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.

We are so grateful for everyone’s support during 2020, a most challenging year for many people.  We still mourn the loss of Boltz, but seek comfort in Denali and Grizzer having such a strong kinship in retirement.  Here’s to better times in 2021, with pups back in the plan and hopes that Grizzer does well as we head into the heart of winter.

In the last week, we have witnessed a significant increase in social behavior between Grizzer and Denali.  Denali seems to be the instigator of the interactions, either spring up in a playbow towards Grizzer, doing a foreleg stab to get Grizzer to interact or just standing near him with his tail wagging over his back.  This is the pre-retirement Denali that we know so well and it has taken nearly a month of retirement for him to return to his normal behavior.  These interactions are not only good for their physical health, but it definitely is helping Grizzer’s cognitive abilities as well.  We hope the behaviors continue as the winter advances.

We have seen an increase in social behavior between Grizzer and Denali.  Originally, when Denali was first retired, the bite wound on his paw caused him some discomfort and he wasn’t in much of a mood to interact. As he physically started to heal, we started to see a transformation in his behavior as well.  At first, we saw more interest in feeding with Grizzer, then we found them resting near each other.  One afternoon, we saw Denali approach Grizzer, getting him up for an enclosure walk.  In the last few weeks, there is far more than walking.  They have been play bowing, pouncing, running and tail wagging(their latest video is on our recent youtube).  It is great to see Denali back to this social behavior and good to see Grizzer keeping his mobility at 16.5 years old.  In honor of this activity, I am sharing an image of their past social interaction.  They have been pouncing, running and tail wagging for years and while we don’t know how much time they have, we know that each day will be filled with social behavior.


Grizzer and Denali as former Exhibit Packmates

We started feeding the retirees a deer leg on the weekends in addition to their regular diet.  This extra food supply has some additional behavioral benefits such as caching, defending food, carrying their possession and overall fulfilling the need of a carnivore.  But, as a special addition to these behaviors, the added food stimuli seemed to increase the social interactions between Grizzer and Denali bringing a hop back to their aging steps.  This is particularly rewarding to watch on Grizzer who has been struggling with some aging tendons in the last few weeks.  There is some truth to the advice that keeping active can improve mobility.  To see these two in action, check out this week’s Youtube posted at www.wolf.org

In an effort to give Denali and Grizzer some additional enrichment, we chose to feed them 2 deer legs on Saturday night.  We knew that Denali might be more food possessive, but with he and Grizzer both getting a daily meal of between 3 – 4 pounds of meat, we thought the added food could be enjoyed by both.   While Denali managed to gather both deer legs on the initial delivery, Grizzer was able to eat some of the meat and proved that he is still capable of guarding food (check out our latest youtube to see him in action).  This was great stimuli for Grizzer and a good distraction for Denali who is still not quite settled into retirement.  We have noticed that Denali is standing on top of the dens trying to see over the fences into the Exhibit.  We decided to open the gate in the pack holding area to allow the retirees a full view of the Exhibit Pack.  Of course, we reinforced the shared gate with 1/4 plate steel and additional fence panels to avoid any chance that a gate would be compromised.  Grizzer likes the ability to see the arctics, but Denali is still a bit intimidated.  Grayson has been at the fence with a high tail posture definitely indicating that his rank has increased since Denali’s retirement.

Written by Wolf Care Assistant Leanne Martin:

Denali and Grizzer are managing quite well together. They currently share the Transition Area, East Side, and Back Habitat. Wolf care staff separate them in the morning during feeding, and once feeding is done they are put back together. One interesting observation that staff have noticed, is that Grizzer tends to follow Denali around the enclosures. Due to his age, Grizzer’s eyesight is not very good, and perhaps Grizzer is using Denali as a focal point  to move and navigate the enclosures better. Providing stimulus is important for older wolves, and Denali is certainly a great source of stimulus for Grizzer. They have not shown any aggression toward each other, and have even been able to stand near each other while getting meds through the fence.
With the arrival of snow, staff have added cover hay to various spots throughout the enclosures. Grizzer and Denali have been seen sleeping near each other in the Transition Area, an area that is completely covered by a roofline. This spot is one of the prime sleeping spots for the retiree’s due to the fact that it is completely protected from snow and ice.

As you may have read in the Exhibit Logs, we retired Denali on Friday.   Denali came to us in 2008 from the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake and has been an active part of the Exhibit Pack for 12.5 years.  From what we can see from the surveillance cameras, there was some dominance over the deer carcass that resulted in Denali getting a bite on his back right leg near his Achilles tendon and his paw.  The vet was here doing an assessment on Boltz and she advised that Denali needed a treatment of antibiotics, some rest to heal his pad, since these are notoriously hard to heal if activity isn’t restricted. With colder temperatures and snow predicted for the weekend, we knew activity was only going to increase with the younger pack mates and food possession, so we decided to move him into the East Side Retirement area permanently.  Another additional circumstance related to Denali’s overall health.  In May’s medical exam the vet identified one of his five biopsies showed a potential mast cell tumor, so this is an appropriate time to begin the next stages of his medical care.  Since this was not a forced retirement, meaning the other wolves didn’t force him out, there is some bark howling behavior coming from Grayson and Axel due to the change in pack dynamics.  Denali is transitioning to the new location, but in order for him to take his antibiotics, he is restricted to smaller meals twice a day.   We would like Denali to lose a bit of weight and want to make sure he is always willing to take his medication.  This was a bit of a problem when he was in the Exhibit.  He would gorge on a deer carcass, then become finicky about his daily meds.  Today is the 4th day of his retirement and so far the plan is working.  We anticipate Boltz and Denali can share the same area, but we need to wait for results from the recent tests on Boltz before we change anything in his life.

We are reconfiguring our gate system to allow for Grizzer to resume access to the front of the Pack Holding Area. As winter advances, we definitely want him closest to the heated building.  Until then, Grizzer is very content in the back habitat and Boltz is content in the Pack Holding Area enjoying the new cover hay placed by the wolf care staff over the weekend.