Several people have commented via email concerning their observations of Lucas spending more time sleeping. He was even observed sleeping with a group of ravens feeding on dinner close to the den box. Staff are documenting the recent increase in resting behavior and are looking for additional subtle changes that might indicate a declining health. Today, staff woke him up from the den box, watched him walk over to MacKenzie and do another classic dominance display called a stand-over. He's done this before, and this behavior is a reminder of his status, even though he's aging. MacKenzie was less than thrilled as indicated by her weblog photo. These type of social interactions are very typical of wolf packs that communicate the details of hunts, travels and social status by a twitch of the ear or look in their eye. They are very expressive, social animals and by watching the dynamics of a socialized captive wolf, you can't help but wonder about the critical role of this communication in the wild.
In the interest of saving time, all wolf logs will be the same today. Most of the wolf care staff time is spent attempting to keep the wolves cool during an unusually warm stretch of weather. The temperatures over the Memorial Day weekend soared to 90 degrees with high humidity. This is problematic weather for wolves that have not completed shedding, and who's primary method of cooling is through panting. Wolves pant to evaporate heat from their system, when the humidity is high, little evaporation occurs. This is why wolves in the wild are commonly termed nocturnal animals, meaning they are active mainly at night. Here at the Center, sprinkler hoses were installed to keep the temperatures cooler. In the retired enclosure, modifcations to the hose installation were made, when MacKenzie became anxious about the hose over her head. Her vision is declining, and the hose over her head must have been too much. The hose was re-installed to follow the north fence line, which will also spread a nice layer of water over the newly planted vines. To add another summer task, biting flies hatched over the weekend, requiring the first application of fly ointment. All wolves were treated, except of course, Shadow, who heads for the hills when fly ointment appears. The arctics were started on a dose of brewer's yeast with garlic in hopes of providing some natural repellent. This gift of garlic as well as a long list of other treats and equipment was generously donated by Miss Susan Sweeney's Biology I class – period 2+3; from Pennsylvania…
As usual, during the summer months in northern Minnesota, the biting flies have been out. During daily wolf care, we have been applying fly ointment to the tips of the ears and legs of the wolves. Lucas always seems to get the worst of the flies. In this photo, he is seen shaking his head to rid himself of the flies that have landed on his ears.
Lucas continues to be our measure of aging issues in the Retired Pack. Of all the wolves, he is the slowest to rise and has the most sway in his step. His photo this week shows a tall and lean wolf, which may make the joint issues more prevelant than the more compacted body structure of Lakota. Recent emails have noted Lucas looking a bit off on the webcam. We see him gaze off into space, with no real focus to his stare, but when he's stimulated by a staff person or wolves in the other enclosure, he's back to a bright and focused response. He also likes to get his rest more than his packmates, and we observe him resting with head down more than the others. He seems to be over the shyness he displayed earlier in the winter towards staff. Physical inspections are part of the regular wolf care protocol, but behavioral inspections are equally important, specifically at this age.
Lucas doesn't have too much new to report. He has continued to increase social behavior with staff and wolves alike. He's been spending more time in the back of the enclosure in the cooler dirt areas, and in the remaining ice buildup under the straw. He has been observed dominanting MacKenzie and doing several stand-over's, where one wolf stands over the top of another wolf in a passive dominance display.
Lucas has had some great visits. He's been very interactive with staff and seems to be feeling well. He's still the slowest to rise when bedded, but he seems to be more alert than in previous months. As we've said earlier, rarely do wild wolves reach this age, so captive care of older wolves is relatively new ground with limited support from wild wolf studies.
In earlier logs, there was some concern about Lucas's mental state as they reach 13 years of age this week. Lately, he's been very interactive with staff and his littermates as well as showing more alert behavior towards his surroundings. His hearing and sight seem to be fine, but some days, he looks a bit confused. Today, was a good day, his eyes were alert to the sounds of staff in the wolf lab.
This week, all the wolves will have the same log text, although the photos will be different. We conducted an enclosure enrichment project, where a variety of unusual food scraps such as hamburger patties, frozen meat balls, fish and a few other food items were scattered throughout the enclosure. The wolves had a variety of responses to the items. Grizzer ran around and ate everything he could find, Maya scent marked, Shadow scent rolled, Malik investigated every spot with a high tail and excitability, Lucas food guarded, MacKenzie actually caught a burger in midair, and Lakota cached what she could take from Lucas. This type of stimulus creates high activity, a chance to use their sense of smell, and overall curiosity. Today was an overcast, cooler day, perfect for this type of high end stimulus.
Over the last few weeks, there have been several observations about Lucas sleeping more than normal and not getting up to greet. He still seems perky when he takes his daily vitamins, cosequin and durlactin, but he continues to show more age related symptoms compared to his pack mates. As the summer starts and temperatures warm, observations of Lucas will increase and more data will be collected on his behavioral patterns.
Lucas has been a bit shy towards staff lately, but his interest in his packmates has increased. He's also been more agitated with the chasing and sometimes noisy behavior of the Exhibit pack. During the winter seasons, hormone levels tend to increase as wolves begin the breeding season. Even though the wolves at the Center have been spayed and neutered, they still display hormonal increases this time of the year. Lucas, nearing 13 years of age, still shows interest in pair bonding and defensive behavior. Thanks to Pam Dolajeck for the donation of pigs ears for the wolves.
The International Wolf Center advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future.