Luna’s most common resting spot is in the cool soil near the Exhibit Pack misting system. We manage the vegetation to provide a significant amount of shade to add to the cool soil and that makes a comfortable spot for a dark color phased wolf that absorbs heat quickly. We don’t know what Luna’s reaction will be to Aidan’s appearance in an adjacent enclosure. As with all of our retirement plans, wolves will share a fence line to look at compatibility issues before a reunion is planned. We know Luna’s medical assessment and too much activity could have a negative impact on the progress we have made with her over the past two years. Luna’s not the best judge of moderation in food possession or heightened play bows and chase scenes with pack mates.
Luna and Grizzer have been reaping the benefits of a summer adjacent to the upgraded misting system installed in the Exhibit Pack during the Spring Working for Wolves program. Luna has selected the den site (a fall Working for Wolves program in the pack holding area as her main resting spot on a hot, humid day. Unfortunately for Northern Minnesota, heat and humidity seems to be the common theme this summer. The younger the age and the lighter the coloration of the guard hairs, the less problem with the heat, which means, Axel and Grayson are chasing and wrestling with each other while the rest of the ambassadors are taking it easy. The age and coloration criteria are noticeable when observing Luna; her dark coat is often hot to the touch when she lies in the sun and six is about the age when wolves start displaying a more contemplative look before displaying an action, especially one that requires expending energy. A recent red squirrel visit to the pack holding area was a great demonstration of this age specific phenomena. A red squirrel scaled down the fence into the pack holding area after an active pursuit by Axel and Grayson; Luna watched the approach with intent ears, but the body did not go into motion until the squirrel hit the ground running. As predicted, the squirrel just went back up another tree, habitat is important for all species at the Center. Understanding the dynamics of interspecific interactions (actions between species) is part of our educational mission at the Center. One way we accomplish our mission is through our Wolf Care Webinar Series. Our next webinar in the series is on Friday the 13th. To some people, this day conjures up images of horror movies, unexplained events, and a belief of bad luck. Like Friday the 13th, Center staff hear many superstitious beliefs about wolves that have been perpetuated throughout history. It is our goal to help educate people about the facts about wolf behavior. To join us for this one-hour webinar, register at https://wolf.org/programs/webinars/ where we will broadcast from the retirement areas with Luna and Grizzer in retirement and explore those beliefs and try to uncover the possible wolf behavior that may have contributed to the myth. The program starts at 7 pm Central Daylight Time.
Luna has been very receptive to body work lately and you may see staff on the webcam trying a variety of techniques. She has her favorites and you may see her present her right leg extended for the staff to reach. We are very pleased with her behavioral progress since her last medical exam. Staff report good interactions compared to a period of time when she responded with grab bites to staff whenever they tried to interact. Grizzer can attest to Luna’s improvements as well with more face to face contact. In this week’s photo, you may notice Luna in submissive ears, greeting Grizzer with a “Nose-to-Nose” greeting; Grizzer’s not quite sure if he can trust the submissive interaction. He displays an ear posture called “Ear’s Pricked and Turned Sideways” or EPTS in our ethogram. This posture indicates interest (ears are pricked), but a bit of uncertainly (turned sideways). The Veterinarian would like some follow-up bloodwork on Luna, but we will need to reduce her excess winter coat to reduce any overheating issues while under sedation. We have identified a pattern when Luna has more discomfort. Days with high humidity and low barometric pressure seems to be more uncomfortable on her joints, especially just before a storm. If you would like to get a chance to learn more about Luna and Grizzer and see their interactions, the wolf care department has started a Behind the Scenes tour at the Center in Ely, every Friday morning at 9 am. Registration is limited to 20 people, so call the Wolf Den Store to reserve a spot.
Luna’s medical exam occurred on May 2nd. As we suspected, there is an increased degenerative condition on her right leg. The vet report stated:
“On physical exam, the right hip has significantly decreased range of motion, which is consistent with radiographs. The neck of the femur continues to be blunted/misshapen which is likely leading to a mechanical bone – on – bone articulation as she moves. Ultimately it does not appear that removing the plate would be beneficial as the area of concern is in the joint itself.”
We also tested her thyroid because she has been having some issues with skin irritation, but her thyroid levels were normal. So, the irritation may likely be an allergen as she has responded well to short-term use of antihistamines. Since she’s been a pup, she has had issues with maintaining vitamin D levels without supplements, but the latest blood work has shown some progress with this condition. A medical exam is challenging because it involves chemical immobilization for the trip to the clinic. It took Luna a few days of rest after the exam to get back to increased mobility, no doubt manipulation for x-rays created some soreness. While Luna has always been on nutritional supplements, she has now been prescribed an NSAID to reduced inflammation and staff continue to try to provide some hands-on care to provide her relief.
In last week’s log, we talked about some training plans for staff when interacting with Luna. We’ve had some good success, but because of Luna’s history, we have decided to schedule a complete medical exam of x-rays and blood work. It has been two years since her last complete veterinary exam and the focus will be on any degenerative bone issues, vitamin D and ionized calcium levels. We will also test her thyroid as part of the diagnostic work that may help determine her skin irritation that has caused an increase scratch reflex documented by the wolf care staff during interactions.
Luna has been bringing on some additional challenges and training for wolf care staff. If you have followed Luna’s story, she has some medical reasons behind her history of obsessive behavior often viewed by fellow pack members as unstable energy. There’s been a lot of medical, physical and behavioral assessments over the last 6 years trying to help Luna. This behavior had calmed significantly when she was transitioned into retirement where she didn’t have to be on the defensive with more active packmates. But lately, we are seeing some return to some intense possession beyond her normal gregarious behavior. A few weeks ago, it was the new scat bucket and a staff member’s boots, earlier this week it was a rock and some cover hay that made her lunge in defense. There’s something to be said about being dominant, but this seems to be something more. Lately, she has become obsessed with certain staff people’s hands. It’s not all staff, just certain staff, it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s gloves or bare hands, she tries to grab them. The pattern we have seen in the past seems to correlate with her pain response on her back right leg. She has been willing to seek body work from certain people, but we need to be extremely gentle in handling. As the weather warms, we will look for correlations with temperature, ice conditions or activity levels to see if there’s a pattern. Until then, you may see staff members in training to learn some techniques. Luna has also been on a diet, we know extra weight can be an issue for her leg. We have limited her diet, but with outdoor enclosures, we can’t always be certain of her consumption. We have reported ravens dropping food in her enclosure and thanks to the diligent eye of one of our viewers, we can also report that Luna chased and caught one of two snowshoe hares that made it into the Retired Pack. I will post the surveillance video of that event on YouTube on Friday. To those who think Luna should be back with the pack, I just ask people to respect Luna’s issues and the incredible ability of wolves to identify weaknesses, not only in the prey they catch, but within the pack dynamics in which they live. We would never risk Luna’s safety by preemptively changing her pack status, nor blame other wolves for displaying their natural behavior. Please, if anyone has concerns about Luna or any of the other wolves care, feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Luna continues to dictate to wolf care staff where and when she wants body work. For the past several weeks, she seems to want to skip leg work and concentrate on belly rubs. Her undercoat is extremely thick and when wolf care staff do manage to find her skin under the thick layer of winter hair, it stimulates the scratch response. The only challenge to this is the toenails that come with the scratch response. Luna seems to have less wear on her toenails than the other wolves, even Grizzer. We rarely clip wolf toenails because of the digging and active movements throughout the wooded enclosure. Luna’s longer nails may be due to the impact of her back right femoral head alignment causing an uneven gait. Staff are conditioning her to the presence of toenail clippers and so far have been successful in clipping the front toenails but she is still sensitive on her back toenails. Perhaps some warmer daytime temperatures may make her more sedentary, making toenail clipping and brushing her thick winter coat a bit easier. We celebrated her birthday on on March 25th with a webinar and a birthday treat of pigs ears.
Luna’s behavior has always been a contributing factor to wolf care training, whether it be monitoring her interactions with the packmates, her focus on food and caches or her tolerances for physical bodywork, staff need to be extremely tied into her body language to know how to respond. Luna is quick to assume leadership over any circumstance, so we need to interpret and understand her body language to be proactive. Some may think dominance is synonymous with the term domineering, but when working with adult wolves, we need to understand that wolves respond to the energy and actions of the packmates and for socialized wolves, that includes the human handlers. Dominance and leadership starts with calm energy and if we begin interacting with Luna when she’s in an excited state, her response will be excitement. When wolves get excited, they are prone to grab-biting. So, to those of you who emailed me asking if it is normal for wolves to grab the hands of the wolf care staff, the answer is no, but is it something that can occur? Yes, both Luna and Boltz can respond with a level of stimulation that needs to be calmed before we can do our jobs. They are both turning 6- years old this month, if you are interested in honoring Luna or Boltz’s birthdays, please consider a donation to the Wolf Care Fund and under designation, select wolf care. In addition to vet care, medication, food and supplies, the wolf care fund helps pay for hands-on training. Join us for Luna’s birthday webinar on March 25th, follow this link for registration.
Luna definitely has a thick pelage that makes it hard to assess her physical condition. She continues to be receptive to some body work, but we need to be very sensitive to her preferences and to the level of physical touch. Luna has had some soreness this past month and we will all feel better when the spring melt gets rid of some of this ice. For the winter, we maintained a diet for Luna that was half the amount fed to Grizzer and well below the average of 3.7 pounds typically required by wolves. Despite her diet, we still saw her gain a few pounds this winter. I actually witnessed a raven drop a chicken breast from the Exhibit Pack into the Pack Holding Area and Luna took no time in finding it, defending it and eating it. Who knows how many treats she gets in a day, we have a lot of ravens. Appetites typically diminish as spring and summer approach and we have reverted her to to the summer diet of 2 pounds of meat – 5 days a week. This is about 30% less than a winter dose and after we brush off a few layers of hair, we will work on getting her target goal back to under 100 pounds. In this week’s photo, you can definitely see the scruff around her neck that has at least a 4 inch girth of hair.
Luna is definitely aware of pack activities next door. She and Grizzer get a clear vantage point from the top of the densite to see and hear the pack as the winter dynamics increase. Although Luna’s much calmer in retirement than when she was in the Exhibit, she is still prone to bouts of vocalization, especially when the noise coming from the Exhibit indicates strife. She is having a great winter with limited physical issues although she still presents her back leg for some body work and is quick to let staff know when she has had enough.
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