Check out these little guys! They are Eastern gray wolf pups, born in April at the Haliburton Wolf Centre in Ontario. The Wolf Centre is a great place to see wild wolves in action. It is a 15 acre reserve, home to a pack of non-socialized wolves. It is located in the Haliburton Forest so is well-wooded, has a spring-fed pond that flows year-round, and plenty of denning spaces, cover, and sun-filled meadows — everything a wolf-pack needs.
The only thing that is supplied by humans is food — in the form of whole beavers (courtesy of local trappers) and road-kill deer and moose. Other than that, the wolves live a wholly natural life — breeding, romping, digging dens, caring for pups, and taking part in the social dynamics of pack life.
The visitor’s centre, from which these pictures are taken, provides sound-dampened one-way viewing. Microphones and speakers allow viewers to hear the wolves, which was fun when the pups were playing.
The wolves are free to come and go, but apparently enjoy the sun-facing slope towards the visitor’s centre when the weather isn’t too hot. They are, however, skittish, and too much noise or activity in the visitor’s centre will drive them back into the forest.
Wolf Centre staff are always on hand to talk about the wolves and answer questions. We’ve been to the centre every summer for the last 3 years and I am always entirely impressed with the staff’s knowledge, willingness to explain and answer questions and most of all their enthusiasm and love for this pack of wolves. They know every animal personally — its history, personality, it’s ups and downs in the pack dynamics.
They remember back to the “reign of Trats” the first and longtime alpha male, and what a terrible loss it was when he died. They talk about alpha couples who were good leaders and those who ran a dysfunctional pack. They can relate each coup, when new animals took over the alpha positions. Some of these were expected, others were complete surprises.
Two years ago the pack suffered a huge loss and subsequent disruption when the alpha female Citka died in childbirth. A pack without an alpha female is in a precarious position. Normally, one job of the alpha couple is to control their same-sex members of the pack. Without Citka to moderate, fights broke out among the “teenage” siblings of an earlier litter and Granite, the only other female in the pack, killed her brother, Ginger.
This year the pack includes 4 adults and the 4 new pups. The alpha couple –parents of the pups — are Haida (m) and Granite (f). Cedar, Citka’s brother, is the beta male. As the uncle, he serves as occasional babysitter to the youngsters and backs up the alpha couple.
Granite’s brother, Grisham is the omega male — the lowest-ranking animal in the pack. He’s in very few of the photographs because he ranks below the pups even. If they demand food from him he has to comply. If not, the parents or uncle will step in. His body language speaks “low ranking” and, we’re told, that he must maintain that body language even when he’s not dealing with other pack members. Should a higher-ranking animal spot him acting above his station –even at a distance –they’d set upon him and put him back in his place.
Since there have been no surviving pups since Haida was born in 2007, all four of these pups will remain with the pack at Haliburton. Being the only adult female in the pack, it is hoped that Granite will continue breeding for the next couple of years until one of the two female pups is old enough to take her place as alpha female. If the pack size grows too large, pups from upcoming litters may be given to other facilities. These babies would be taken away from their mother before they are 8 days old and would, unfortunately, end up being acclimated to humans. Their genetics however, are valuable, and their bloodline would continue on.
If you live locally and are interested in being part of the family history of this unique pack of Ontario wolves, the centre is running a contest to name the 4 pups. This generation the names must start with the letter L. Drop by the Wolf Centre and write your ideas in the notebook. Who knows, your names might become part of the legacy of the Haliburton wolves.