In order to reduce the risk of exposure between our wolf care team members, we have restricted wolf care to 4 individuals while the Governor’s Stay in Place order is active.  If one of us gets sick, another team-member  that has not been exposed can step in rather than the entire WC staff being exposed.  Even though the Center is closed to the public, we want to assure people that the lives of the wolves has not changed, the morning med deliveries are the same, scat is collected,  socialization is maintained and the staff are starting to work on the spring time activity within the enclosures.   The staff have been actively packaging items for shipment to the winning bidders from our recent auction giving the wolves plenty to watch at the windows in the absence of our public during this period of closure.  Axel and Boltz’s tension has calmed down and we are very happy to report the densite construction that was a Facebook Fundraiser last fall solved our flooding issues.  We will continue to monitor it as we get rain today, but so far, it is staying dry.  We do have several other dry spots to rest under the eaves and in the slated den, but the main den-site is the prime location in the Exhibit.

We had to cancel the Working for Wolves crew that had a tremendous group of people willing to come and help with our many projects including the wet, stinky hay, the dead trees and branches from winter storms, the improvement projects in retirement and the need to sterilize the lab for pups.  So, the spring 2020 Working for Wolves crew will be the 4 of us; if you see us on camera with wheelbarrows and pitchforks, that is our next task. The wolves  enjoy  the  insulating  warmth  of  the hay all  winter, but  risk mold  in warm,  wet,  weather  is  always  a concern.

As we move closer to Spring, temperatures are warming up and snow is beginning to melt during the day. If you recall, in the Fall of 2019 we had some rock work done on the main den in the Exhibit. One of the main goals of that project was to reduce the amount of flooding in the den during the Spring melt. We are happy to say that so far, the den is nice and dry! Denali and Boltz frequently sleep in that den, so it is important that it is kept dry and comfortable for them. Axel and Grayson seem to prefer sleeping on the hay near the viewing windows, and on the pond pumphouse.

Wolf Log written by Assistant Curator: Leanne Martin

This past weekend, the weather warmed considerably giving us a reminder of the upcoming change of the season.  This resulted in some reduced activity within the Exhibit Pack, but in true Minnesota form, winter returned with some snow and sub-freezing temperatures.  The wolves base their activity patterns on the weather, switching from a diurnal (daytime mode) in winter, to the crepuscular activity of dawn and dusk in fall and spring to a nocturnal exhibit during the warmest summer days.   In this week’s photo, Axel has found the remnants of the cover hay before the snow blankets the Exhibit.  But, shortly after the snowfall, the warm March sun can quickly motivate the wolves into a nap, which appears to be Boltz’s intentions here.

Whenever we discuss social behavior, we always reference the importance of sibling bonds.  When we adopt pups, we try to get pups from the same litter.  This doesn’t mean that litter mates or genetically related pack members won’t have strife, but in our experience, there seems to be moments when that bond is more evident.  Today, on the surveillance camera, we caught a mid-day nap with Axel, Grayson and Denali.  Axel is resting his paw along Grayson’s back.  At this moment in time, life is compatible between the young brothers.

In the Exhibit Pack, staff have been successful with helping Axel work through some of his focus and excitement. One way to calm Axel is with bodywork techniques. The bodywork techniques staff use are the same ones that were used on Luna. Axel is quite receptive to the bodywork, and he will often present himself to staff for it.

Of course, distractions are still an important tool staff use to ease tension within the pack. One of Axel’s favorite distractions are freeze dried venison cakes. We go through these cakes quickly and are currently running low on our supply. The International Wolf Center has an AmazonSmile Wishlist, so if you are interested in donating a bag of venison cakes, follow this link to the Wishlist.

Boltz is back interacting with the rest of the pack.  He likes to spend time with Denali, and still seeks Denali out as a source of comfort. Boltz’s confidence has greatly improved, and he is no longer intimidated by Axel’s presence. In fact, Boltz has been chasing after Axel and Grayson during the afternoon chases the pack likes to engage in.  Spring must be in the air as the winter dominance starts to diminish.

Wolf Log written by Assistant Curator: Leanne Martin


Midwinter dominance
The dynamics within the Exhibit Pack continue to shift. With the absence of a dominant male and female pair, the pack is not as settled as it would be in the presence of a dominant pair. It is likely that we will not see a fully settled pack structure until we welcome the 2020 pups into the Exhibit. Once the new pups have matured, we expect to see a male/female pairing that will create solid leadership within the pack.

Staff are working with Axel, helping to assert a little bit of dominance over him, encouraging him to submit and providing a positive reinforcement when he does. Staff must be mindful to not have him submit when Grayson is nearby, as we do not want Grayson to take advantage of him while he is in a vulnerable position. Distractions such as deer hides and legs, play a key role in helping keep Axel’s attention on something other than Boltz. These techniques have proven successful in reducing Axel’s focus and overall intensity of interactions.  He still has some issues with personal space, often standing or lying inches away from another wolf despite their lip curl and growl warning him that he’s in their bubble.

Over the weekend, Denali controlled the carcass during the weekly “What’s for Dinner?” program. What was interesting was that he allowed Boltz to feed on the carcass with him, but he didn’t let the arctic’s on the carcass.  It is always a challenge to assess correlation and causation in science, but within a day after the feeding, Boltz seemed to gain a little bit of power. Boltz has been steadily gaining confidence ever since and participates in pack rallies, yet he still isn’t fully comfortable around Axel.  Denali seems to be source of security for Boltz and each morning, Denali and Boltz emerge from the main den together.

Written by Assistant Curator, Leanne Martin

As we reported last week, wolf care staff have been diligent in monitoring Boltz as he chose to isolate himself in the den. We had been hand delivering food to him, watching for his use of the heated water source close to the den and added another layer of hay in the den.  In some sense, this densite is prime real estate in the Exhibit, but not if you have anxiety that keeps you isolated from the pack.   We are happy to report that on Saturday January 18th’s “What’s for Dinner?” program, staff arrived to find all 4 wolves at the gate.  Our management tactics of working on Axel’s dominance over the last week was enough to give Boltz time to build his confidence.  This is not the first time we had confidence issues with Boltz. If you follow our wolf logs, you may recall we have some issues with flying insects that can result in the same response from Boltz during the summer months.   Why is Boltz so sensitive? In 2012 when we adopted Boltz, he was almost 30 days of age before we met him.  While he was socialized to humans at his source facility, he didn’t have the broad socialization process to life at a high traffic public facility, so stress influences him differently than our other wolves.  Due to the neophobic nature of wolves (fearful of new things), the Center’s management policy prefers a pup adoption during the neonate stage of pup development between 10 -14 days of age.  The wolf care team is a group of dedicated, well-trained individuals that will work on the 2020 pup’s exposure to new stimuli with a goal of positive conditioning.  Our priority is to develop social alliances between the pups and the adults as well as the humans that will care for them throughout their lives.  The playful antics of pups can create a positive distraction during stressful times.  We definitely look forwards to the influence of Boltz’s future packmates.


In the Exhibit Pack, it appears that Boltz has lost some confidence. He has been spending a good deal of time in the den and comes out only when he is sure that Axel and Grayson are distracted.  Axel and Grayson have been testing their limits with the older packmates, Boltz and Denali. This is a seasonal issue  that has played out many times in the Center’s 30-year history of ambassador wolves.  By opening the Pack Holding Area and letting Axel and Grayson visit Grizzer, it diffuses some of the tension, keeps Grizzer stimulated and gives Boltz some time to move about the enclosure.  The leadership in this pack is in flux with tension between Axel and Grayson being observed as well. Axel will often ride up on Grayson, and the two of them have been engaging in face-offs. A face-off is a face to face confrontation between two wolves, with tense posturing. When Axel and Grayson are focusing on each other, that gives Denali a break from the tension.  It is always educational to look back at previous events when analyzing pack dynamics, Shadow and Malik, arctic brothers born on May 8, 2000 had their fair share of brotherly moments.

Logs written by Assistant Curator, Leanne Martin

Denali getting a restful moment from the pack activity


August 2008 – Shadow and Malik face-off with Grizzer watching

The temperatures in Ely have been dropping below zero this week. Wolves are usually more active during the colder months, and pack dynamics are more intense. Axel and Grayson continue to test Denali for weakness and have been focusing on Boltz as well. Distractions are an important tool that staff use to ease tension within the pack. One of the most important distractions we use is food. If staff feel like things are getting too ramped up, we will feed a deer torso,  a bag of chicken, a beaver carcass, or whatever else we have on hand.  If you watch the Exhibit Pack webcam, you might be able to spot some of these food resources in the enclosure!

Written by Assistant Curator, Leanne Martin

In an effort to give Grizzer some social stimulation, we have been opening up the Pack Holding Area and allowing the Exhibit Pack to come in and greet Grizzer through the fence. At first, they displayed some anxious behavior, with Grayson being the most anxious. Denali, Boltz, and Axel all calmed down after a while and had face to face greetings with Grizzer. Although there was some posturing between Denali and Grizzer with neither of them backing down, the interaction wasn’t aggressive, which is a good sign. Grayson stayed back and didn’t approach Grizzer at all. Grayson has always had more of a timid personality, and with the current lack of leadership within the pack, he struggles to maintain confidence.

Wolf logs written by Assistant Curator, Leanne Martin