Denali requires daily anti-histamines, two in the morning, one at night.  He has a small growth similar to the start of Aidan’s mast cell issues.  The growth remains the size of a pea, and has not changed in over a year, but to be on the safe side, the antihistamines are prescribed to keep the mast cells in check.  In the last few days, cooler nights have prompted a bit more excitement in the pack.  Some competition over food led to some dominance from Axel over Denali and prompted the addition of an anti-inflammatory to reduce some of the pain from an over active pack life.  We are very mindful of Denali’s aging body and are making plans for his retirement, but his mind still has him howling with the young ones, so for now, he’s an Exhibit Pack member. 

Denali is still in the Exhibit Pack.  He is noticeably slower but can still give a good chase when food is involved.  He seems to benefit from the body work treatment that Wolf Care staff gives him daily. There is tension between Grayson and Denali, which can often be traced back to food.  Denali defends much of the food with Grayson not always being confident enough to get any, but staff always make sure there is extra food on a daily basis to meet the needs of Grayson and Boltz.  Denali’s next challenge is Axel’s continual testing behavior.  In this week’s photo, you will see a Jaw Spar, with Axel nearly encompassing not only Denali’s jaw, but his entire muzzle. 

Denali has no problem making tracks in the deep snow, but his larger body size means he does sink a bit more.  As we continue to accumulate snow, we also see the snow change texture, making it a bit of a struggle for wolves to travel.  When temperatures warm, we see a circumstance where even the wolves over-sized paws don’t keep them from sinking.  We call it “postholing”, when a foot goes in and it sinks.  But, the warmer days don’t necessarily mean warmer nights.  As the melt in Northern Minnesota continues, we still have some cooler nights, making for a hard pack snow especially in the early morning hours.  It’s the hard pack snow that give the advantage to the lighter wolves, like Axel and Grayson and chases throughout the upper enclosure are restricted to the wolves under the age of 8.  Despite his advancing age, Denali continues to be an active member of the Exhibit Pack and while he may not always show tendencies to be the leader of this social group, the younger wolves seem to congregate towards him when there’s some uncertainty.  

Earlier this winter, we had some concerns that Denali maybe showing some signs of aging with weakness in his hips.  Staff began to focus on doing some daily massage work and try diligently to make sure he gets his morning nutritional supplements.  At the Center, all wolves over the age of six years receive some joint supplements to aid with aging conditions.  Denali also has a small lump on his foreleg similar to Aidan’s growth, so we are actively treating Denali with antihistamines to keep this mass cell growth in check.  Despite Denali’s size and ability to possess just about any food that is in the enclosure, he is crafty when it comes to delivery of medication and doesn’t care to possess a meatball that smells like a pill.  He will drop, shake, nibble or lick around the pill, often consuming everything but the pill.  Staff have ingenious methods of delivery that involve chicken skins, butter, bonedust, dried venison cakes and even cream cheese to make sure he gets the resources we think he needs (even though he clearly doesn’t agree that he needs them).  Even though it’s a challenge, staff keep trying.   He does seem to be managing quite well and the frequent chases around the enclosure tell us that he is not ready for retirement just yet.  Even on our record cold of -79 below windchill in January, Denali and the Exhibit Pack showed no sign of slowing down.  We are over the winter hump and as days get longer, we will likely see dominance start to decrease.  If Denali can stay strong into the spring, he is likely going to be an Exhibit Pack member throughout the summer, delaying retirement to next fall or beyond. 

Here is another example of our Ethogram code “EPTS” or Ears Pricked and Turned Sideways.  This body posture is interpreted as one of piqued interest, but a bit intimidated.  Of course, that is Axel with the T-1 tail posture over his back about to face-off with Denali.  Neither of these two wolves seems confident enough to deal with direct confrontations, which can equate to lack of leadership abilities.  Denali has an excuse;  At the age of 10 1/2, he is the oldest wolf we have managed in our Exhibit Pack.  All other wolves in our 30 year history of captive wolf management have been retired by 10 years of age.  Denali can be food possessive and determine who gets to share a carcass with him, but that doesn’t make him a leader.  It only makes him a target at times, by the one wolf that sits, waits and watches for opportunities and that wolf is Grayson. 

This log was written by Carolyn Owen and Karen Owen, participants of the Wolf Photography Weekend in early October.

Denali was observed actively participating in several chases, mounting and jaw sparing behaviors. In this photo, Denali is observed rounding a corner to join the pack in a run around the enclosure. During the Saturday night feeding, Denali dominated the deer carcass allowing Boltz to feed for a limited time, keeping Axel and Grayson at a distance. After a period of time, however, Axel and Grayson were seen feeding.

Denali has always been the wolf that controls the carcass, even though he wasn’t the wolf that controlled the pack.  In the wild, higher ranking wolves may be the ones that eat first because they may be directly involved with making the kill, but in captivity, when the food is wheeled in a wheelbarrow, personality dictates who possesses food.  One thing about Denali is that he has a lot of personality.  After Aidan was retired, Denali has not been showing much interest in Aidan, but he certainly has increased the amount of interaction with pack mates.  He has become far more possessive of food and is the main influence on who gets to eat first.  In the past, it was Axel, but as of July 28th, Boltz has come into favor.   Other noticeable behaviors are the jaw sparring and rallying behaviors displayed during the cooler parts of the day.   Denali also gets excited about any of the enclosure enrichment activities we provide.  We know we have a successful idea when Denali does a full tail spin in a 360 degree circle and hops on over to the enrichment window.  It’s nice to have feedback. 

Thanks to Anika Hahn’s donations a few years ago, we are able to maintain a relatively algae free pond through the use of UV filters attached to our pond pump.  The result is a clear view to the bottom of the pond.  This is enticing to Denali who has retrieved items from the pond by use of his over-sized front paws and an inhibition to dunking his head.  Not only is this good stimuli for Denali, but it also gets him into the pond on some warmer than usual Minnesota days.  As the largest wolf on Exhibit, Denali does have some issues with the heat; staff need to be very  observant to his mobility and general attitude, especially when the humidity is over 80%. 

Each pack member has a different relationship with the other individuals of the pack.  Since the 2016 introduction, Grayson has been on Denali’s radar.  We know wolves identify weakness as a basis of prey selection, but in social relationships, we also see weakness being a target for rank order dominance.  Since joining the Exhibit Pack, Grayson has been the frequent recipient of fore-leg stabs, inhibited scruff bites, jaw spars and the occasional chase behaviors.  Now that Grayson is two years of age, Denali is learning what goes around, comes around.  Despite Grayson’s 89.5 pound stature, when he decides to reciprocate Denali’s attention, Denali gets the message.  But, summer is the calm time; most of Denali’s interactions with Axel and Grayson involve three masses of fur running, jumping, tail wagging and grinning.  

There’s a few things worth noting in this week’s log photo.  First and most importantly, Aidan is clearly back in the mix of pack interactions.  The photo line-up is Grayson, Denali, Aidan and Axel (on the back side next to Aidan- not possible for Aidan just a few weeks ago).  The second most notable item in this photo is that Denali has most of his winter undercoat.  Grayson is partially shed, Aidan and Axel have nearly completed the shedding process (thanks to the diligence of wolf care staff brushing), but no luck on Denali despite efforts to brush.  Considering the black fly season has now stared, he is certainly in a better circumstance than the rest as insects have a hard time reaching his skin.  It makes us wonder if there’s an evolutionary function to a delayed shedding pattern.  Denali has been the focus of some medical care in the last few weeks.  In late May, staff noticed a spot of irritation inside the skin folds of Denali’s back leg.  This area is termed the inguinal area.  After clearing some of his undercoat, staff noticed  the area was somewhat spongy in the middle and the initial concern was whether he had an inguinal hernia.  If so, this could be a serious medical condition, especially for a wolf like Denali who pounces, jumps, runs and lunges in several contorted postures.  While staff can describe and photograph particular wolf issues to convey to the Veterinarian, it is best that the Veterinarian sees them first hand.  In most of our wolves, that would require a chemical immobilization and a trip to the clinic, but Denali is a special case.  His social tolerances for people is better than most and he willingly allows the Veterinarian to interact with him.  The only challenge is that we need to isolate him from the pack in order to accomplish a Vet exam and isolation makes for some focused pack members on the other side of the chute.  Grayson, in particular, waited to see if the short separation changed Denali’s status.  The good news from the Vet was that it wasn’t a hernia, the not so good news is that he has a similar mast cell growth that Aidan had.  Yes, I use past tense as Aidan’s growth has now diminished with the help of antihistamines.  We started on a similar treatment for Denali and so far, his growth has diminished as well.