Life and behaviour of wolves - UK Wolf Conservation Trust for captive wolves Life and behaviour of wolves: Mosi and Mai inspect their new rope fender. UKWCT WOLF PRINT 9 It's not just space a wolf needs, what you

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  • 8 ISSUE 35 WINTER 2008/2009

    Wolves in the wild have large territoriesand although in captivity this cannot beachieved it is still important to give themsufficient room to hunt, play, run and getaway from each other. At the Trust thethree enclosures are around two acreseach and only house small packs. Thepacks are tight family units which interactwell and, apart from breeding season whenthe wolves' aggression naturally increases,limited levels of aggression are seen withineach group making them stable andcontent.

    Enclosures should be large enough forwolves to chase, at full speed, each otherand any unfortunate small animal or birdthat ventures in. Our wolves are oftenclocked running up to 25 - 30 miles an hour.This helps keep them in peak conditionwith good muscle tone and healthy bones.

    Although wolves have a tendency to travelthe same paths in their enclosures, as theywould in the wild, our enclosures stayrelatively green and mud free even in theworst wet weather seasons apart from themain entrance in and out of the yard areasand the well worn paths. The wolves usethe whole of the space provided but tendto have their favourite resting spots.

    Depending on the time of year, wolveshave a tendency to disperse themselveswhen sleeping during the day and lowerranking wolves in breeding season like tokeep a low profile. Having large enclosuresenables this to happen. The wolves do notfeel crowded and therefore inter-packsquabbling is relatively non-existent.

    As our wolves are socialised it means theyhave a tendency to run up to the fences tosee who is around and also show all theirnatural behaviour out in the open. Theychoose to ignore, greet or hide away fromvisitors and handlers. More often than notthey choose to greet, and every visitor tothe Trust is guaranteed to see wolves.

    At the UK Wolf ConservationTrust we believe that overallenrichment programmes forour wolves is essential for theirmental, emotional and physicalwellbeing. This is reflected in howwe raise them, their day to daymanagement, the activities they doand the environment they live in.Their lives are a balance ofambassadorial work and free timeto be wolves.

    All our wolves act naturally whetherthat is hunting behaviours we see,how they interact with each otherand their reactions to new stimuli.The lack of stress related behaviouris due to their rich and varied livesand the natural environment we tryto emulate within their spaciousenclosures.

    Toni Shelbourne, Education Officerand Senior Wolf Handler, explainshow the Trust has achieved this.

    Environmental Enrichment: space

    More often than not theychoose to greet, and everyvisitor is guaranteed to seewolves.

    enrichment for captive wolvesLife and behaviour of wolves:

    Mosi and Mai inspect their new rope fender


    It's not just space a wolf needs, what youput in their space is very important too.They need a rich variety of objects andareas so that they have choice. Of coursethey do need simple open areas which areopen to direct sunlight too, wolves love to

    sunbathe. Within our enclosures we haveplatforms for jumping onto, greetingpeople from, hiding out of the weather andto see down the site from. The platformsare sometimes two tiered or have ropeboat fenders attached to them from polesso the wolves can chew. We sometimesalso string dead birds to them so thewolves can jump up and practice huntingbehaviours.

    Other structures in the enclosures includelog and brush piles. These are good for theinsects and birds but also provide objectsto be chewed and climbed on, hidden in orplayed around.

    Mounds are also provided to allow thewolves to get up high and see the whole ofthe site and they are often seen eithersitting or sleeping on top of them. They are

    also good vantage points for howling.One mound even has a concrete tunnelleading to an underground den and thewolves often play around the entrance,or use it to guard themselves from mockgroup attacks.Wolves love water and ideally all ourenclosures would have wolf-proofponds in them. Until then, watertroughs are situated by the fences forease of refilling and to give visitorsendless entertainment watching thewolves jumping in and out and sometimesdragging each other in, too. In the summerit helps keep them cool and in the winterthe ice gives them something else to chewon and play with. The new pond in thebottom enclosure is regularly used by thewolves and can also be used for food trails,using the waterfall as a good hiding placefor food. The pond has been a greatsuccess and all the wolves love to take a dip.

    Cover from bad weather and the provisionof shade is also important, so many treeshave been planted as well as woodenkennels provided. These are also bothsources of play and chew objects. Kennelswith raised beds and straw bedding areprovided overnight for our older wolves sothey can get out of the elements.

    Grass cutting is kept to a minimum withinthe enclosures to ensure habitat for wildlife as well as cosy hideaways for the

    wolves. However, a track is usually cutaround the enclosure so the wolves still havea race track to run, which they use to the full.

    Within each enclosure there is a holdingpen. This, if not being used, is left open butif we need to get in to do maintenancewithin the main area the wolves can stillhave access to a large grassed area whichkeeps their stress levels down. The holdingpen is also essential for separating a sickwolf without breaking the bond within thepack as the wolves can still see each other.Over the years we have had to separate anumber of wolves for short periods of timeand we have always been successful inreintroducing them back into the maingroup. Occasionally we might have to shutdown an enclosure so one of the holdingpens is double skinned. This enables twopacks to live temporarily in one enclosurewithout causing each other injury.


    There has been a long-standing debateabout which is better. At the Trust wefirmly believe that socialised wolves arehappy, healthy, have minimal stress andthat socialisation does not interfere withnatural behaviour, apart from removingtheir fear of humans. It enables them tolive in bigger enclosures, receiveveterinary attention, often withoutsedation, and enables them to visitdifferent places without causing stress; in

    fact they seem to thrive on the variety.The one down-side to socialisation is thathuman contact needs to start before thecubs' eyes are open. However, themajority of wolves at the Trust wereeither rejected by their mothers or weresurplus to requirements, so socialisationwas the alternative to a much worsescenario. Cubs are introduced to manydifferent situations and experiences asyoungsters and, like domestic dogs that

    are socialised,are confident inmany situations.

    Our wolvesenjoy interactingwith humans butinstead ofwolves learninghow to actaround humansit is more likehumans learningthe rules andlanguage ofwolves. These

    are not domesticated animals and shouldnot be treated as such. Unlike dogs thatremain puppy-like in their behavioursthroughout their lives, wolves matureinto dominant, forceful, intelligent

    individuals who can sense how you feelby scent and extremely subtle bodylanguage signals. They know we are notwolves but we still have to actauthoritatively in their presence and gaintheir respect.

    Mental stimulation is provided in avariety of ways, however, care is taken toallow for the behaviour of predators tojust sleep during the day. Wolves arecrepuscular, meaning they are active atdawn and dusk and our managementallows for this. During the day they havedown-times but also perform a limited

    Mental Enrichment: socialised versus non-socialised wolves

    Mental stimulation

    In the winter the ice givesthem something else to chewon and play with.

    These are not domesticatedanimals and should not betreated as such.

    Kodiak explores the new waterfall

    Mai claims her Halloween pumpkin full of autumn wolf treats

  • 10 ISSUE 35 WINTER 2008/2009

    amount of ambassador duties. Withthree packs the workload is spread. Theymay go on a walk with visitors or astudent might be doing non-invasiveresearch which might involve food, scentsor noises. We also complement this typeof activity with food trails, problem-solving treat balls in the shape of melonsor pumpkins; they might even get meatversions of ice lollipops in the hot summermonths.

    The danger is not to give them too muchstimulation, so the balance is monitoredto allow for wolves to be wolves. Ofcourse, the best form of mentalstimulation and comfort is to be part of astable pack and we try to ensure ourwolves remain within a pack for the wholeof their lives. For example, when one ofour older females passed away we wereleft with a single male, Kodiak. As he hadpreviously known and lived with Dakotaand Duma, two females, we felt therewould be no problem reintroducing him totheir pack. Care was taken to observe

    their behaviour with a fence betweenthem for several days and they weretaken for a walk together before mixingtook place. The introduction was verysuccessful and he didn't have to live as asingle wolf.

    As the keepers of captive wild animals it isour duty to ensure they are kept asnaturally and as stress-free as possible.This is greatly helped by an understandingof their behaviours and natural cycles.


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