a -4 morning temperature on April 7th, we are not experiencing the benefit of warmer weather.  Caz and Blackstone turned one year old yesterday and despite Blackstone being the larger of the two pups (weighing in at 100 pounds on his birthday), Blackstone is often the target of Rieka and Caz as they team up to assert some dominance.   Last week, some of that dominance led to a bite wound on Blackstone, but within 24 hours of treatment,  he was back to his usual activity, demonstrating the resilience of wolves.  Blackstone does have his own team alliances.  Similar to Grayson when he was a yearling, Blackstone has a significant social bond with Grayson.

In looking back at Grayson’s quote in 2017 about his alliances and leadership, we could modify that quote to fit Blackstone:

April 2023 Update:   “What is most notable is that while Blackstone figures out his way in the pack, he has been observed being Grayson’s wingman, helping when Grayson shows some status over Caz or Axel.  Watching and learning is what helps shape the leaders of tomorrow and what better wolf to emulate, than Grayson.”

Grayson has a history of being the “watchful one”, as shown in this quote from March 2017.   We posted the following update on Grayson just two months before his first birthday:

March 2017 Update:   “What is most notable is that while Grayson figures out his way in the pack, he has been observed being Aidan’s wingman, helping when Aidan shows some status over Boltz or Denali.  Watching and learning is what helps shape the leaders of tomorrow and what better wolf to emulate, than Aidan.”

In 2023, Grayson continues to be the watchful one, initially watching over Rieka who was introduced as a pup in 2021, but also watching over Caz and Blackstone, the 2022 pups.  But lately, Grayson has to be watchful of Rieka, who as a maturing dominant female, has become more protective over the 2022 pups, especially Caz.  Grayson is taking it in stride and the pups still seek him out for social reassurance and leadership, especially if there are external intruders at the outer fence.  It is up to Rieka if she will chose to support Grayson in that leadership role or build the confidence of one of the 2022 pups in the upcoming year as they transition from yearlings to adulthood.

When we introduced Rieka to the Exhibit Pack in August of 2021, we felt that she was missing some “pup” experiences by joining a pair of 5-year old males (arctic wolves, Axel and Grayson).  The Arctic’s tried to do some social playbows, but Axel got a bit intense and food possessive to give Rieka the feeling of social play.  With the addition of Caz and Blackstone in July 2022, Rieka’s world changed dramatically.  For months, she wrestled, jawsparred, tugged on hides and even tugged on tails as pups are supposed to do.  She even tried to follow a squirrel up a tree, with the support of Caz looking on.  As she approaches her 2nd birthday, we are seeing less pup behaviors and more mature Rieka behaviors. We can’t wait to see her develop into the dominant female leadership role.

Axel’s didn’t have a very warm welcome for Rieka in the fall of 2021 when she joined the pack.  We also so Axel’s physical coat condition decline after the arrival of the 2022 pups, Caz and Blackstone.  We are still trying to figure out what diagnostic tests we can run to come up with an answer, but it seems like this may be a stress induced situation. He has responded well to fish oil supplements and a species specific probiotic.  We will likely require bloodwork to get a full assessment of his health, but that requires anesthesia and we will need to wait until the wolves have passed their “winter hormone” seasonal dominance.  After the introduction of some of the nutritional supplements, we have noticed Axel’s tolerance of Rieka improve.

It has been a long time since we posted a wolf log.  Our delay is not because we don’t think logs are important, it’s more like this pack has kept our focus on the tasks of day to day operations, medical challenges and planning for the future.  With the loss of 5 wolves from 2019 to 2022 and the addition of 3 pups in two consecutive summers, change to the dynamics of the wolf care department has been intense.

I will first start with the “Gone but not Forgotten” members that we cherish and continue to share the many lessons each have taught us over the years.

Aidan – Died August 14th , 2019 – Mast Cell Tumors

Luna- Died November 26, 2019 – Spindle Cell Sarcoma

Boltz – Died November 12, 2020 – Microscopic lesions on his spine

Denali – Died September 4, 2021 – Liver cancer

Grizzer – Died January 27, 2022 – Congestive heart failure at 17 1/2 years of age

Now for the new life:

Rieka – Born May 23, 2021 – Joined the Exhibit Pack on August 9, 2021

Caz and Blackstone – Born April 6, 2022 – Joined the Exhibit Pack on July 28, 2022

The best way to describe the Exhibit Pack behaviors is to look at alliances within the social group.  The sibling alliance between Caz and Blackstone has a significant amount of jaw sparring, wrestling, food possession and tug of war behavior expected by two juvenile pups.  Axel and Grayson have a history of rank order behaviors that left Grayson subordinate to Axel for at least five of their near seven years of life.  Behaviors vary from chin rests, to T-blocks and slow deliberate stand-offs that are more posturing than physical contact.  Yet, after all that back and forth to determine who carries their tail higher, they can be found resting in the hay beds together.  The genetic bond is strong between littermates.  Which brings us to Rieka, a singleton adopted in 2021.  Rieka is also unique in that she is the only female in the social group, so by default, she is the dominant female.  Even in a non-related pack of spayed and neutered wolves, we have witnessed pair bonding behavior, where the dominant male and the dominant female pair up and provide leadership to the rest of the pack.  Rieka will be two years of age on May 23, 2023. Wolves typically don’t mature until this age, so she is still finding her place interacting with the pups as if she is one herself, then being assertive and guarding of the pups as the leader of the pack.  Time will tell how this social group will form and that is likely to be wolf time on wolf terms, not human time with human emotions.

It has been a long week, but we are happy to report that Rieka had a successful recovery from a recent spay surgery.  She went into the clinic on Saturday April 30th, and has had 24 hour a day contact with staff, either spending time in the building, sleeping on her fleece blankets or chewing on deer hides and other treats in the adjoining kennel.  Due to the extended snow and ice and overall wet conditions, she didn’t get a much time in the Pack Holding Area adjacent to the Exhibit Pack.  After a vet check this morning to determine that her sutures were healing nicely, we let her have some outdoor time with a direct fence to fence greeting with Axel and Grayson.  She will rejoin them on Friday, May 6th by 2 pm.

Here is an observational log completed by our wolf education team:

The wolves were all quite excited this morning. Axel and Grayson were fixated on the fence trying to see Rieka. At around noon Care staff let Rieka into the pack holding area. All three wolves were very excited to interact through the fence. Rieka was very active in pack holding for a while, exploring and digging holes.
Rieka and Grayson spent a fair amount of time sleeping next to the fence line near each other. When Rieka wasn’t napping at the fence, Grayson was napping in the shade provided by the trees near the fence. Axel also stayed fairly close to the pack holding fence for much of the day but did not appear to have the same level of fixation/concern as Grayson.
Grayson engaged in multiple bouts of howling throughout the day. As far as I am aware neither Rieka nor Axel joined in at all.
At 430 Axel was lying in front of the auditorium windows. Grayson was sleeping under the pine tree near the pack holding fence line and Rieka was sleeping on top of the den in pack holding.
Notice Rieka digging and through the fence on the right side, you can see Grayson resting right outside the gate.

We are sorry for the lengthy delay in posting an update.   The winter of 2021-2022 had some great successes with the maturation of Rieka and her integration into the Exhibit Pack.  But, we also had some intense emotions with the loss of Grizzer and the reality of life without a Retired Pack.   As I write this, “Mother Nature” is in charge of our plans.  The wolf care team has a list of spring projects, a “Working for Wolves” program scheduled for April 30th and no sign that we will even have frost out of the ground by the Center’s May 16th summer season.  After that date, we will be open 7 days-a-week and have little time for extra projects like getting the pond running.  In addition to the snow, we only need to look at Rieka’s full winter coat to remember the season.  Rieka’s development this winter was not only physical in size, but striking in coloration of her pelage.  Pelage is the term for the two-coat system that protect wolves from the elements.  The color patterns of wolves outer coat or “Guard Hair” pelage are critical for communication within the pack.  When looking at a wolf image, notice the black lips that contrast the white muzzle.  If wolves are displaying a lip curl or threat display, certainly the contrasting lips and muzzle make that behavior more prominent.  Masking around the face and eyes (as is apparent in Rieka’s photo) helps draw focus when a direct eye stare is used by a dominant wolf.  The pale chest and belly are believed to help flag submission for the lower ranking pack member. The darker bands of courser hair on the shoulders, and rump are located in the areas where hackles can be raised, making them more apparent.  Over the last month, we have really noticed the development of Rieka’s pre-caudal tail gland. This is a passive scent gland, meaning that the individual animal does not express it, the gland merely exists and has an odor. This oily/waxy sebaceous gland mix is more likely used within the pack structure, emphasizing a wolves status when tails are held high.  You may also notice a dark tip on Rieka’s tail, which will also be more prominent when held in a high status.  As Rieka matures to a yearling, we know she will be testing limits and using her features to aid in communication and we expect to start seeing some T-1 tail postures, so far only dispayed by her arctic packmates, Axel and Grayson.

The dark spot of a pre-caudal tail gland



We have very sad news to share with you today. Grizzer, our oldest-ever ambassador wolf, was euthanized this morning. He was 17 1/2 years old.
There has been a stretch of especially cold weather over the last few weeks, but Grizzer has been doing well. He had been eating his morning breakfast in the building before going for his morning walk and settling in the hay beds. On Wednesday morning, with increasing wind chills, he seemed to be having troubles. Wolf care staff brought him into the building and called our veterinarian, who is a member of the wolf care team.
His body temp and vitals were all stable, but at his age, liver and kidney issues are always a concern. With a light sedative, a blood sample was taken and IV fluids and some antibiotics were administered. The nearby Vermilion Community College Vet tech program provided a portable x-ray machine to do a chest and abdominal X-ray to see if there was an underlying issue as to why he wasn’t feeling well. There was nothing significant in the bloodwork or on the x-rays, but not everything is detectable, so there was likely some age-related decline occurring.
Grizzer had a restful night in the wolf care center with the wolf curator, but his condition continued to decline and the decision was made to euthanize him at 7:40 a.m. on Thursday Jan. 27. A necropsy was performed at the Ely Veterinary Clinic on Thursday morning to help determine his decline and his remains will be cremated.

Rieka’s introduction occurred on August 9th and as previously reported, we had a behavioral observation team that recorded data.  We had the opportunity to work with a recent Wildlife Biology graduate, Kyle Kinkade, who donated a few days at the Center helping with projects.   The first order of business was to help sort Rieka’s behavioral team’s data.  Here is a summary of his  analysis:

  • ~50 participants gathering data
  • Both in-person and virtual (via wolf cams) observation
  • Behavioral data collected via web-based form (JotForm) (follow this link to access the form)
  • IWC Ethogram contains 141 documented wolf behaviors (follow the IWC Ethogram link to see this dictionary)
  • Behavioral data was collected from August 4th to August 22nd, 2021
  • 1,500+ events captured

His findings included:

  • Rieka was involved in 80% of events documented (Rieka mentioned in 1,200 of 1,507 events documented).
  • Rieka was the most frequently documented instigator of behavioral events.
  • Rieka was also the most frequently documented recipient of behavioral events.Approach was the most frequently observed behavior of events in which Rieka was involved.“To move closer to another wolf at a walk or trot.”
    Climb was the second most frequently observed action oriented behavior of events in which Rieka was involved.“To move toward the top of something or to a higher elevation.”

In addition to wolf care team members working morning and evening shifts of wolf care to help Rieka integrate into the pack, the Center’s educators make daily observations and report activity that they witness from the auditorium while interacting with visitors.  The Center remains open 7 days a week, from 9 am – 5 pm, so there are plenty of observations.  Here is portions of a report from 9/25/21.

At about 9:45 Rieka came back down and was splashing the water in the pond with her feet. Grayson came down from the woods to investigate. When Rieka saw Grayson, she began chasing after him. Axel saw her and Grayson playing and came running over with his tail in a T2 position. Rieka stopped chasing Grayson, greeted Axel and the two licked each other’s muzzles a few times and then all three wolves began chasing each other. They ran up into the woods shortly after this.
A few minutes later Grayson came trotting down out of the woods, followed shortly after by Axel with Rieka chasing him with her tail in a T2 position. During all of the chase sequences today Rieka had her tail in a T2 position unless Axel was chasing her. When Axel would turn around to chase her, she would run with her tail slightly tucked.
When Axel and Grayson took a quick break from playing with Rieka she continued playing by herself–running around in front of the windows and chasing her tail. Grayson got on top of the pumphouse and Rieka came and did a play-bow but he ignored her and turned away. She then grabbed his tail and started tugging on it–Grayson quickly turned around with his lips curled and snarled at her. When Grayson did this, Axel came trotting over and Rieka’s attention diverted to him and they began playing together. After a short time of playing, Axel walked over to the pond to drink. Rieka followed him and laid down next to him. She jabbed at his foreleg a couple times and then tried to roll over but she was too close to the edge of the pond and ended up falling in. She quickly got out and all three wolves began chasing each other again.