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Wolf sisters celebrate 11th birthday, we celebrate wolf recovery

Posted by Stephen Reed, Communications
Photos by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Gray wolf sisters Kaya, Doba and Shila recently celebrated an 11th birthday! The three sisters, born April 27, 2010, from a litter of nine at New York State Zoo at Thompson Park, joined Woodland Park Zoo in October of that year. All three sisters take after their mother with white coats.

Wolf sisters Kaya, Doba, and Shila turn 11 years old on April 27. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Gray wolves (Canis lupus) display complex social pack dynamics, and the three sisters at Woodland Park Zoo are no different. Kaya, the dominant female of the group, plays the role of peacemaker and tracks any changes happening around the enclosure. With a reserved personality, she exemplifies quiet strength and stability. Doba plays a subordinate role in the group but is also the most curious. As the least wary of the wolf sisters, she excels at training and is usually the first to investigate new enrichment such as novel scents or items to explore. Shila’s animal keepers describe her as a “wild card.” While the most skittish of the three sisters, Shila also wants to be involved in what the others are doing and can be possessive of her enrichment items, even if she’s not playing with them.

“Caring for our wolf sisters is challenging, but a fun challenge,” says animal keepers Amy Brandt and Karen McRea. “They are very, very smart and social animals, so we have to consider a lot of social dynamics when working with them. Each individual wolf has a different personality and responds to enrichment differently. You really develop a unique relationship working with them because there is trust involved on both sides of the equation.”

In the wild, gray wolves live to be about 10 years old. In human care, the median life expectancy of a gray wolf extends to between 15-18 years old. While they are considered upper middle age, all three wolf sisters have lots of energy and enjoy investigating (and sometimes destroying) enrichment provided by their keepers. As true Seattleites, all three wolf sisters love the smell of coffee grounds used as enrichment. Guests will find the wolves in the Northern Trail area of the zoo which is currently being transformed into the Living Northwest Trail to focus on local conservation.

A fourth sister, Aponi, moved to Wolf Haven International in 2019. In nature, it is not uncommon for adult wolves to leave their home territory to form a new pack or sometimes to join another existing one. In zoos, pack dynamics tend to change even after animals have been together for many years. In our pack, Aponi was increasingly showing incompatibility toward her three sisters—letting us know that it was time for her to separate from them. Our friends at Wolf Haven International, just south of Olympia, were happy to offer her a new home.

The zoo is committed to creating empathy for wildlife to inspire and empower conservation. In the Northwest, our conservation strategy focuses on two priorities – recovery and coexistence – and the gray wolf exemplifies the challenges and opportunities at their nexus.

In the Northwest, our conservation strategy focuses on two priorities – recovery and coexistence – and the gray wolf exemplifies the challenges and opportunities at their nexus. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

 Woodland Park Zoo is pleased to share its newly-created policy statement on wolves:

Wolves are a classic example of both a recovery species and a coexistence species in Washington state. Woodland Park Zoo supports the recovery of wolves across Washington state as part of our natural biological community and bio-cultural heritage. The zoo advocates for science-based decision-making and peaceful coexistence among people and wildlife. The zoo believes lethal removal of wolves should only occur as a last resort when all science-based mitigation measures are exhausted. The zoo is committed to our long partnership with the state’s wildlife agency and will continue to work collaboratively through open communication and transparency.

Woodland Park Zoo, through its Living Northwest Program, is a leader in regional conservation efforts to protect and promote a complete, functional, and secure assemblage of wildlife species in the Pacific Northwest. Large terrestrial carnivores such as wolves are apex predators that can play significant ecological roles in ecosystems, including regulating prey and helping to shape the natural communities within which they occur. Large carnivores are in rapid decline as human-induced pressures destroy and fragment habitat, restrict movements and result in direct extermination. Many of today’s large carnivores have been reduced to small and isolated populations – likely diminishing their functional effects on ecosystems and increasing the threat of extinction.

The gray wolf once roamed much of North America, with the exception of the Southeastern United States, which was home to the red wolf. With the wolf’s extermination across a large extent of its range over the last century, and its recovery in a number of places in recent years, the effects wolves can have on ecosystems are being seen in real time.

Wolves were once common across the entire state of Washington, but they were heavily hunted and declined rapidly in the latter half of the 1800s. Wolves were essentially driven to extinction in Washington by 1930. Wolves were first confirmed again in Washington some 70 years later, in the early 2000s. The first documented breeding in a wolf pack in Washington was confirmed in 2008. Since the turn of the millennium, wolves have slowly but steadily been increasing in Washington. At the end of 2019, there were an estimated 145 wolves in 26 packs in Washington. Five of those packs totaling 37 wolves are managed by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation; the rest are managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

 In the wild, gray wolves live to be about 10 years old. In human care, the median life expectancy extends to between 15 and 18 years old. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

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Pearl rose said…
I love wolves and the number 11 so these sisters are amazing