At what temperature do wolves feel cold?
Gray wolves are built for cold and snowy conditions, so winter
is not quite as difficult for them as some other species. In fact,
wolves probably have the advantage in the winter over their
prey making life even easier. Most gray wolves live in areas
that experience extreme winter weather, so they have
adapted anatomical and behavioral traits to endure
these tough conditions. Specifically regarding extreme
cold temperatures, wolves possess a thick sub-cuticle
(below the skin) fat layer and a thick double-layered
fur coat that insulates them from the cold. Since it is
not possible for wolves to inform us when they "feel"
cold, we must watch for changes in their behavior to
determine if the cold temperature is affecting their
life. In my 12 years with the Sawtooth Pack, I have
only rarely observed very minor fluctuations in some
behaviors presumed to be caused by the cold. Examples
of these behaviors include alterations in energy levels
(usually increasing energy/movement), seeking sun to
lie in, and curling up into tight circles with their tails
covering their muzzles. I have not witnessed any of these
behaviors at temperatures above -5 F degrees though.
However, I have also personally witnessed no change
in behavior down to -20 F, so the behaviors are likely
dependant on each individual and current circumstance
more than just the severity of the cold. Wild wolves have
been documented to withstand temperatures as low as
-40 F, and there is no documentation on healthy wolves
succumbing to hypothermia, so we honestly do not know
what the cold tolerance for wolves is. In my opinion,
wolves probably do not "feel" cold like we do until the
temperature dives to at least below zero.
Do the Sawtooth and Owyhee Packs hunt in their enclosures?
The Sawtooth and Owyhee Packs hunt any small mammal that slips through the fence or any
bird that flies over the fence into their enclosures. There is a large meadow vole population in
both enclosures that the wolves snack on occasionally. In addition, squirrels, mice, and rabbits
are frequent visitors or possibly even residents within the enclosures. Many birds, large and small,
routinely visit the enclosure daily, most of which feed on the suet (fat) off the wolves' food. Due
to their easy escape capabilities, most birds evade attack and return as soon as the wolves move
away. The top five most commonly caught prey inside the enclosures are (in order) voles, mice,
grouse, squirrels, and chipmunks. Ravens are a very common resident around both packs, feeding
extensively off the packs' food. Ravens are occasionally killed by the wolves, presumably in food
defense, but the wolves never eat the ravens, therefore ravens cannot be considered a prey species.
Interestingly, this has been documented in nearly every other situation where wolves and ravens
live together, both in captivity and the wild. Even
though the packs can munch on as many of the small
mammals and birds they wish, this still only comprises
a tiny fraction of what the packs eat. Hunting inside
the enclosure is much more instinct driven than a
Is it legal to own a wolf?
The legalities of owning a wolf or hybrid depends on the state where you reside. The only federal rule is that no wolf can be taken out of the wild for ownership, but thereafter the regulations vary by state. Some states, such as Idaho, require a simple permit to possess an "exotic" animal. Where other states, such as California, are making it difficult to own a wolf by settings standards on how the wolf or hybrid must be maintained and preventing the canine from access to the public. As more negative encounters between "domestic" wolves and the public occur, it is very likely more states will follow suit with strict regulations on wolves or hybrids in society. Wolves belong in the wild, where they are harmless to humans, not in backyards where their instincts and poor care eventually will create a very negative outcome for the wolf, humans, or both. Furthermore, wolves should never be bred with dogs, as experience has shown the offspring (ahybrid) is more dangerous than any wolf or dog. More laws limiting hybridization of dogs and wolves is inevitable in the near future.
Do wolves howl more when there is
a full moon?
You are probably ready for me to dispel a popular myth here, but
quite the contrary I plan to turn this supposed myth into reality.
The answer is yes, wolves DO howl more when there is a full
moon. Wolves, as well as many other nocturnally active predators
[technically wolves are considered crepuscular, most active at
dawn and dusk, but remain active throughout most of the night
hours], tend to be more active during a full moon because it is
much easier to see prey and hunt. When wolves are more active,
they howl more. So, in my 11 years of experience of sleeping next
to the Sawtooth Pack, I can certainly attest to the fact wolves do
howl more during the full moon---which also makes for an even
more wonderfully eerie night!
Do the wolves ever attempt to escape from the enclosures?
No, with one exception. Back in 2000, Chemukh was the only wolf who ever knowingly attempted escape from our enclosure, and unfortunately she was successful. The events leading up to her escape were studied and it was deemed that the situation was a highly unlikely series of circumstances that caused her to be extremely scared in a very high energy state. Essentially, the pack startled her while she was feeding. Being an omega at the time, she became cornered by the pack and was inevitably to receive discipline for her so litary/sneaky feeding habits. Instead of facing the dominance, Chemukhelected to climb the fence. She was successful and was never able to be caught and returned. Other than this fluke occasion, no wolf has ever made an attempt to escape. We truly believe the enclosure will hold wolves under nearly all situations, and we also go to great lengths to make sure the wolves do not have a need to escape.
Why can't the wolves be set free?
The Sawtooth Pack was socialized to humans at a young age, which means they now look upon humans as non-threatening friends. Once outside the enclosure, the wolves may approach humans, which is not safe for either humans or the wolves. Plus, since the pack has been in captivity their entire life they lack the learned hunting skills critical to survival in the wild. Therefore, they would likely slowly starve if ever released from their enclosure. The Owyhee Pack, although not completely socialized like the Sawtooth Pack, still lacks most fear of humans and also lacks the essential learned hunting skills necessary for wild survival. The general rule regarding captive wolves is nearly all wolves born into captivity must remain in captivity for life, with the only exceptions being highly regulated captive breeding programs for the Mexican gray wolf and red wolf reintroduction programs.
Why don't the Sawtooth and Owyhee Packs produce pups?
The Sawtooth Pack females were tubally-ligated (commonly known as
"tubes tied") back in 1996, which prevents them from having pups for life.
This was performed because the biotic potential, or reproductive ability, of
wolves is directly dependant on how much food is available. In our facility,
the wolves are fed plenty of food, far beyond what wild wolves obtain.
Therefore, the Sawtooth Pack would have produced around 5-8 puppies
each year. It is extremely difficult to find homes for captive wolves, and our
enclosures would have been overpopulated quickly, so birth control was
mandatory. For this same reason, most other wolf facilities prevent puppies
in the same way or by other management techniques of birth control.
The Owyhee Pack males were neutered prior to WERC adopting the pack,
probably for the same reason.
When and what do the Sawtooth and Owyhee Packs eat?
This is one of the most common questions we field from visitors. The wolves are on a feast-and-famine diet, which means they are fed at random intervals with random amounts of food. This is the most natural way for wolves to eat, as it mimics the sporadic feedings wolves encounter in the wild. On average, the packs are fed sometime between every 4-7 days, and the Sawtooth Pack (two wolves) is fed anywhere between 60-120 pounds, where the Owyhee Pack (5 wolves) receives between 140-280 pounds. The diet is also random, depending on what food is available and what nutritional requirements are needed. We concentrate on feeding as much wild game as possible, such as deer, elk, and moose. These are gathered via road kill from around the region. When road killis not available, domestic stock such as goats, sheep, chickens, cattle, and horse are either donated or purchased for feeds.
When are the wolves most active
throughout the day?
Technically, wolves are considered crepuscular in activity, which
means on average they are most active during the twilights of the
day, dawn and dusk. We see this behavior among both packs,
but their activity levels also vary according to the season. In the
Fall, wolves tend to be more active at night to avoid the intense
heat of the day. Contrary, in the winter wolves tend to be more
active during the day, then bed down for the intense cold nights.
These are averages of course, so it is not unusual to see one or
more members of the pack moving about in the mid-afternoon
of a hot Fall day. Captive wolves do sleep a lot because they do
not need to seek out food or enforce their territory boundary like
wild wolves must, so overall captive wolves are probably more
sporadic in their activity patterns.
What is the favorite food of the
Well, the Owyhee Pack really does not show much preference, and since they were raised in a neglectful facility they are probably happy just to receive ample nutritious food. The Sawtooth Pack, however, has exhibited some preferences through the years. They really get excited when fed elk, but they also seem to enjoy whitetail or mule deer. The pack also becomes quite excited when fed chickens. On the other hand, the pack has shown they certainly do not prefer bear meat, so we typically do not feed it.
Do the Sawtooth and Owyhee Packs
Yes, they do. When the Owyhee Pack was moved onto the WERC site, they remained very quiet for the first few months. Piyip and Motoki continued their normal howling routine during this time (usually several times a night). Then, one night Piyip began a chorus howl, Motoki quicklyjoined in, then Himtuuqin joined, and finally Xayxayx and Miyooxatjoined in the chorus a minute later. Now, both packs routinely both initiate howls andjoin in a howl that was started by the other pack. The most fascinating part of their howling is that they howl together as one pack, not rival packs. So on most nights seven wolves can be heard singing in unison with a strength that echoes throughout the Winchester area.
Can wolves in a zoo
be released into the wild?
Unfortunately, nearly every wolf born in captivity must remain in captivity for the
remainder of their life. The reason is that wolves imprint on the animals surrounding
them very early in life (beginning at 10 days old). In captivity, this is typically
humans therefore the wolves become more or less socialized to humans. A proper
wolf to human socialization is very intensive and lasts for the first year of life, but
even if the wolf does not move through this process they will view humans differently
than wild wolves. Therefore, if released from captivity these wolves would
not fear humans and also not be able to hunt independently because they relied
upon humans for food early in life. There are exceptions to this situation, such as
Mexican or Red Wolves that are intentionally raised in captivity to be released into
the wild. These wolves are managed in a very strict protocol under the guidance of
experienced wolf biologists, and virtually have no contact with any humans. Even
with this strict management, not every released wolf is successful in the wild and
may need to be recaptured or they perish soon after release.
What do you feed the Sawtooth and Owyhee Packs?
The packs are fed on a feast and famine diet, which means they are fed on a
random basis that closely mimics their natural feeding cycle. On average,
the packs are fed around twice every ten days, and the weights and type of
food are also randomized. There are various types of food fed to the packs,
but we mostly concentrate on wild game as much as possible. All wild game
is gathered through road kill, and the WERC maintains a positive working relationship
with many local law enforcement agencies, the Nez Perce
Tribe, and Idaho Fish and Game to find all road kills within our region.
Most road kills are in the form of whitetail or occasionally mule deer, but
we have also gathered elk and moose through the years. If road kill is not
available, we feed domestic stock such as goats, sheep, chickens, cattle, and
horse. The smaller animals are often purchased,
where the cattle and horses are only accepted
after they either die from natural causes or are
scheduled to be euthanized by their owners due
to a terminal condition. We also rely upon free
butcher scraps donated from our local butcher
shop, Marshall Meats, for many feeds.
Does the rabies vaccine work on wolves?
If so, why is it not recognized by the FDA?
The US Food and Drug Administration do not officially recognize the effectiveness of the
rabies vaccine in wolves because it has not performed the extensive tests necessary to prove
the preventive capability of the vaccine. During such research, the experimental subjects, in
this case wolves would need to be killed to examine their brains for evidence of the disease.
Therefore, the experimentation would require the deaths of many wolves, possibly up to one
hundred. Since until recently wolves were listed as an endangered species, so it is easy to see
why such research has not yet been conducted. WERC and many other captive wolf facilities
administer the rabies vaccine as a preventive with positive results. To my knowledge, no wolf
that has been administered the vaccine has contracted rabies, so anecdotally we could believe
the vaccine does work on wolves. There are some wolf advocates who are working on having
the FDA approve the vaccine for wolves (without the traditional lethal experimentation), but
this will take many years of convincing. In the meantime, we believe the vaccine has merit in
wolves and will continue to incorporate it into our healthcare of the packs.
How can I tell what percentage of my wolf-dog hybrid is wolf?
This is a popular question among hybrid owners, but unfortunately most of those owners do not
like the answer. To date, the only verifiable way to determine the heredity of any canine is through
accurate breeding/husbandry records. A blood test or physical examination of the canine will
not suffice. Since only the most respected and professional breeders, who typically do not deal in
wolves or hybrids, maintain such records, most hybrid owners can never know the extent of wolf
in their canine. This fact complicates the legal aspects of keeping hybrids (or wolves) in society.
Regardless, any canine that may possess any wolf in their recent heritage should be handled as a
potentially dangerous animal due to the unknown amount of wild instinct present.