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Changing pack dynamics at Ely’s Wolf Center

Keith Vandervort
Posted 8/1/18

ELY - The pack dynamics of the Exhibit Pack at the International Wolf Center reached a milestone last week. According to staff reports, Aidan, pack leader for the last seven years, was transitioned …

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Changing pack dynamics at Ely’s Wolf Center

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ELY - The pack dynamics of the Exhibit Pack at the International Wolf Center reached a milestone last week. According to staff reports, Aidan, pack leader for the last seven years, was transitioned into retirement following a complete health assessment.

Aidan became the pack leader in February 2011. “That happened when Maya, the dominant female at the time, chose Aidan over Denali and Grizzer to be the successor of our former pack leader, Shadow, who was retired at 10 years of age due to health reasons,” said Wolf Curator Lori Schmidt.

The decision to retire Aidan was months in the making. “There was no one event that made this change happen,” she said. “It was a series of interactions that affected his confidence and ultimately resulted in a pack that started to form around him. The first sign of testing for status started with the maturation of the Axel and Grayson, who began testing for rank last fall and continued as they reached maturity. between 18-24 months.”

Many people had contacted Schmidt to ask why she didn’t pull him out of the pack last winter when the tensions increased. “It is important to understand that Aidan needed time to accept a lower ranking position,” she said. “We want his transition to retirement to be comfortable and less stressful. If he thinks he still leads the pack, it’s been our experience that they will do what they can to get back to the pack. Aidan needed to be ready to let go of leadership. From what we saw in the last few weeks, we believe that time is right.”

“For those who watched the cameras, YouTube and the Wolf Care Webinars, he still had social interactions with the pack, especially Grayson, but when it came to Boltz and Axel, the tension was there. He let the others do the leading and he did the following. Essentially, the pack was starting to form a new leader.”

Late last week, Schmidt provided an update. “Aidan had a restful first night of retirement, but by dawn, as the Exhibit Pack started some social interactions, he started to show some anxiety, pawing at the gate toward the activity,” she said. “Grayson is coming to the fence line whining and that gets Aidan anxious. Staff are able to calm Aidan down with distractions, but the challenge with social animals is they want to be social, regardless of the moments of tension that affected their confidence.” 

 Which wolf will take the lead is the next stage of this transition. Aidan’s brother, Denali, is going to stay with the pack at this time, according to Schmidt. “He is an important member of the social group. We will definitely watch this closely. Denali is 10 years old even though he acts like a two-year-old on occasion,” Schmidt said.

Staff was on site 24-hours a day during this transition time and tested some shared fence lines to see if Aidan wanted to join Grizzer and Luna, she said.

“On Saturday morning, we integrated Grizzer with Aidan. We chose Grizzer because he showed the most social whining towards Aidan. The introduction was successful (with a nose to nose greeting) and not only did they interact well, Grizzer had gained trust in associating with Aidan and, by the end of the day, Grizzer and Aidan were eating side by side with no issue,” Schmidt said.

Last Sunday, staff completed the transition by bringing Luna into the Pack Holding Area. Initially “Luna showed no sign of dominance, but when Aidan scent-rolled on a piece of meat from the morning meds, she charged him and growled. He gave a lip curl, but did not engage in any other interactions,” she said. “Later, she showed some possessive behavior in her favorite resting spot near the misting system with her birch log pillow. Aidan walked by and she did a defensive growl. Aidan promptly ignored it.”

After that encounter, staff opened up all three areas of the retirement area to give everyone some space. Aidan found a comfortable spot under the elderberry in the back habitat, Grizzer sleeps in his usual spot on the east side and so far, Luna is staying closer to Grizzer than Aidan.

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