The Weekly Wolf
I spent six years living with the wolves of
Each Monday, this page will feature a new photograph and story of these wolves.
September 27, 2010
Zephyr was a huge male gray wolf born in the spring of 1989 on a Minnesota fur farm to wild-caught Alaskan wolf parents. From an early age, Zephyr’s wild parents taught him to be shy and timid around people. After serving time as an exotic pet in Arizona, friends rescued Zephyr and brought him to Mission:Wolf at three months of age.
For his first few months at Mission:Wolf, Zephyr traveled with the Ambassador Wolf Program, but this was short lived. At seven months, he was much too nervous to meet new people and eagerly returned to the refuge. He was introduced to two other wolves, named Whisper and Aspen. Zephyr quickly claimed the role of alpha male, and took Whisper as his mate. He and Whisper spent most of their time picking on Aspen and blaming the omega for everything. Finally, during the winter of 1999, Aspen stood up to Zephyr and challenged him for leadership. Both males ended up with minor injuries, but Aspen came out on top. Zephyr needed a new home and companion.
Coincidentally, a little black female wolf named Kestrel was also ousted from her long-time pack at the same time. With two homeless and lonely wolves on our hands, we decided to try introducing Zephyr and Kestrel to each other in the newly completed 12-acre playpen. Match-making is always a challenging task with wolves. They are very territorial and shy animals who do not easily accept a new addition to their pack. However, we were hopeful that the large expanse of the playpen would give Kestrel and Zephyr enough room to peacefully work out their differences. Thankfully, the two got on famously.
Zephyr and Kestrel spent their days looking down on the refuge from their hilltop perch. We could always count on Kestrel’s howl to let us know if anything unusual was happening in the valley, while skittish Zephyr would hide in his aspen grove. Despite spending his whole life in captivity, Zephyr always remained reclusive. He never trusted humans and was even wary during feeding time.
As the years passed, Zephyr’s chocolate brown coat turned to a stark white and Kestrel began to grey around her muzzle. Even though age was catching up with Zephyr, he still managed to play with Kestrel like a puppy and to frolic in the fresh snow. Finally, one morning we could not find Zephyr lying in his favorite place under the limbs of a small juniper. On October 14, 2004, we said goodbye Zephyr. At the remarkable age of 15, he passed away during the night in the sole company of his mate Kestrel. He had always retained the timidity of his wild ancestors and I believe he was probably content to slip away quietly.
September 20, 2010
Porini was a shy and reserved male wolf who was born in April, 1995. He spent most of his life in the shadow of his more powerful and bold pack mates. The “Driveway Five Pack,” as they were known, was made up of a fiery alpha female named Tierra, a charismatic alpha male named Beorn, a huge beta male named Kawh, a loveable omega male named Skinny, and Porini, stuck somewhere in the middle.
After seven years of relative peace, the driveway pack exploded with conflict in December of 2002. Porini, Kawh and Skinny teamed up to challenge Beorn and kicked the alpha male out of the pack. While Skinny and Tierrra seemed content to sit back and watch, Porini and Kawh spent the next week arguing over who would assume leadership of the pack. Kawh used his brawn to overpower his smaller pack-mate, and Porini grudgingly accepted the beta role.
However, after only a couple of months, Porini made his move. He and Skinny had finally had enough of being beaten up and pushed around by Kawh for merely looking at Tierra during breeding season, so they teamed up once again to challenge Kawh. Thankfully we realized what was going on before any of the wolves were injured and were able to separate them. It was obviously time for the driveway pack to go its separate ways.
Porini and Skinny lived together in the lower section of their old home, while Kawh and Tierra got the uphill side. Porini was ecstatic to finally be the alpha of his own pack. He and Skinny would spend hours taunting Kawh through the fence, and even enticed Tierra to climb the division fence to get in with them. Tierra loved the arrangement… she spent the whole breeding season climbing back and forth over the fence to enjoy the attentions of both Kawh and Porini.
Once breeding season passed and Tierra decided to stay on Kawh’s side of the fence, life settled down for Porini and Skinny. They seemed to enjoy the peace and quiet of life without Kawh. As summer rolled around, the power of his alpha role started to go to Porini’s head. He started stealing Skinny’s food just because he could, and would then “wolf” all of it down to keep from losing it. All too soon, Porini’s greedy habit caught up with him. One day after feeding, Porini died doing what wolves love to do most - eating. He had managed to stuff so much meat in himself that he could not digest it and his stomach twisted. Although he looked fine in the morning, he had passed away by early afternoon of August 15, 2003. The first of the Mission:Wolf pups to go, Porini warned us all how difficult the next couple of years were going to be. There is nothing harder than to bury one of your friends, but at least we knew he was happy in the end, full to the brim with meat and ruler of his own domain.
September 13, 2010
Whisper was a black female wolf born in 1993, after one of our resident male wolves, Lucus, snuck in with the females during breeding season. While Whisper’s mother, Jazmine, had no idea what to do with the pups, Papa Lucus always ensured they got to eat first at feeding time.
Whisper became a mother, herself, in 1995 when she gave birth to a litter of 5 pups. She had surprised everyone by ignoring the advances of Zephyr, the alpha male who was vasectomized, and mating with Crazy Horse, the very young omega male who had not yet received a vasectomy. Whisper was only two years old when the pups were born, and she was very inexperienced. Before the birth of her pups, a mother wolf will dig a den or clean out one from the previous year. Whisper attempted to dig a den, but ran into a large rock after about two feet. Instead of digging in another spot, she had the pups in a small depression at the base of a tree on April 18, 1995. The weather was still cold and snowy, and Whisper would often leave the puppies to investigate what the wolves in other enclosures were doing. Within a couple of days two of the pups died from exposure and the staff realized they needed to intervene. So, they removed the remaining three pups from Whisper’s enclosure at only six days of age and hand-raised them. Merlin, Kawh and Druid subsequently grew into large, strong, independent male wolves.
Whisper spent the next three years of her life living with two male wolves, Zephyr and Aspen. She proudly took on the role of alpha female and did her best to convince the boys that she was so tough that they had better not disturb her. In January 1999, Aspen challenged Zephyr for the alpha position and, with Whisper’s help, kicked him out of the pack. This seemed to solidify Whisper and Aspen’s bond, ensuring that they stayed together for years to come.
Even while graying with age, Whisper continued to be a spit-fire. She was shy around strangers, but would charge up to the fence whenever someone she knew came close – whether to chase intruding women away from her Aspen, or to enthusiastically greet an old friend. Whisper passed away in July of 2006, but her huge personality and fire lives on in the memories of all who knew her.
September 6, 2010
For a while now, I have really wanted to include more of the ecosystems that support gray wolves into this website. So, I am now planning to feature a photograph of one of the wolf’s fellow native species in the Weekly Wolf every so often.
This month, I’m focusing on the moose – the largest of all living deer species. Also known as European elk, moose inhabit a huge range, stretching across the boreal and deciduous forests of North America, Europe and Asia. I have even once seen a bull moose wandering the tundra of Alaska’s North Slope where it meets the arctic sea. A bull moose is an intimidating sight, standing 6 – 7 feet tall at the shoulder, weighing 800 – 1,600 pounds, and having palmated antlers that can span nearly 5 feet. Though slightly smaller, female moose are no less formidable… being extremely protective of their calves. It’s little wonder that moose have few natural predators. While cougars will occasionally go after a calf, only wolf packs, brown bears and Siberian tigers are up to the challenge of hunting a fully grown moose. There are few places in the world where the dynamic between moose and a large predator can be so easily observed than on Isle Royale in Michigan. Here moose and wolves coexist in a precarious and cyclical balance as the dominant species.
The photograph featured above is of three orphaned moose calves I had the privilege of meeting while visiting the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in 1997.