About us - Ambassador Wolves

Blackstone identified a small rodent that had made its way out of the woods and was kind of moving around the exhibit. He was acting playful towards it, not really showing any predatory behavior by biting it. Blackstone was displaying investigative behaviors by batting it around with his paw and sniffing it. He even does a play bow to it.  Wolves are large generalist carnivores, and they need a large amount of meat to sustain themselves. Thus, these small rodents while they may be entertaining, wolves do not tend to utilize them as food resource like a fox or a coyote would. Further, our ambassador wolves receive plenty of opportunities to feed from large carcasses a couple of times per week and we also offer smaller food items on a daily basis. For Blackstone, just a yearling being a yearling, utilizing an opportunity. The rodent was unscathed by this little interaction even though a Blackstone did pick him up and carry him around a little bit. 

With the seasonal changes the wolves are getting a little bit more animated. Caz and Rieka are still showing some pair bonding behavior. We see Caz rubbing under her chin and Rieka is very tolerant of him. Grayson is still in the middle though, especially with Caz being subordinate to Grayson, but also every once in a while, Rieka gives Grayson that affectionate inhibited muzzle bite.

Follow this link to watch this interaction. 

Earlier this week, on Saturday September 16th, we captured some footage that was particularly interesting, and we wanted to offer some interpretations. Rieka was standing over Blackstone and doing little bit of social greetings and kind of presenting herself to Blackstone. She attempts to do a stand over, but she is a little too short. You see her tail rising as she moves closer to him and that’s a little bit more assertive and a little bit less social. Grayson comes around and he seems to be always keeping an eye on what the yearlings are up to.  

We had someone ask us recently, “is Rieka mature yet?” After some of us chuckled and said, “it depends upon the day,” she really is showing much more assertiveness, much more direct eye contact, facing issues more directly, and showing strong body postures. For example, even though Blackstone seemed to resist her dominance displays in the footage, she didn’t back off. She’s had a history of being a little bit intimidated and approaching from behind by tail grabbing because she wasn’t very confident. We are now seeing her directly facing the males and dealing with her place as the dominant female.  

On that same footage, we saw Caz taking an opportunity while Rieka was focused on Blackstone to do a chin rest and that is a dominant posture. Then he goes into a ride up. His tail indicated that he was not very comfortable, and it doesn’t seem like he’s very confident about that move. Blackstone was also facing him so that certainly could have been the issue.  

One of the highlights of this particular video is that we observed Caz and Rieka do a very short parallel gait after all this posturing and chin resting. Rieka kind of walked into that because she protected Caz from a lot of dominance interactions. Pictured above you can see their feet parallel to each other and walking shoulder to shoulder. Parallel walking is a social bonding behavior so we can confirm that fall is in the air.  

It is autumnal equinox today, equal length of daylight and darkness, the first official day of fall. We’re starting to see some beautiful fall colors and feeling the temperature changes. With having a dry summer we’re likely to see some more intense colors than we might see during a wet year. With fall officially arriving, we know that wolf activity will increase so we’ll be watching that as the sun sets earlier every day, we certainly will keep an eye on what the pack is up to. 

You may watch the footage here.  

Last weekend we celebrated the Harvest Moon Festival here in Ely so our creative wolf care specialist, Abby Keller, made a scarecrow out of a variety of things: a gourd for its head, liver for its lips, frozen hay for its arms, legs and torso, and bison hide for its sash. When the wolves first saw the scarecrow, they displayed neophobic behaviors. Caz was the most intimated by the mysterious new figure. Rieka and Blackstone were the most curious, immediately approaching it and sniffing it. Axel was also very interested but was a little bit more cautious but was the first to grab a section of the scarecrow and left the scene with the head and liver lips. Grayson stood by and waited for everyone to disperse a little bit. Once Grayson approaches and takes the sash, he is followed by Caz which can be intimidating when you are trying to enjoy or eat something without competition. This is a very interesting example that demonstrates the differences in wolf personalities. 

We do these enrichments to stimulate wolves physically and mentally and it also gives us the opportunity to see each wolf’s preferences for what they seem to enjoy and investigate the most. This past weekend it was in honor of the Ely Harvest Moon festival, and we coordinated it with the Chamber of Commerce to offer eight fall harvest themed enrichments.  

Blackstone continues to be a little bit more timid about things. Caz showed a lot of parallel gating with Grayson this week and parallel howling. We watched him do a stand over to Grayson, so I think we’re seeing the onset of this male rank order fleshing out a little bit. 

Axel’s feeling better. We adjusted his meds and that seems to be making him feel a little bit more active. We have seen him socially interacting with the pack, including tail wags, and grooming behaviors with Grayson. When the yearlings approach, they have very low body postures, so still in a submissive posture towards the arctics. Certainly, this male rank order is going to be a little bit more established as time progresses and we transition from fall into winter. 

Speaking of fall into winter, we had an overnight frost that required us to add a little bit of hay for the wolves and they seemed to appreciate that decision. Hay is also a great place to cache and come back to it later. We took down our misting system to make sure that lines didn’t freeze. Preparing for the cold a little bit earlier than usual. 

The interactions between Rieka and the male rank order are something that we’re kind of watching. Who’s Rieka spending a lot of time with? Who is Rieka sleeping in proximity to? But you know it’s a little early yet so we expect some of that will probably show itself closer to November, December, and into January and February where we’re going to see a little bit more seriousness. Right now, it’s just life in the pack. It is pretty relaxed. We take care of their needs, and they can just be wolves and that’s really our objective in Wolf Care.  

We are doing pack updates a bit differently in the logs.  This text is the narrative from the Youtube channel which is done weekly. This allows details to be searched a bit more efficiently and logs to be posted more frequently. 


Every morning we bring the pack into what’s called the pack holding area (PHA) which is adjacent to our Wolf Care Center (WCC) building and the Wolf Lab. The younger animals walk into the WCC and get weighed but often they’re distracted by things like chipmunks. Caz jumping to catch the chipmunk is a good demonstration of why wolf fences should be 10-feet high with an overhang. They can also get distracted by vegetation or in some cases berries. We are almost done with the berry season, but there’s still a few low hanging Mt. Ash berries on the trees. They also get distracted by things in the trees, like birds that have been starting the fall migration might land or hit the exhibit windows or it might land and eat some seeds. We also have wasps that have been around as the drought increases. The yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets seem to take advantage of that drier condition and that means we have to apply a little bit more fly ointment. We often will have the wolves help the process; we spray the fly ointment on the rocks and let them scent roll. Because they go into the pond, we’re very cautious about what we use. We do use a lot of cedar oil, lemongrass, and peppermint. There are some other chemicals that work much more effectively but because they go in the water, and they eventually drink that water we want to be kind of mindful of what we put on the wolves. We already observed and recorded Caz dunking his head underwater for approximately 16 seconds. He has no problem sticking his face all the way down in to identify some things and so does Blackstone. The wolves can see the bottom of the pond and they try to figure out how to strategize to get their feet in and bring something to a shallow area so they can reap the benefits. Blackstone often gets ice chunks with a little bit of meat inside as enrichment since it has been so hot, as it has in most of the country. Today, temperatures dropped, and we had 39 degrees this morning. We certainly can appreciate Canada and Northwest winds as this cold front moved in and made it a little bit more manageable for the wolves. When it’s hot we like to get them in the shade, keep them on cool rocks and we like to make sure that everybody’s comfortable. Then there’s the pack social dynamics that come with cooler weather, so we’re starting to see activity and dominance ramp up a little bit here in the next few weeks, we also know it’s not out of the realm of possibility to get snow in September. Once we get snow the wolves get very active. 


Check out these links from the Timberwolf Alliance for wolves that are jumping for berries and from Voyageurs Wolf project for wolves dunking their heads for fish – 

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



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.


Rieka was brought into the Exhibit Pack space on August 9th, 2021.  She weighed approximately 23 pounds and was 79 days old.  The introduction started in the Pack Holding Area with Axel and Grayson coming into the smaller space to meet Rieka.  The initial greetings went well despite Axel and Grayson being nervous in the smaller space.  As the wolves were moved back into the larger exhibit space,  Rieka was intimidated by the excitement and activity of the adults which resulted in her seeking comfort in the medical pen, a space that she utilized as a young pup.  Within a few hours, Rieka found some food scraps and bones to occupy her time and sought comfort with the wolf care staff when needed.  She has a bold personality, exploring and approaching the adults, especially when staff are providing food resources.  The Center had two behavioral teams monitoring Rieka’s progress over the days following the introduction. The first team was on-site, rotating 6-hour shifts to provide coverage 24 hours a day for the first week of the introduction.  The second team was a virtual team that observed the two Explore.org cameras and the Center’s Exhibit Pac.  Both teams entered data on the Center’s Ethogram platform and captured images and video to document the behaviors.  We currently processing the excel spreadsheet with over 1500 observations.   Over 30%of the observations listed Rieka as the “Instigator” of behaviors that included climbing, exploring, approaching and nose to nose greetings, primarily with Grayson.  She is more intimidated by Axel, so wolf care staff are spending time in the enclosure each night from 5 pm to 9 pm to encourage her to interact with Axel and Grayson and to ensure that she eats after the temperatures cool off for the night.