Certainly the focus for the summer was on Rieka, but staff are always diligent about ensuring our oldest pack members have the care they need. Grizzer and Denali enjoyed sharing a fenceline with Rieka and were willing participants for the many Behind the Scenes programs. Grizzer is still active and has displayed some playbows to staff throughout the many hours of wolf care. As the warm summer comes to a close, they have both started to grow their winter coats.
Denali resting on the East Side Den
The next 3 days will be extreme with record high temperatures and the potential for high humidity. These conditions will be concerning for all of our wolves, but especially the retired wolves. This is more problematic than a hot July day since the wolves are still in the middle of their shedding process. Staff are diligently brushing the wolves on a daily basis to remove this heavy undercoat. We are fortunate to have many shaded spaces, cool layers of sand, trees that shade and cool through their transportation, misting systems and ponds for taking a dip. Even Grizzer likes to wade into the pond to get some relief from the heat. Staff will be diligent over the weekend to make sure there are not signs of animal health issues with the heat.
Twenty days ago, we celebrated a milestone. Grizzer turned 17 years of age on May 5th, 2021. We shared his birthday with some of his favorite staff; Wolf Specialist Abby Keller made him a birthday cake that he enjoyed (well, Denali helped). We see Grizzer slowing down, but not losing his personality or spunk. Due to some advancing cataracts, he relies heavily on his sense of smell. A decline in vision has not impacted his awareness. He manages to identify our Veterinarian from a distance, usually with a warning bark-howl. To try and reduce some of his tension about a vet visit as well as some of the chainsaw work done by the Vermilion student work crews, we are trying to integrate our Vet and VCC instructor, Ryan Miller into the wolf care team. So far, Grizzer has been the biggest challenge, posturing and testing just like he did when he was a yearling, although a bit slower. We use techniques to help the process including using positive associations. With the new person’s smell (maybe from a t-shirt or flat hand at the fence) along with a treat, we try to gain acceptance. So far, what we have gained is an appreciate that regardless the age, a wolf’s personality seems to live on. Grizzer was a bold, testing yearling and he’s a bold testing 17 year old. Denali’s response has been quite different. Denali’s has displayed more playbows and social instigation, indicative of his history as a pack member that was most concerned with the food being delivered rather than the staff that made the delivery. In this week’s photo, Grizzer uses his sense of smell to determine the staff interactions and the photos below show his birthday cake and the attitude of a yearling wolf, posturing and testing the dominant wolf, Shadow.
While Grizzer and Denali are different subspecies, their full winter pelage can make it hard to tell them apart.
Denali has more fire-brown tones on the back, Grizzer is more grey and has a well marked black stripe in the middle of the back between the light of the neckline and the grey of the lower back.
Denali and Grizzer are having a great winter, not just the weather (which has been warmer than average), but they spend a lot of time in playbows, tail wags and traveling throughout the three retirement enclosures. Grizzer’s hearing is nearly gone and his cataracts definitely make it a challenge for him to see anything dropped on the ground, but his sense of smell is as strong as ever. This weekend a “Polar Vortex” is expected to drop temperatures to near 40 below zero. We increased the amount of hay in both enclosures and the Retired Wolves have many warm resting spots as well as the option to come inside the Wolf Care Center if needed.
This photo was captured from the Center’s Back Habitat webcam den and was posted on the Explore.org site by Elena-Italia
With temperatures reaching an overnight low of -27 degrees, we added a few extra food resources in addition to the Retired Wolves morning breakfast of 3-4 pounds of meat. In this image, Grizzer manages to keep a deer leg from Denali and proudly carries it through the pack holding area. While we have plenty of thick straw beds and covered spaces for the wolves to curl up on a cold winter night, there is an advantage to keeping them active with good circulation to their extremities. The extra food resources encourage activity, competition and extra calories as well as keeping Grizzer’s mind alert.
We don’t have an explore.org camera in retirement, but staff photograph on a weekly basis to capture the moments we cherish on a daily basis. I like to call this one, “Two Ships Passing”. Definitely Retirement is about co-existing and understanding each other’s idiosyncrasies.
It has been a great winter to be an older wolf. With nighttime temperatures staying above zero, there isn’t much stress to the body when living outdoors. Grizzer also has a great appetite which helps keep his calories up and his immune system strong. He is very good about taking his morning nutritional supplements; all factors are making the winter of 2021 a great winter to be an older wolf. We are noticing some challenges with Grizzer’s vision and hearing, but he has certainly not let that impact his activity or comfort level moving throughout the three retirement areas. Denali is an important part of providing that comfort for Grizzer with the many greetings, tail wags and nose to nose greetings that keeps them both up and active. Their behavior brings many smiles to the faces of wolf care staff and webcam viewers alike.
I took a while, but Denali is back to his pouncing, playbowing, social, tail-wagging self. The transition was actually quite short, only 2 months and he has healed physically and mentally accepted the pack next door without showing anxiety about their dominance or focus. I like to think that Grizzer had a lot to do with helping during this transition period.
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.