While we had snow in early October, the post-holiday winter has been a pattern of limited snow and warmer than average conditions.  Even though we still think it’s winter, the thick coat of these arctic wolves may make some of these mild days a bit too warm for much activity.  We have been observing  a lot of rest periods during the day when the wolves would normally be active, but like clockwork, they always seem to get up at 4 pm.  Visitors to the Center’s webcam or Explore.org’s two Exhibit cams will catch the action of the day.  Here are some examples  from recent Explore.org gallery posts.

I took a while, but Denali is back to his pouncing, playbowing, social, tail-wagging self.  The transition was actually quite short, only 2 months and he has healed physically and mentally accepted the pack next door without showing anxiety about their dominance or focus.  I like to think that Grizzer had a lot to do with helping during this transition period.

Thanks for all of your support this past year.  We are grateful for the support of the Explore.org folks and their many, many images in the gallery of Axel and Grayson.  As arctic subspecies, they definitely thrive in winter conditions.

Photo by Sherry Jokinen. Trouble Identifying Axel? Look for the longer, straighter muzzle

We are so grateful for everyone’s support during 2020, a most challenging year for many people.  We still mourn the loss of Boltz, but seek comfort in Denali and Grizzer having such a strong kinship in retirement.  Here’s to better times in 2021, with pups back in the plan and hopes that Grizzer does well as we head into the heart of winter.

In the last week, we have witnessed a significant increase in social behavior between Grizzer and Denali.  Denali seems to be the instigator of the interactions, either spring up in a playbow towards Grizzer, doing a foreleg stab to get Grizzer to interact or just standing near him with his tail wagging over his back.  This is the pre-retirement Denali that we know so well and it has taken nearly a month of retirement for him to return to his normal behavior.  These interactions are not only good for their physical health, but it definitely is helping Grizzer’s cognitive abilities as well.  We hope the behaviors continue as the winter advances.

Winter is officially here on December 21st, although snow and cold arrived in October.  Wolves tend to increase dominance during this seasonal change and in the months to come, we expect more dynamic interactions.  This is typically a time of posturing tails, barring teeth and loud vocalizations that is part of wolf communication.  In this week’s image, there’s several things to notice.  Grayson (on the right) has his lip curled over his canine, his ears pricked forward, but slightly turned to the side in intimidation and his hackles are raised.  This is a pretty direct threat display that catches Axel off guard a bit as indicated his his ears turned in a more sideways position.  While this may look like they are fighting, this method of expressing dominance makes it clear which wolf is higher ranking and actually avoids more scuffles for rank.   With this small social group of two brothers, Axel is the more dominant wolf, but as we make plans to adopt pups and add to the pack in 2021, there may be opportunities for rank to change.  Time will tell, but for now, staff record data and photograph and track the communication.

We have seen an increase in social behavior between Grizzer and Denali.  Originally, when Denali was first retired, the bite wound on his paw caused him some discomfort and he wasn’t in much of a mood to interact. As he physically started to heal, we started to see a transformation in his behavior as well.  At first, we saw more interest in feeding with Grizzer, then we found them resting near each other.  One afternoon, we saw Denali approach Grizzer, getting him up for an enclosure walk.  In the last few weeks, there is far more than walking.  They have been play bowing, pouncing, running and tail wagging(their latest video is on our recent youtube).  It is great to see Denali back to this social behavior and good to see Grizzer keeping his mobility at 16.5 years old.  In honor of this activity, I am sharing an image of their past social interaction.  They have been pouncing, running and tail wagging for years and while we don’t know how much time they have, we know that each day will be filled with social behavior.


Grizzer and Denali as former Exhibit Packmates

This week’s image was captured by Michelle Wagner from the Center’s Exhibit Webcam.  While we had snow early in the season, the recent dry spell has left ground frozen with no insulating value in the snow.  To make our wolves comfortable, we provide a layer of straw that insulates from the cold and the darker color absorbs the winter sun.  Axel is on the right and Grayson is on the left in this photo.  Recently, we fed a deer hide as an enrichment for the wolves and Grayson spend a fair amount of time plucking the hair from the hide and layered his straw bed with deer hair.  It certainly added an additional layer of comfort to the bed.

We started feeding the retirees a deer leg on the weekends in addition to their regular diet.  This extra food supply has some additional behavioral benefits such as caching, defending food, carrying their possession and overall fulfilling the need of a carnivore.  But, as a special addition to these behaviors, the added food stimuli seemed to increase the social interactions between Grizzer and Denali bringing a hop back to their aging steps.  This is particularly rewarding to watch on Grizzer who has been struggling with some aging tendons in the last few weeks.  There is some truth to the advice that keeping active can improve mobility.  To see these two in action, check out this week’s Youtube posted at www.wolf.org

In conjunction with our webcam partners – Explore.org, I have started a new focus for our wolf logs.  Each week, I will be selecting an image from the Explore.org gallery that provides a glimpse into the lives of the Axel and Grayson in the Exhibit Pack.   This week’s photo caught my attention with Grayson on the left displaying a “T-1 Tail” indicating some heighted arousal while Axel displays a “Play-Bow”, going down on his front legs to spring up to engage or run the other way stimulating a behavior we call “Invite Chase”.  I also see that Axel’s tail is over his back as well indicating that he’s feeling pretty confident as well.  We certainly have witnessed Grayson gaining a bit more confidence since Denali was retired.  Anyone who watched the webcams or visited the Center during the “What’s for Dinner” program witnessed Denali charging Grayson off the carcass, giving Axel preferential treatment.  Without much effort, Axel was dominant over Grayson.  Now that it’s just the two of them, Axel is working on asserting himself with more frequency and more effort.   Behaviors such as this week’s photo are to be expected as each wolf tries to find their place without the influence of other pack members.  Other behaviors may include a Chin Rest – T- Block, Following, Chasing, Ride-Up and Avert Gaze.  All of these behaviors can be found in our Ethogram list of behaviors.  As the winter advances, we expect activity to increase and with the anticipated addition of pups next summer, we expect the posturing for leadership will settle into a more defined structure.