Posted by: Gigi Allianic, Communications
The wolves are conservation ambassadors representing the complex and volatile story of the return of the wolf to Washington state and the challenges their endangered cousins in the wild face.
Although the wolves are nearly full grown, ranging from 75-85 pounds, they are young and still very curious and active. The best way to observe them is to stand quietly and watch the natural behaviors of a wolf pack. They are hierarchical by nature and you’ll be able to pick out the alpha female by watching her behavior. She is playful but also the most relaxed, so you’ll see her at the top of the exhibit while the most submissive wolf spends much of her time at the lower part of the exhibit.
In their Northern Trail exhibit, you’ll be able to spot the wolves in the foreground and elk in the background, demonstrating a predator-prey relationship. The elk add daily enrichment for the wolves. The elk actually venture down to the fence line and stand nose to nose with the wolves.
Before the young pack moved in, a 16-year-old female was the zoo’s sole remaining wolf in the exhibit after her male companion died a couple of months ago from geriatric-related health issues. Since introducing an elderly wolf to a young pack is not possible, she was moved to a retirement enclosure that is off view to visitors. Her keepers tell us that she is already adjusting quite well to her retired status and likes lying on a rock overlooking lower Woodland Park.
The gray wolf (Canis lupus), also called the timber wolf, is listed and protected as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act and by the state of Washington. Wolves have been hunted almost to extinction in the U.S. with the exception of Alaska and Minnesota. One of the most feared and controversial animals of our time, wolves generally hunt in packs and are an important northern predator. State and federal wildlife authorities are monitoring the activity of resident wolves to learn more about their use of habitat and to reduce potential conflicts.
We have had wolves at the zoo for more than 60 years. Given the rising political pressures and increasing conflict between wolves and people in the Northwest and Northern Rockies, it’s important for people of all ages to connect with wolves at the zoo and learn about the challenges these predators face in the wild, the unwarranted fears and their contribution to our ecosystems.
Learn more about wolves at our annual Bear Affair and Big Howl for Wolves conservation education event on June 4.
Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.