On Wednesday, July 25th, the Center wolf care staff will implement a medical plan that involves a number of tests and exams to  get a good assessment on Aidan’s health.  Behavioral observations tell us that he still has a physical presence in the pack, but his leadership has been impacted over the past winter of seasonal activity and we need to know if that declining leadership has a medical reason.  While we are concerned about the testing for status of the remaining Exhibit Pack members, but we know that it is time for Aidan to transition into retirement.   This is the calmest time of the year on a wolf exhibit, so action now is appropriate.  Based on our experience, by mid-august, the seasonal hormones change and make for some challenging dynamics.  We are prepared to have at least a week of overnight observation after the move, but suspect there to be heightened activity in the Exhibit Pack for the upcoming season.   At this time, we will not retire Denali until we see behavioral issues that make that an appropriate move.  Check out our Youtube channel and our August 10th webinar, where we will include a view of Aidan’s circumstances.

Aidan’s been on a course of antibiotics for the last week treating an unidentified stomach issue, causing him to have difficulties keeping any food down for a few days, the second issue was related to a possible reoccurring urinary tract infection that he had earlier this year.  The first few days of antibiotics started with some inject-able doses due to the inability to keep the food and medication in his stomach.  By the 3rd day, we saw a noticeable improvement, now we just need to follow up on the full treatment.  The issue is that Aidan is very wary of the smell of any medication in his morning meatball, but antibiotics make him particularly suspicious.  Staff are very creative to make sure he gets what he needs.  There is a challenge with getting the urine sample to assess the status of his treatment.  Since Aidan has lost his status as the pack leader, he doesn’t display his typical raised leg urination or RLU response.   By displaying an RLU, a wolf is broadcasting their scent to anyone in the area; when in a low ranking position, psychologically, it’s probably best to not broadcast.  So, Aidan does a squat urination, dropping as low to the ground as 10-year old hips allow.  This is a difficult posture for capturing a urine sample, but again staff are creative trying to use baking pans and various scents to provide a marking platform and catch a sample.  Aidan does have a support network; Usually while resting, he is joined by Grayson and or Denali.  In the log photo, it’s both.

In this week’s photo, you see the wall of Aidan hair as the front shoulders have been brushed out, but the back half of his body still has some dense undercoat.  Staff have focused most of the brushing efforts on Aidan in the Exhibit Pack.  Why Aidan, we definitely want to reduce stress and the side effect of overheating.  The other reason staff focus on Aidan is that he is very amiable to getting brushed, often resting in front of wolf care staff who help block the other wolves from interacting.  This gives us a great opportunity to feel for any other abnormal growths.  As this photo shows his front leg incision which had been prominent all winter has diminished and hair is returning on his incision site from the November, mass cell tumor removal.  Both he and Denali are being treated with daily antihistamines and it appears to be effective in reducing the size and occurrence of these growths.  Time will tell if this is a long-term method.  This is our first experience with a mass cell growth, although Lakota had several issues with the papilloma virus that had a cauliflowerlike appearance to the growths.  As animal’s age, we need to be very aware of each individual’s physical condition as we assess and identify, lumps, bumps and tumors and try to decipher the cause, but more importantly the treatment. Aidan is in the pack, but at this point, he isn’t leading the pack, but his presence does have an influence, especially upon Grayson and Denali.  Even Boltz came to rest with Aidan when Boltz was having a particularly hard day with things that bug him, especially the particularly pesky one named Axel. 

As the summer season arrives, wolf dynamics will naturally change.  Warm weather and seasonal hormones make for calmer moments, which is good for Aidan.  The testing behavior over the winter is subsiding and there seems to be some definitive alliances that remain from the winter dynamics. In this post’s photo, you will see Grayson respond with submissive ears while Aidan’s directs a threat display towards Boltz. Grayson still defers to Aidan even though Aidan’s status has diminished as pack leader.  Aidan has moments when he is in control, but most are in defense of food, not necessarily coordinated with rank order.  At this point, the pack is interacting moment by moment with differing responses based on the level of stimuli.  Wolf care staff, food resources and summer visitors all have an influence on interactions.  In a recent data sheet entry, wolf care staff noted that “Grayson has been staying close to Aidan all day, resting within 2-3 feet of him”.  On another day, staff noted that “Aidan, Grayson and Boltz slept in the main den together for 30 minutes.”  Calm moments are increasing and we are seeing it in Aidan’s overall attitude; He is more interactive and much more likely to be found rallying with the pack.  As far as an overall health update, the new prescription of a 25 mg tablet of Diphenhydramine, an antihistamine seems to be impacting Aidan’s mast cell growths.  Not only has the size of the growth diminished, hair has completely grown over the suture site from last November’s surgery and he shows no licking or irritation at the spot of the growth. 

In the last few postings, we have noted Aidan gaining more confidence in moving around the wooded area of the enclosure.  This has been a struggle for him as he isolated himself from the pack for a period of time.  There are several staff postings of Aidan and Grayson sharing spaces.  Most often it’s at top of the main densite, but in our first rain event of the 2018 spring season, Grayson and Aidan shared the tight quarters of the Slate Den.  He’s taking some anti-histamines which has reduced the inflammation of his mast cell growth, he has spent less time licking the site, resulting in a dryer, smaller area of irritation.  

We have moments when Aidan shows some strong pack cohesiveness with Denali, Grayson and even at times Axel, but as soon as Boltz arrives, he reverts back to intimidation and retreat mode.  There are definite correlations to the temperatures, and as you can see by this week’s photo, the snow gets everyone excited.  Aidan is prancing with Denali as the younger wolves are running along the fenceline.  I posted this video clip on last week’s Youtube. Aidan had a vet check last week and there were discussions about the growth that has been irritating his front leg.  At this point, we are measuring and monitoring the growth size and growth rate as well as the irritation factor.  The Veterinarian prescribed an antihistamine, since mast cell’s can be a result of a body’s response to allergens and inflammation.  Aidan has had a history of auto-immune disorders dating back to 2011 with his first diagnosis of discoid lupus, so this has been an ongoing management issue for staff.  

As far as the testing of Aidan’s status, this seems to be diminishing, although the colder than average April has kept things a bit tense a big longer than usual.  It seems like the arctics are having face-off behaviors with Boltz which makes us think there might be some rank establishment among the three younger wolves.  Rank isn’t something that’s settled in a day, it is a combination of behavioral occurrences that build over time and are influenced by hormones and certainly cooler ambient temperatures.  To say that the pack is testing, does not infer that testing interactions are the sole interactions of the pack.  Even on a daily basis, the wolves can go from testing dominance to a “nose to nose” greetings and end up resting in social groups with the same individuals that had earlier experienced conflict.  Wolves don’t hold a grudge or want to get even with each other. Aidan was the wolf that lead the social bonding with the arctic pups on their introduction into the pack and despite the testing, Aidan and Grayson still have a strong bond; On Saturday, the staff reported all wolves but Boltz were resting on the pump housing together.  That’s not a very large space for 4 large wolves, so they must have been feeling compatible.  We look for evidence in every interaction, so we have the ability to understand wolf intent. 

This week has found Aidan showing more confidence at times, but still not all the way back to managing the pack.  He is able to control the food resource, acquiring and defending carcasses, but when it comes to rank order, Boltz and Axel give him the most anxiety.  He has been resting with Grayson and seems to have limited concern about Grayson’s presence.  Staff did identify a pea sized lump on his incision site where the last mass cell tumor was removed.  This certainly will change management decisions.  Based on the last growth development, we may have to look at medical intervention in a few months. So far, Aidan has stayed active, often prancing to the edge of the woodline when the pack is active, looking like he is moments away from joining in, but then decides against it.  You may notice that we moved the Exhibit webcam  angle this afternoon so we can get a better surveillance view of Aidan’s resting spot.  Staff have been asked to pay particular attention to Aidan’s focus on his leg.  Please feel free to email me with any observations you may have.  If you could identify the time stamp on the webcam, this will help us retrieve footage.   

Aidan has been spending the last few weeks on a cover hay mound of snow in front of the windows.  This height advantage definitely makes him more tolerant of the pack during the daily rallies.  This confidence has led to Aidan taking his morning supplements at the fence.  This hasn’t occurred since mid-January when this whole situation started, so it could be a response of him gaining more confidence or an indication of the seasonal change of more calming behavioral patterns. There are some limits, Aidan still doesn’t go beyond the safety of the lower enclosure.  When the pack takes a run up to the top of the hill, Aidan will prance back, displaying a stiff-leg jump in excitement, but confident enough to follow. 

This week’s photo was taken by Christina Rizzo while visiting the Center for a recent Wildlife Photography session with Heidi Pinkerton.  Aidan has had more freedom of movement and has really benefited from the added cover hay in front of the windows.  There seems to be some days that are better than others and it is difficult to find the correlation of temperature, feeding, behavior, attitudes or staffing.  We did have a real surprise when Aidan came into the building on March 2nd when we were weighing the arctics and he stepped on the scale as well.  His weight of 136 pound was the same weight recorded last summer; A weight loss would be concerning and might be an indication that there is an underlying health issue, so, maintaining a steady weight is a good sign.  We had some snow removal in the enclosure today and Aidan was reluctant to go into holding, even with the pack locked in the east side retirement area.  We take it day by day and meet his needs on his terms.  It’s the least we can do for a pack leader who has experienced so much in his nearly 10 years of life. 

We have had some noticeable improvement with Aidan’s confidence.  On Tuesday, February 20th, Aidan came to the front gate and took his morning supplements with the rest of the pack.  This was real progress, he hadn’t had the confidence to be in such close proximity with the pack since January 11th.  But, we have been expecting, spring is the time for winter attitudes to calm and tensions to subside.  But still, we were very surprised that during wolf care today, Aidan joined the arctic yearlings in the medical pen that is only a 6 foot by 20 foot area. In previous weeks, close proximity interactions were out of his comfort zone.  As we have experienced with past pack leaders, this season of calm may allow Aidan to stay within the Exhibit Pack through the summer, but he and Denali will be 10 years of age on April 27th.  We may have retained Aidan’s presence in the pack now, but we will likely need to prepare a plan as next fall’s tension returns and a retirement will probably occur.  At least if we wait until October, the arctics will have reached maturity and may not be more suited to lead.  We still see the vulnerability of the juveniles when there’s conflict, especially from Grayson.