With Axel and Grayson being the only members of the Exhibit, we find Grayson’s dominance increasing.  For most of Grayson’s life, he has been lower ranking than his brother Axel, mainly due to Denali’s influence of controlling food resources.  Denali would allow Axel to feed without any issues, but would guard and drive Grayson away from food.  With Denali’s retirement, Axel and Grayson are exhibiting a lot of testing behaviors. According to the Center’s educators who get a front window view of the brothers on a daily basis, they recently observed two behaviors that demonstrate this testing process:
“Grayson went in for the world record of longest chin rests on Axel. Of course Axel responded to this with a drawn out ride up on Grayson. “
The peak activity seems to be during the morning wolf care sessions from approximately 8 am – 10 am and again during the last few hours of daylight from approximately 3 pm to 5 pm.  Viewers of our webcam may hear Grayson as he tends to display lone howls that switch between a low throated howl to communicate and a bark howl to identify a potential threat to the Exhibit.

Written by Wolf Care Assistant – Leanne Martin

With the arrival of 3 plus inches of new snow this week, activity in the Exhibit Pack has increased. Axel was recently observed rolling over in front of Grayson, then springing up and inviting Grayson to chase him. Grayson accepted Axel’s invitation, and chased him around the enclosure with a T-1 tail. According to the IWC’s ethogram, a T-1 tail is one where the tail is sticking up in the air, indicating confidence.
Axel and Grayson are active 4-year olds, and have plenty of energy to burn. Since the wolves are more active during winter than they are in the hot summer months, they typically consume more food to account for the extra expended energy. Since Denali’s retirement, staff have noticed an increase in Grayson’s confidence during feedings. Staff typically feed deer on Saturday nights, and beaver carcasses on Wednesday afternoons. Grayson has been confident enough to claim food, and successfully defend it from Axel. 

After Denali’s retirement on October 16th, Axel and Grayson needed some time to adjust to the change.   I made the decision to retire Denali based on his advanced age needing some time to recuperate from a paw wound.  On a younger animal, this would have been something that we would have treated within the pack, but an injury at this age increased his vulnerability.  Since Denali’s retirement was not a situation where the arctics forced him out of the pack, we saw more stress howling, especially from Grayson.  After about a week, the howling seemed to subside and Grayson has increased his displays of dominance, especially on the weekly deer carcass.  Based on our experience with Shadow and Malik, the last pair of arctic wolves we managed, we know the winter will certainly be active for these two.

With the Retirement of Denali on Friday, Grayson has increased his howling, intensified to more bark howling when there is any activity in the wolf yard and even got his brother Axel to bark howl with him today.  Wolves are neophobic (hesitant about new things) and they don’t like change, especially Grayson.  But, change will happen.  Cold weather arrived on Saturday putting a layer of ice on the pond and reminding us that winter is upon us and we can expect wolf behavior to increase.  Another change is that without Denali to possess food, Grayson is free to take the lead on the carcass.  The following was a daily report from the Center educators that monitor the pack dynamics on a daily basis:

” Axel and Grayson played a lot of “hide and go seek” on the big den along with some play chase. They continued to rest on the pumphouse when they were done. They were continuing to mill around up front before What’s For Dinner, and showed some more playful behavior with one another. During What’s For Dinner, Axel and Grayson both moved in to eat at the fawn. Grayson defended from Axel, and Axel soon backed off while Grayson ate. Grayson ate for about 15 minutes (did not check time, so this is an educated guess). After Grayson moved off, Axel came in to eat and dragged the carcass partway across the viewing area, then fed until about 8:15 pm”

The tension of the last 24 hours seems to have resulted in some dominance from Grayson towards Denali that made Denali less mobile and more vulnerable to the heightened activity of the younger pack mates, especially with the first ground covering snowfall of the season.  We made the decision to retire Denali this morning.  He will be in the East Side Retired Area, Boltz will be in the Pack Holding Area and Grizzer will be in the transition area and back habitat.  We will use this weekend to get everyone situated in the new arrangement and will keep the cameras off.  At this time, we do not know compatibility for the wolves to join each other, we definitely need answers on Boltz before we add any activity to his life.  I can tell you that all 3 have good cover and will have the full focus of the wolf care on duty.  Boltz is recovering extremely well, actually better than we expected.  When he was released back into the Pack Holding Area from the Wolf Care Center, the first thing he did was find Denali’s cached beaver tail and take it to the stump (he has become a stump eater lately, he doesn’t like dirt on his food). Grizzer has his favorite Back Habitat Den and the entire transition area.




The Center offered a Photography Weekend, taught by our Wolf Care Staff member, Kelly Godfrey.  During the session, we asked participants to review the Center’s Ethogram and identify behaviors that gives us an assessment of pack dynamics.  Often when we do wolf care, the staff’s presence in the enclosure can create competition for attention and doesn’t give us true sense of dynamics.  Here are the results of their observations:

Denali – Still in the Mix:

Written by Dana Pond, Christina Rizzo and Sheri Kreager

This weekend, we observed Denali very focused on pack interactions and engaging in many social encounters with Axel and Grayson.  He played with his ears pricked forward (showing no submission).  Clearly stimulated, he would rise from a resting position to join in on the play sequences.  On several occasions, we also observed Axel “Invite Chase” (a behavior where a wolf rest down on the front legs, then springs upward and away).  Denali would willingly, all be it slowly, join him in a chase up the hill.

Photo by Ron Kalin – showing the pack rally with Grayson on the left, Axel on the right with the high tail and Denali facing them, wagging his tail.


Written by Bill Brandon, Deb Hyde

Grayson was the most vocal among the three wolves remaining in the Exhibit Pack.  He howled quite frequently on this particular day.  However, the other wolves didn’t seem to pay attention to him. No other wolf as observed returning his vocalizations.  Grayson’s howls were short duration, but he continued to howl for an extended period of time.  Perhaps he is missing former pack member, Boltz (wolf care staff should note, that the vet was on site to assess Boltz and Grayson has a particular bark-howl warning for the vet).


Fall is here, and Winter is not far behind. The temperatures in Ely have been cooling off, and it has started to get below freezing at night. Wolf care staff have begun some of the seasonal changes to the enclosures, including removing the UV pond filter from the pond pumphouse, and plugging in all of the heated waterers.
With the cooling temps and Winter on the way, this is the time of year that wildlife are searching for additional food resources. Staff have noticed heightened wildlife activity around the enclosures and wolf yard. A couple of weeks ago, students from Vermilion Community College were on site performing  dissections on roadkill deer carcasses. As you may imagine, the scent of deer carcasses is quite enticing if you are a wild animal searching for food. That night, our Ring camera on our wolf yard garage picked up footage of a wild wolf investigating the carcass freezer. This past week, we also got footage of what appeared to be a domestic cat near the wolf yard!
Wild wolf activity does not go unnoticed by our wolves. Grayson is especially in tune to what is going on in and around the enclosure. Grayson often bark howls in response to stimulus from wildlife near the fence. Sometimes Grayson is the only one to howl, but other times the whole pack joins in.
It is not only the wild animals that are searching for additional food, it seems as though the Exhibit Pack has been consuming more of the deer and beaver carcasses we feed them each week. As the weather grows colder, pack activity and dominance increases. Since the wolves tend to be more active this time of year, they have to consume more food to maintain their body weights.
Written by Wolf Care Assistant – Leanne Martin

I just wanted to share a change to the Wolf Logs.  As we move forward with managing Boltz’s condition, we have transitioned his weblog information to the Retired Pack.  As we are approaching the winter season which is known for being the season of wolf dominance, we needed to make some decisions about Boltz’s status.  Boltz continues to have mobility issues that would preclude us from putting him back into the Exhibit at this time.  Based on the challenges we had in immobilizing in September and the fact that we don’t have a heated water source in the upper enclosure, we could not risk the potential that he would isolate himself to the woodline even if he improved.  We are also facing the most dominant time of the year, all of these factors are leading me to keep him in retirement for the foreseeable future.  I will include Boltz in the weekly posts for the Retired Pack, but if there are more details on his medical condition, I will post those to his individual page which can be found in the Retired Pack – with his image.

As far as an update on the Exhibit Pack, they are active and starting to change their routines from Crepuscular (dawn and dusk) to more of a diurnal pattern.  In this week’s logs, Axel is greeting Grayson who is resting on what we call the “Greeting Rock”.  This is the rock we encourage the wolves to “Greet” staff for overall physical examinations or to disperse some tension within the social group.  Notice Grayson and Axel’s ears are in a “Pricked and Turned Sideways” posture indicating interest and uncertainty with the interaction.  Axel tends to be more dominant, but with Grayson on the top of the rock, his height gives him more of an advantage, making them both a bit uncomfortable.  Denali is doing well, he continues to dominate the carcass, run with the pack (unfortunately, sometimes that involves chasing Grayson) and has a hardy tail wag whenever wolf care begins.

Over the last two weeks, the wolf care staff have been focused on the well-being of Exhibit Pack member Boltz.  In summer, we typically experience Boltz’s nocturnal behavior  and tendency to seek comfort in the wooded areas of the enclosure, where he tries to avoid the pitfalls of summer including heat, humidity and a variety of insects.  In early August, he was starting to modify his behaviors a bit, coming down to hang out on the top of the den in the breeze.   With the return of the “What’s for Dinner”program in August, Boltz was feeding on the weekly deer carcass with Axel and Denali (actually Denali chooses who gets to eat with him and Boltz is always welcome).  On August 23rd, we were in the middle of several days of 85 degree heat and 90% humidity.  While this wasn’t as oppressive as the 94 degrees on the 4th of July, it was more problematic because the wolves have already begun to grow their winter coats.  Staff noticed Boltz a bit wobbly on his back legs.  There was no noticeable signs of an injury and we have had experience with wolves dehydrating.  The staff gave Boltz a dozen bonedust ice cubes and within an hour he was much better.  But, the next few days, the heat and humidity continued, with Boltz waxing and waning in mobility.  Our first concern was that he may have lost electrolytes while he was dehydrated, so pedialyte ice cubes were added.  Boltz did better and started to eat what was offered (chicken drumsticks are his favorite), but there was something about his movement that just didn’t seem right.  Hours of surveillance video was reviewed (thanks to the Explore.org cameras, we have a better view of the upper hillside and back den).  We pieced together a timeline and shared it with our local vets as well as the U of MN Neurology department.  We are going through several possible diagnosis; treating the less invasive items first in the hopes of improving his stability before having to immobilize him and take him to the clinic.  There is always a risk to immobilization even on healthy animals, much more on animals that may have their immune systems compromised.  The other risk, which we take very seriously, is if we take him out of the pack for vet care, the other wolves may perceive him to be a disperser, essentially ending his place in the Exhibit Pack.   We want to make sure that we exhaust all options before we go through with removal from the pack.  The first treatment includes a 7 day dose of Clindamycin for a possible protozoa.  On his first day of treatment, he gladly ate 4 pounds of meat, had several drinks of water (staff have added two more waterers to the upper enclosure) and is choosing to rest under the dense canopy.  The other pack members frequently walk by when staff are with Boltz and he seems to accept Denali and Grayson, but Axel seems to stimulate a lip curl response from Boltz.  Boltz seems to be more comfortable in the upper enclosure than he is in the lower enclosure near the public.  This  has been our experience with other wolves that aren’t feeling well, they prefer to stay to the back and seek some cover.  We will continue to search the cameras to monitor his behavioral patterns and will keep everyone posted on the wolf logs as we work through some potential issues.  If you have been a follower of our webinars, you may recall that Boltz had a medical exam in May and was diagnosed with an odontoblastoma.  While this type of cancer is benign, there is no doubt we are concerned about the potential for this to be something more serious.

An animals eyes can tell us how they are feeling

Center Staff do enrichments for the Exhibit Pack three times a day, at 12, 2 and 4:15 CDT.
We try many different things, and as the summer goes on, we have noticed that the wolves have their preferences. Some of those preferences include: blueberry ice cubes(Grayson especially loves crunching on them),  frozen soup bones, bonedust pucks, coconut halves, as well as beavertail popsicles, beaver feet popsicles, and deer leg popsicles. Staff throw the popsicles in the pond, to encourage the wolves to go into the water and cool off on hot summer days.
Overall, the wolves didn’t seem to show much interest in the watermelon, citrus fruit, or spice(oregano, cilantro, basil) ice cubes we tried throughout the summer. Another enrichment that we do is to spray cedar oil on the wood chips under the eaves of the building, and on top of the dens. Cedar oil helps repel insects, which helps the wolves, (especially Boltz) feel more comfortable.
Staff have also had success getting Grayson to take food during the afternoon enrichments. Grayson is more timid when it comes to taking and defending food, especially from Denali. It can be a challenge for Grayson to get food when he knows Denali is around. In the afternoon(usually around 2), Grayson is often willing to come to the fence and take food when he knows Denali is sleeping up the hill.
Sometimes enrichment isn’t something provided by the staff. Lately, Grayson and Axel have been observed chasing after the red squirrels and chipmunks that make it into the enclosure. Sometimes the small mammals make it into the trees before they can be caught. That doesn’t stop Axel and Grayson from watching the trees closely, and even jumping up on the trunks. Chasing after tree- dwelling visitors is a very stimulating activity if you are a wolf! 
Written by Assistant Curator, Leanne Martin