Channel Island Foxes: A Beacon of Hope

by Christopher Lile and Kimber Hendrix

Off the coast of California, on the islands that make up one of the United States’ least visited National Parks, lives one of the smallest species of canid. Six of the eight Channel Islands are home to this animal, each with their own subspecies. In the last two decades, the Channel Island Foxes, Urocyon littoralis, have experienced one of the most remarkable recovery stories in U.S. history.

Decline of the Island Foxes

The story of the Island Fox’s decline is one that truly highlights the interconnectedness of ecosystems. From the 1940s – 1970s, DDT (a pesticide) was dumped off the coast of California. The aquatic life was quickly contaminated with DDT which, in turn, drastically affected the Bald Eagles living on the California coast and Channel Islands. Reliant upon fish consumption, Bald Eagles suffered the effect of DDT contamination through producing thinner eggshells. This resulted in vulnerability of their eggs and unborn offspring and the subsequent decline of Bald Eagles in the area. With Bald Eagles gone, the smaller Golden Eagles began making their homes on California’s coast and the Channel Islands. Unlike Bald Eagles, they were drawn to the islands for the feral pigs and foxes rather than the fish. The Channel Island foxes, not adapted for this new aerial predator, were quickly hunted to the brink of extinction. Feral pigs and sheep (introduced by humans in the 1850s) stimulated this rapid decline by decimating the native shrubs and vegetation that provided cover and shelter for the foxes.

Once numbering around 1,500, island fox numbers plummeted to fewer than 100 individuals in less than 10 years. Some islands had only 15 individuals remaining of their subspecies.

Photo: Friends of the Island Fox

Recovery of the Island Foxes

Thankfully, the Channel Island Foxes were placed on the Endangered Species Act in 2004. This listing elevated their critical status and initiated swift action and teamwork by the National Park Service, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, and The Nature Conservancy to save the only carnivore unique to California.

The recovery strategy involved captive breeding programs, canine distemper vaccines, reintroduction of the bald eagle, removal of golden eagles and feral pigs, and restoration of native vegetation. These efforts allowed the island fox population to rebound so quickly that they were removed from the endangered species list in 2016. This was considered among the fastest and most successful recoveries of endangered species in United States history.

Today, approximately 10 percent of the channel island foxes are radio-collared to enable scientists to monitor and track the populations and provide annual rabies and canine distemper vaccines. Although the future of this island species is no longer in immediate danger, scientists have learned how quickly this small population can be decimated and are vigilant to any new threats they might face.

Photo: Friends of the Island Fox

A Beacon of Hope

These tiny foxes represent a beacon of hope for imperiled species on the brink of extinction, especially other canids such as the Mexican Gray Wolf and Red Wolf. The story of the Channel Island Foxes also serves to remind us how important the Endangered Species Act is in preventing extinction. This single piece of legislation has elevated countless species on the brink of extinction to receive the immediate action needed for their protection and recovery. Wolf Park takes an active stance in support of the Endangered Species Act, not only for the grey wolf and other canids, but for all imperiled species.

Photo: Friends of the Island Fox

In Memory of Hunter

Wolf Park is home to several species, including grey foxes. These individuals serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts, both their own species and related species. As the most primitive canid alive today, grey foxes only have one close relative – the Channel Island Fox, who evolved from them. Our grey fox ambassadors often facilitate conversations about their island relatives. This connection prompted the idea to start a memorial fund to support Friends of the Island Fox, following the passing of our beloved grey fox Hunter. We hope that the conversations and memories Hunter created for our guests will continue to make a difference for the wild fox populations she represented.

 

If you wish to contribute to Hunter’s memorial fund and help the Channel Island Foxes, visit the Wolf Park Online Store Donate Section and write “Hunter Memoriam” in the notes.

In Memory of Hunter

 

Sources:

https://www.nps.gov/chis/learn/nature/fox-saving.htm

http://www1.islandfox.org/p/about-island-fox.html

http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22781/0

https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/california/explore/saving-the-santa-cruz-island-fox.xml

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Hunter – May 6, 2013 to August 28, 2019

Hunter Enjoying the Fox Den Logs

Hunter was born on May 6, 2013 at a facility in Minnesota. She arrived at Wolf Park with her two littermates, Gypsum and Ifa ten days later. She was always the smallest of the three, and the last to transition onto the bottle for feeding. She quickly established herself as a favorite for many of her caretakers. Her adorable small size and sweet nature often made her a sought after companion for naptime. From early on one of her preferred sleeping places was lying on the end of legs, it was not uncommon to find her curled up at the bottom of someone‘s sleeping bag. Growing up, Hunter sometimes played the sidekick to her brother and sister, but that didn’t stop her from showing her unique personality from time to time! A lot of people thought she was a shy individual, rather she would bide her time and wait for an opportunity to get what she wanted without having to give anything at all.

 

 

 

A Trio of Grey Foxes: Hunter, Ifa, and Gypsum

Once during crate training (not one of her favorite games), Gypsum and Ifa were entering and exiting the crates and earning their rewards. However, they were so excited to repeat the behavior and earn another reward that they would often run out of the crate, drop the treat, and head back in. Hunter would patiently wait for this to happen and then pick up the treat so she could gain a reward without having to put any effort into the training session at all.

Keeping a Watchful Eye from her Hammock

Hunter was the loyal sidekick to both of her siblings. She and Ifa would often curl into the same box together to wait out a rainstorm. In the summer, they would never be too far away from one another on their favorite hammocks on the jungle gym in the back third of the enclosure basking in the sun and watching their brother’s antics. Whereas Ifa would sit back and watch Gypsum, Hunter would follow along with his ideas to a point.

Hunter was Always a Skilled Painter

One of Hunter’s Pieces

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Boo All Curled Up

 

When Gypsum and the red foxes, Scarlette and Joker, would fence fight, Hunter would be right behind him, albeit not for as long of a time. Hunter also mimicked Gypsum quite a lot and missed him when he had to be brought inside for his surgery. When he returned to the fox den, she was able to pick up his signature move “what’s up” very quickly and would charm people out of their treats with a dainty chin-up.

One of her More Popular Expressions

Hunter was receptive to her environment and was often aware of small changes in her environment. This allowed her to be an exceptional hunter. Although we don’t intentionally feed small prey at Wolf Park, if something wandered into Hunter’s path, it was not a good choice for that creature.

Baby Hunter

After the sudden loss of both of her siblings, Hunter spent a little over a year alone. We learned that she couldn’t tolerate the coldest winter nights and had to bring her inside to sleep with her human friends. In May we were able to find two grey fox kits, Kestrel and Lark, to join Wolf Park as animal ambassadors. Having more grey foxes on-site, caused quite a change in Hunter. Her mood change was dramatic—she was more interested in meeting people, being seen on tours, engaging with the public for longer periods of time. She also enjoyed her time with the kits as long as they listened to her cues (which they did MOST of the time) and allowed her to touch them first.

The Poster Child for Grey Haven

On the evening of Friday August 23, Hunter started acting not quite right. However, it was decided that she might have eaten too much of her meal too quickly. The next morning at meatballs, Hunter was acting oddly and staff decided to call the veterinarian. Hunter was taken to the clinic and needed an ultrasound. She was diagnosed with pancreatitis and fought valiantly for 5 days, but ultimately succumbed the morning of August 28th surrounded by her human friends. Wolf Park will never be the same without the first litter of Grey Foxes to come and live here for the short time that they did.
We are starting a new tradition within the Wolf Park Fox Program, and would like to have our ambassador’s lives impact their wild cousins/counterparts.

 

You Will Never Be Forgotten

It’s important to remember what we can learn from our individual Wolf Park ambassador friends and how we can help animals in the wild. While grey foxes aren’t currently a threatened species in the United States, their wild cousins, the Channel Island foxes, are facing some challenges. We are collecting a memoriam donation in honor of Hunter for an organization called the Friends of the Island Fox. You may donate to this organization in her name on your own or send the donation to Wolf Park and we will pass it on for you. We will be collecting donations until September 30th, 2019. To donate through Wolf Park, visit the Wolf Park Online Store Donate Section and write “Hunter Memoriam” in the notes.

 

Rest In Peace Hunter-Boo

 

 

For those of you who were one of Hunter’s sponsors, please note that a mailing with further details was sent to you and is on its way if you have not already received it. We appreciate everyone who valued Hunter as much as we did. She will be missed, but never forgotten.

 

 

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Opening the Door: A New Family of Grey Foxes

 

We have grey fox kits! Kestrel and Lark are the newest additions to Wolf Park. As you may already know from our last blog post and several social media blasts, these two boys seem to be settling in quite well. At this point in their lives, it is one of our top priorities to ensure that they are able to bond with humans. By bonding with their caregivers, they understand that the humans they will interact with at Wolf Park are trustworthy.

Who could forget us sharing these baby’s faces?!

Our park values voluntary husbandry. This type of husbandry focuses on the comfort of the animal to ensure low-stress experiences. This can not be done if an animal is neophobic and considers humans as “new” or “unfamiliar”. While some of our animals have larger social circles than others **cough**Scarlette**cough**cough**, all of our animals enjoy the company of the special people in their lives. We want to provide this to Kestrel and Lark as they pave their way at Wolf Park.

A fox is a fox, is a fox.

But what’s a grey fox kit to do in a park of wolves? This is where Hunter comes in. Our resident adult grey fox Hunter is an expert at Wolf Park living! Hunter lost her siblings over the last couple of years. Research suggests that foxes tend to live in pairs. Further observation is suggesting that they actually live in trios. Fox Curator Kimber Hendrix and Kit Parent Christopher Lile can attest to this as they have both observed wild grey foxes raising kits in adult trios. So, although babies are fun, having kits was not solely for the fun.

The new trio of greys enjoying the foxiest of boxes.

Our hope is that Hunter and the boys will live together, but we need to take the necessary steps to ensure that they start on the right foot, or paw rather. We have been doing “soft” introductions – giving Hunter’s fur to the kits and giving blankets that smell like the kits to Hunter. Everything is going excellently thus far, as Hunter and the kits are always excited about these special deliveries. This helps them build up to face-to-face introductions.

The boys and Hunter are spending some time outside together, but just like anyone’s Aunt, she’s ready to give them back to their kit parents Christopher Lile and Megan Horning after she’s had enough. Kits can be very draining at a younger age, as is true with any baby. As they mature and have more experiences interacting with Hunter, they will learn the boundaries necessary to develop a healthy relationship.

Hunter setting up personal space

We welcome you to join us for our Kit’s Debut Party Saturday, August 3rd from 1-5pm. They will be outside in their enclosure for the first time for the public to see! Photographer Monty Sloan has also provided our gift shop with their BABY PHOTOS! Get them while supplies last! If you would like to donate to the foxes, see our donation link below and type ‘Fox Donation’ in the notes:

https://shop.wolfpark.org/products/donate-to-wolf-park

Monty Sloan’s baby photos are waiting for you!

If you can not make it to the Kit Debut Party, stay tuned for more updates by following us on social media. IG @wolfpark_interns, Twitter @wolf_park, and Facebook @Wolf Park.

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Wolf Park Welcomes Kestrel and Lark!

Wolf Park’s Newest Additions, Kestrel and Lark

After relentless hours of phone calls, emails, and traveling, Wolf Park is delighted to welcome two little fox kits, Kestrel and Lark. These two brothers, initially identified as Shy Guy and Brave Boy respectively, are settling right into their indoor nursery until they are ready to venture out in the newly built Grey Haven.

Kestrel & Lark in their Nursery

Grey Haven is our newest enclosure designed specifically for grey foxes with walkways high above the ground, hideaway boxes, special plants to nibble on, and beautiful young trees that mark the resting spots of our beloved foxes who have passed.

Breaking Ground on Grey Haven

Grey Haven in Progress

 

 

 

 

 

This new enclosure would not have been possible without the wonderful work of Matt Stallcup and Evan McGeorge from Total Habitat. Countless hours from Matt and Evan along with volunteers, interns, and staff helped make this a physical reality. However, we couldn’t have broken ground without your support! Members, visitors, and supporters from all over the world donated in support of this project. Additionally, to anyone who has purchased a Grey Haven shirt, thank you as you too have supported Grey Haven.

Thank You Everyone!

At the end of the day, it is quite vital to have an enclosure such as Grey Haven, as it caters to the needs of the grey fox. Grey foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) are an arboreal species that are often found 15-20ft up in the tree canopy. They are able to reach these heights because of an adaptation allowing them to rotate their wrists similar to primates. With the current fox enclosure, we did not have this height for grey foxes. The red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), Joker and Scarlette, have no complaints though! They now have the opportunity to expand their home once their neighbor moves into Grey Haven.

Finished Grey Haven!

Our current grey fox, Hunter, has had the opportunity to explore Grey Haven, but has not officially moved in quite yet. We expect she will settle in with some more time to explore. In the meantime, our kits’ human parents, interns Christopher Lile and Megan Horning, along with Wolf Park’s Fox Curator Kimber Hendrix, are doting on them with every little bit of attention they need. This point in their development is very important for us to convey that the humans who work at Wolf Park are friends.

Very Sleepy Baby!

The young canids we work with have what we call a “fear period” where they begin seeing, hearing, and smelling new things for the first time. You might think new things are exciting, but many wild animals are neophobic, meaning they are scared of new things. With this in mind, Kestrel and Lark have their human parents with them 24/7 and will be off exhibit until they are ready.

Bottle Feeding in the Nursery

Kestrel and Lark were originally born in Oklahoma and are currently about 5 weeks old. We are very specific about the animals we welcome into Wolf Park and typically work with kits between 6-10 days old. With the unfortunate loss of two of our grey foxes, Ifa and Gypsum, we did not want Hunter to be without grey fox friends. Although Kestrel and Lark are older, they had enough socialization with cars, children, adults, and other human factors that we were able to welcome them with loving arms, paws, and wagging tails. Shout out to Kimber, Christopher, and Megan for the 24+ hours driving round trip from Indiana to Oklahoma and the 15+ hours visit with Kestrel and Lark to ensure they were suitable for life at Wolf Park. Without them, we wouldn’t be making this announcement.

Car Ride Home

Your continued support means the world to us. If you would like to purchase either a Grey Haven shirt or a Joker & Scarlette Red Fox shirt, you may do so on our online store. All fox shirt funds will support our foxes! You may also donate specifically to the foxes here by selecting an amount and typing in the notes you want it to go to foxes. Kestrel and Lark will be up for sponsorships soon although it will be some time before we welcome sponsors in with them. Our fox sponsorships for adults are available here and for 5-17-year-olds available here. We also love our volunteers. If you would like to volunteer for all things Wolf Park, check out our application and available orientation dates here.

Wolf Park’s Grey Haven Shirt

 

Stay tuned! We will be making semi-regular updates as we expect these boys to be eager in exploring their surroundings!

Lark

Kestrel

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Willow – April 2, 2006 – April 1, 2019

Willow has left us. The little girl coyote who grew into a force of nature, who was ‘She Who Cannot Be Ignored’, according to Twister, passed away on April 1st. The next day would have been her thirteenth birthday

I have a friend, who reminds me that we are not given our loved ones, whether human, or another species, to keep; they are only lent to us.  And we do not know for how long they are lent.   It is some comfort that Willow did not have a long decline, but we all feel that 13 years “on loan” was not long enough.

Willow and Twister were cute puppies. Staff members Jess and Andrew drove them back from the USDA’s non-lethal predator control facility in Utah, going unexpectedly close to a tornado in the process. Staff member Caity Judd and interns Ashleigh Smith and Nick Irwin helped rear Willow and Twister that summer.

Raising coyote pups was different from raising wolves. We already knew that coyotes were not wolves. Willow and Twister gave us an advanced course in understanding this. They acquired coordination and climbing skills at a younger age than wolf pups. They caused us to extend the overhangs in their outdoor enclosure, and were more of a challenge to keep inside the nursery.  They were both adept at leaping and climbing. Seeing them rise on their hind legs and bound vertically was like watching little kangaroos.

Puppy parent, Caity Judd, recalls “Andrew brought them a dead rabbit. ‘They’re not old enough to eat full carcasses,’ he told me. ‘But it’ll be good for them to start playing with them.’  Willow settled beside me and, starting at the nose, ate the entire rabbit – bones and all.”  Ashleigh and Caity both like singing and selected songs for the pups.  Willow’s was ‘Willow Tit Willow’, from the Gilbert and Sullivan opera, “The Mikado.” Caity and Ashleigh sang Willow the Muppet Show version of the song with their best Sam the Eagle impressions. As an adult, Willow still responded to that song.

Their first fall, both pups won over all the seminarians. Willow was much admired and cooed over. She was so dainty and pretty. Her nickname was Pretty Princess Willow, and there is a photo of her sleepily wearing a rhinestone tiara.  During his seminar, Dr. Ray Coppinger was charmed by the coyotes. Willow spooked from him at first, but he got some dog cookies and spent quite a while winning her over.

Ray Coppinger’s admiration for the coyotes resulted in them participating in a canine cognitive study in 2007. Dr. Clive Wynne and his (then) graduate students, Monique Udell and Nicole Dorey ran test on our wolves. At Ray’s suggestion, they also collected data on Willow and Twister.  Several years before a paper was published claiming that wolves were not as good as dogs at using humans’ social cues.  The authors thought this difference was because, for millennia, dogs have been under selection pressure to pay attention to human social cues, and that predisposition has become encoded in their DNA.  We disagreed with this conclusion, since our wolves were adept at picking up human social cues.  Our coyotes understood cues too. Willow and Twister racked up impressive scores. Willow found the test a little easier because she was less frightened by novel objects and procedures, but both yotes did extremely well – maybe a little better than the wolves.

After she matured Willow started stalking interns through the fence, a “game” that we tried to stop by having the interns work on training with her through the fence. It was partly successful, but Willow’s social circle remained restricted. She still maintained positive relationships with her puppy parents, even if they couldn’t meet her face to face. Caity continued to sing ‘Willow Tit Willow’ to her anytime Willow considered her a potential stalking target, and Willow would switch to greeting when she heard the song. In Willow’s old age she sometimes declined to get up in the morning for the interns during medical rounds. “She likes Gilbert and Sullivan,” Caity told them but the interns had to see (and hear) the evidence to believe this.

Willow taught us a lot. Coyotes are a challenge to train because they are very quick and very smart. Animal trainer, Ken McCort trained the coyotes whenever he came to visit. He said he had to be on his game every single minute. In search of accurate information on how to get humans to produce treats, Willow and Twister tested their understanding of Ken’s rules of engagement every time. In some respects, this was like bargaining or haggling. What was Ken willing to accept? In return, Ken found he had to be on time with his rewards and he had to be very clear on exactly what he was reinforcing. Both Ken and the coyotes typically finished the sessions feeling as if their brains had a parkour workout.  Willow and Twister were always ready for naps afterward – naps to help “knit up the raveled sleeve of care,” and to process what they had learned.

After Twister’s sudden passing last summer, Willow was subdued. She gradually improved as the months passed, but some of her zest remained missing.  She welcomed her puppy parents back into her friendship circle for visits, and Caity was able to resume working with her. She was good with staff members Kimber and Karen, meeting them in the corridors while on walks. She enjoyed exploring new enclosures, and had a ‘frienemy’ relationship with Timber, her frequent neighboring wolf.

Willow very affectionate in the days leading up to her death. She requested belly rubs from Caity for the first time since she was a pup. We were reminded of the affectionate-with-everyone pup she’d been long before.

She was found on April 1st unable to get up. On the ride to the vet, Willow had “clusters” of seizures. Even with medication, she continued to seize at the vet’s office. Given her age, temperament, and health, we made the decision to euthanize her. Caity held her and whispered her song to her one last time.

Though Willow was not always easy to work with she had a genuine sweet streak.  We are grateful to have had her, though only “on loan,” and remember her with love.

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Wolf Park’s Position on Delisting the Grey Wolf

The Top Line: Wolves are Essential.

Just last month, in March of 2019, a recent proposal to remove federal protections from the North American Gray Wolf was introduced by the United States Fish and Wildlife service. It is our belief that the removal of the Grey Wolf from the Endangered Species List imperils wolves’ long term future.

Wolf Park, along with our colleagues in conservation, supports the federal protections of Grey Wolves as an essential species. We do not stand for their delisting, and have shared our statement with the USFW.

Despite wolves in the lower 48 states being placed on the Endangered Species List in 1974, their protected status remained hotly debated afterwards, with court battles over reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone and Idaho.[1] [2] [3]  The path to recovery showed that wolf populations could rebuild themselves.  The same path showed that some people remain unwilling to tolerate the presence of wolves, or do so only grudgingly, unless extirpating wolves is illegal.[4]  Even if wolf populations are not allowed to dip below minimum numbers, the number of wolves needed in an area for the wolf population to be deemed recovered was based more on politics than on science. Those minimum numbers may not be sufficient to ensure long term survival of wolves in the contiguous United States.[5]

We have come to know many benefits brought on by presence of the wolf, despite the reputation it has unfairly earned. Below are a series of sources that we hope will combat some of the misinformation that surrounds this magnificent animal in regards to depredation and predator control.

  • There are a limited number of losses of livestock attributable to wolves.[6]
  • Hunter success in Montana is not influenced by wolves.[7]
  • Wolves represent a very small danger to humans or human activity.[8]
  • Wolves have been, and continue to be, blamed for decreases in ungulate populations.  Some decreases are more heavily influenced by other factors such as weather than they are by wolves.[9] [10] [11]
  • Wolves helped relieve ecological pressures imposed by overpopulation of ungulates (Isle Royale, Yellowstone).[12] [13]

Managing wolves by allowing them to be killed recreationally during hunting seasons, and by trapping for pelts, is less effective in controlling wolves’ conflict with humans than is the combination of non-lethal control methods with, as a last resort, targeting only individual problem wolves for death.  [14], [15]

Wolf park recognizes that some communities feel adversely affected by the presence of wolves, and we understand the need for communities control individual problems as they arise. Wolf Park supports the implementation of Non-lethal control methods, in lieu of ineffective, blanket practices. Non-lethal controls include: range riders, livestock guard dogs, fladry, RAG boxes, penning livestock during lambing or calving season so newborns can be more easily protected, and recently, training cattle to confront potential predators in ways similar to wild bison. Our friends at Defenders of Wildlife also have had success paying stockmen for letting wolves raise pups unmolested on their property. (“In fact ranchers can benefit by letting wolves live and breed on their land. “Defenders of Wildlife also established the Wolf Habitat Fund in 1992 to award $5,000 to landowners who allows wolves to raise pups to adulthood on their land” [16].) This has turned wolves into a cash crop without killing them. Farmers and ranchers who were good at using non-lethal controls, not only had the money for allowing wolves to raise pups on their land, but also had more calves or lambs that lived to grow to ideal market weight and were therefore more likely to sell at a higher price. This created incentives for increasing skill at not lethal wolf control than simply paying the cash value of any livestock killed by wolves, since those lambs and calves are usually younger, therefore smaller, and therefore of less monetary value at the time of death.

Indiscriminate hunting and trapping can change wolf behavior in ways causing negative outcomes for both wolves and humans.[17] [18] [19] Wolf packs are typically families, social predators who hunt cooperatively.  A pack which depends on wild prey for its food may leave domestic livestock unmolested.  Hunting licenses are issued to kill any wolves in unprotected areas, not to limit kills to specific classes of wolves or to problem individuals.  As the late Gordon Haber pointed out, if you removed the best players in a basketball team and replaced them with rookies, the team would be very unlikely to have a championship season for a while.  A pack which suffers the loss of its best, most experienced hunters, at the hands of humans, may not be able to hold their territory.  The young wolves who did not “finish an apprenticeship” with experienced hunters of their family may be more likely to prey on easier-to-kill livestock.

Genetic diversity is crucial to a wolf population maintaining its numbers long term. Wolves show some inhibition to mating with their parents, offspring, and siblings. This helps prevent inbreeding with its resultant loss of genetic diversity.  About 50 years after wolves returned to Isle Royale, the wolf population dwindled despite their protected status. It is increasingly rare for new wolves to make a successful journey to the island. This meant a lack of new blood for the Isle Royale wolves’ gene pool.  As generations passed, the wolves on the island became increasingly closely related. One of the well documented effects of prolonged inbreeding is a decrease in fertility. The Isle Royale population, which had become increasingly inbred, dwindled to the point of being unable to produce enough viable pups to make up for wolves that died of age, injury, or illness.[20]  As this is being written, Canadian wolves are being captured for translocation to Isle Royale to restart a wolf population there, and help manage the resident moose population.[21]

While the wolves in Yellowstone, Idaho, the pacific northwest, Wisconsin, Michigan (the UP), and Minnesota are not confined to literal islands, the increasing human activity in areas around refuges like parks, and lasting hostility toward wolves by some humans, means that even animals that are born in a national park, like Yellowstone, face increased dangers if they travel outside the park boundaries, boundaries that are known to humans, but not to wolves.  For this reason it is important to extend some degree of protection to wolves even if they are outside designated areas–like Yellowstone National Park–where they are completely protected.

When you compare the 6000+ wolves in the contiguous United States to the 14,000+ wolves in the much smaller area of Europe, where they continue to have a good degree of protection, it makes little sense to remove all federal protections from US wolves when many states have openly stated their desire to kill enough of their wolf populations to keep wolf numbers at the bare minimum.[22]

The proposal to strip away almost all legal protections from wolves in the lower 48 states sets a dangerous precedent.  It sets the standard very low for deeming an endangered population recovered and able to sustain itself for the long term.  This precedent may not only endanger wolf populations again, or even doom them in the lower 48 states, it may also negatively impact conservation and recovery efforts across the country for other endangered species.

The Bottom Line: The future of wolves under this proposal is uncertain. Wolf Park supports their continued protections; The USFW has allowed a public commentary period for you to share your thoughts on this pending legislation up until May 14th, 2019. Click the link below to share your voice and read the proposal in full. 

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removing the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife – Docket Number: FWS-HQ-ES-2018-0097-0001

Further Reading and Wolf Sources
www.nps.gov/yell/learn/upload/YELLOWSTONE-SCIENCE-24-1-WOLVES.pdf
www.goshen.edu/bio/Biol410/BSSpapers99/rachelmg.htm#Noceker
14) What happens to a pack when the alpha male or female is killed?
https://www.wolfhaven.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Huckelberry-pack.pdf
digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1096&context=usgsnpwrc
https://news.wsu.edu/2014/12/03/research-finds-lethal-wolf-control-backfires-on-livestock/
https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0113505
https://www.euronatur.org/en/what-we-do/endangered-species/wolf/wolves-in-europe/


Sources
1. www.livingwithwolves.org/wolf-issues/the-political-debate/
2. defendersblog.org/2015/01/reintroducing-wolves-yellowstone-idaho-20th-anniversary/
3. www.animallaw.info/cases/species/wolves
4. www.goshen.edu/bio/Biol410/BSSpapers99/rachelmg.htm#Noceker
5. www.fws.gov/home/wolfrecovery/pdf/Final_Review_of_Proposed_rule_regarding_wolves2014.pdf
6. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1081&context=icwdm_usdanwrc
7. scholarworks.montana.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1/1450/HazenS0512.pdf?sequence=1
8. www.wolf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Are-Wolves-Dangerous-to-Humans.pdf
9. http://www.timberwolfinformation.org/info/11pcontrl.htm
10. defenders.org/gray-wolf/fact-vs-fiction
11. www.outdoorlife.com/blogs/newshound/2013/06/study-wolves-not-cause-wyoming-elk-decline
12. https://isleroyalewolf.org/overview/overview/at_a_glance.html
13. www.nps.gov/yell/learn/upload/YELLOWSTONE-SCIENCE-24-1-WOLVES.pdf
14. http://www.predatordefense.org/docs/wolves_Paquet_moral_disengagement_equates_to_switching_off_10-12-13.pdf
15. www.nrdc.org/experts/zack-strong/wolf-hunting-and-trapping-closures-best-determined-experts-not-politics
16. www.goshen.edu/bio/Biol410/BSSpapers99/rachelmg.htm#Noceker
17. https://news.wsu.edu/2014/12/03/research-finds-lethal-wolf-control-backfires-on-livestock/
18. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/12/141203-wolves-hunting-livestock-ranchers-endangered-species-environment/
19. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0113505
20. www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/04/extreme-inbreeding-likely-spells-doom-isle-royale-wolves
21. www.wolf.org/about-us/media/media-releases/weekend-effort-to-move-seven-wolves-to-isle-royale-a-major-success/
22. https://www.theverge.com/2014/12/18/7417521/bears-lynx-wolves-Europe-carnivores-conservation-comeback

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A December of Goodbyes

Bicho
April 6, 2012 – December 21, 2018

On the morning of December 21, staff members Kimber and Caity found Bicho lying in the Turtle Lake Enclosure during morning rounds. There were no wounds or signs of struggle. Fiona and Kanti sniffed and licked him, as if trying to wake him up. Kimber and Caity went to see if they could give Bicho first aid, but he was gone.

Bicho was born with a heart condition. He was operated upon as a puppy to extend and improve his quality of life. The surgeons told us they could not give him a completely normal heart valve but they were able to give him a greatly improved one. They said he had a “reasonable” chance at a normal life span. They defined that as “about ten years.” Although we were dreadfully shocked, and mourn the loss of our big silly goofball, a quick death is not necessarily a bad one.

Looking back over Bicho’s life, there are so many heart-warming episodes to recall. As a very young pup, he had the heart surgery that bought him years of life. Board member Ed Franklin paid for his heart surgery (and cataract surgery for both him and Kanti). To prepare for surgery he got a lot of training about being in a room with human family but without his litter mates, going for walks on leash, and riding in a car. As a result, when he arrived at Purdue for surgery, he had to be conscious but lightly sedated for a final check before the operation, and the medical team said he behaved better than a lot of dogs. Until his surgery, Bicho had been, compared to his littermates, a quiet, sweet pup. One of his nicknames was “Angel Puppy.” Was his angelic demeanor due to his heart valve problem? Was he just not able to sustain the physical effort of being rambunctious and mischievous? That did indeed seem to be the case. Before Bicho’s surgery, he and Kanti, were been quite close. Possibly Kanti, who entered this world from his mother’s womb fussing and fretting, liked having a sibling who was quiet. After Bicho’s surgery Kanti discovered that “Angel Puppy,” was not Bicho’s permanent default setting, and they had to renegotiate their relationship when Bicho had more energy and stamina. They were still close, but Bicho was less quick to “cry Uncle” and sometimes won their wrestling bouts.

He was smart and learned quickly, despite juvenile cataracts, which left in blind for a few months until he could have corrective surgery. After which, he was very far sighted. Bicho and Kanti stayed very close as their eyesight dimmed. They might squabble, and Kanti was always loud, assertive, and stayed wound up once his temper was roused.  But even after a squabble the two brothers did not like being separated, and they sought each other for contact comfort afterwards. The two of them often stood pressing their hips or their whole sides together.

Touching was extremely important to Bicho and Kanti. Touching could be used to play “Can you feel it when I do….THIS?” Once, Kanti was lying down enjoying a belly rub. Bicho came over and stood on Kanti’s belly. “Bicho, did you have to stand there?” Wolf curator Pat asked, exasperated. Staff member Brian replied on Bicho’s behalf “Yes, yes, I do, because everywhere else is molten lava.” He described the childhood game in which children climb on furniture to avoid touching the floor because it is made of lave. In Bicho and Kanti’s version of the game, the goal seemed to be to elicit a response by standing or sitting on their brother, rather than, as with human kids, specifically avoiding contact with the ground.  Although, in each species it was not uncommon for the game to morph into a wrestling match.

Before surgery, they got to go for an impromptu ride in a row boat. The video of the ride shows that if Bicho or Kanti showed interest in acquiring an oar, all Dana had to do was lift the oar over her head and this effectively made it disappear. After Bicho and Kanti had their eye surgery, this simple trick no longer worked. The world was suddenly full of things that they could see and absolutely had to have. Things like Pat’s purple gloves and her to-do list, the margin of which peeked coyly out of her back pocket. She kept her gloves but one brother engaged her attention in front while the other brother dexterously picked her pocket from behind. They had great fun tearing that list between them.

Bicho took part in canine cognition and social responsiveness studies. In one study a familiar handler had to be in the enclosure with the Threebies, but, after some interaction, switched to ignoring the wolves. The familiar handler was Dana. Bicho and Kanti got increasingly agitated at being ignored, and Bicho finally would have none of it. Dana was wearing a jacket with a belt. Bicho grabbed the belt and began yanking Dana around: “You Will Not Ignore Me!!! It Is NOT Allowed!!!” He also perfected the “Muppet Flail” maneuver, also known as “Vertical Trampling,” incorporating it into greeting people.

This November the Threebies got a giant cupcake piñata in celebration of Wolfenoot. Videographer Tom O’Dowd suspended a video camera above the cupcake piñata. From this vantage, the viewer sees Bicho leaping repeatedly for the “cupcake”. Fiona and Kanti lost interest quickly, but Bicho was determined to get it. Kanti moved in close to watch his brother, and in the course of his repeated leaps Bicho once nearly landed on Kanti. Instead of responding aggressively, Kanti calmly moved back and gave Bicho space to continue with his leaps. After several unsuccessful grabs, Bicho sank his teeth into the piñata and bore it to ground. Kanti decided the show was over and let Bicho carry his booty off.

Bicho was the grandson of Chetan, the Zen Master of Obnoxious Submission. Bicho mastered obnoxious submission too, but used a different style. He still got his way, but it often involved lighting Kanti’s fuse and watching him go off like a firework! Bicho was smart, goofy, affectionate, mischievous, and like his great grandfather, Socrates, and Frank Sinatra, it could be truly said of him, that when it came to how he lived his life, “I did it my waaaay.”

Wolfgang
April 15, 2005 – December 28, 2018

Wolfgang was born in 2005 as part of a litter of six. He and his brother, Wotan, were chosen to stay at Wolf Park. The two were very close. They worked together to gain rank in the pack, guard their prospective mates, and eventually drive Tristan, the dominant male out of the pack. Wolfgang emerged as the new dominant male, a position he held for the rest of his life.

In his prime, Wolfgang was one of our fastest wolves.  He helped calibrate smart collars that have since been used to help determine “energy budgets” for wolves in Denali National Park.  As part of the calibration we enticed him to run at or near his top speed along the straight away of our main enclosure.  To do this photographer Monty Sloan egged Wolfgang on to chase his car, starting out near the bleachers and heading toward the dam. As he cleared the dam, Monty stepped on the gas and Wolfgang’s afterburners kicked in.  Researcher Caleb Bryce, clutching the side of the of the Subaru with one hand, and holding a video camera in the other hand, captured a lovely side view of Wolfgang running flat out.  We’ve replayed that footage in slow motion and so have a record of Wolfgang’s poetry in motion.

He was extremely agile and known for his ‘leaping lizards’ dance move. He’d taught himself to make flying leaps backwards in return for treats. One staff member worked this out into an elaborate dance routine in which she and he would bow, pace back and forth, and end with a tremendous vertical jump, while she hummed a waltz.

For years Wolfgang closed his friendship circle, keeping out new humans, but late in life, he started to mellow and his circle of friends widened. In his old age he was helping give interns lessons in walking wolves on leash.

Wolfgang was very attached to two of his mates, first Kailani, who tolerated him, and second, Dharma, who returned his attentions enthusiastically.  He tolerated Timber, mated with her, but told her emphatically that she was not to bounce on him and it would be good if she rested across the enclosure from him. During her last year of life, he bonded with his half-sister, Ayla. They were able to have frequent playdates together, which seemed beneficial to her during her decline.

One of our sweetest memories of Wolfgang occurred in August of 2018, on Ayla’s last day of life. On their last visit together we took him in to her enclosure.  She was delighted and capered around him, rubbing against him, her ears pulled well back, wiggling, greeting, and grinning.  He puffed up, strutted, and struck some muscle poses for her admiration. They strolled around the enclosure together, sniffing and marking things.  After he was returned to his own enclosure next door she lay where she could watch him, and for the rest of the afternoon she smiled and smiled and smiled.

Another poignant memory is of our late intern, Alex Black, having a lovely last visit with the W Brothers before leaving Wolf Park.  She was teaching Wolfgang to do a little dance with her their own “Dances With Wolves.”

Wolfgang was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2018. He did not appear to feel ill. He had a good appetite, but we noticed he tired more easily. As fall progressed we could see that it was time to separate Wolfgang and Wotan while Wolfgang was still dominant.  It turned out we were sadder about this than the brothers were.  Wolfgang seemed quite content to retire from living with Wotan (and Wotan was happy to have lots of playdates with Timber).  Wolfgang also decided he wanted to live in the coyote enclosure where he could easily monitor activity in the main enclosure. Since Willow the coyote had decided she preferred a wolf enclosure, it worked out for everyone.

The morning of Friday, December 28, Wolfgang was scheduled for blood work, to monitor the progress of chemotherapy, and we noticed he seemed a little under the weather.  By evening he was noticeably lethargic and cold.  We brought him to the indoor kennel in The Alison Franklin Animal Care Center, the better to care for him.  He got weaker and passed away on his own a bit after 10 pm.  People who had known and loved him for years were with him when he passed.

 

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Ayla, April 12, 2004 – August 13, 2018

Ayla was born to Tristan and Erin in 2004. The litter included her brothers, Renki and Ruedi, and sister Kailani. We kept all four pups, and they grew up to be beautiful wolves. Unfortunately, Ayla and Kailani were bratty adolescents who harassed Erin, until Erin lost all patience and chased the girls so ferociously that they ended up hanging out most of the time on the peninsula. Erin was eventually retired from the pack, allowing Ayla and Kailani more social freedom, but their younger brothers, Wolfgang and Wotan, began harassing Ayla.

The RAT Pack of Renki, Ayla and Tristan

Eventually Ayla was driven out of the pack. In 2009 her father, Tristan, and later the same year, her brother Renki were also driven out by Wolfgang and Wotan. We still remember Ayla’s excitement as we led Tristan past her enclosure the evening he was deposed by his nephews. Renki, Ayla, and Tristan formed a pack of their own known as the RAT Pack, with that name taken from the first initial of each wolf’s name. The three of them star in footage in our safety presentation which everyone watches prior to their first interaction with the wolves.

Presents, now!!!

Some of Ayla’s personal quirks are immortalized in that video. In one clip we mention Ayla’s penchant for bouncing at people’s faces and, in the friendliest possible way, planting her nose right in someone’s eye socket. She also used to “bowl for humans.” Humans squatting or kneeling in her enclosure had to keep alert for a goofy Ayla zooming in high speed and low altitude circles. Those not properly balanced were liable to be poked in their middles and literally bowled over.

How Ayla greeted visitors

After Tristan’s death, Ayla and Renki continued to live together much of the time. They were separated on feeding days, since Renki’s insistence that all food belonged to him often led to a thin Ayla and a fat Renki. Between her brother and her active lifestyle, keeping Ayla well-fed was a challenge.

Hunting… is complicated

Ayla was a frequent participant in wolf-bison demonstrations. She was a good hunter, and also tended to provide comic relief by turning herself green rolling in bison poo. Once, the History Channel came out to film wolves hunting bison for one of their programs. Ray Coppinger was also part of that program. The sun sank low while Ray and the History Channel people talked about what they wanted from the segment. The sun got lower. And lower. Finally, Ayla was sent out to do her thing. While Ayla wandered, our neighbor’s pit bull, Brandy, showed up on the other side the fence. Ayla and Brandy started fence fighting, running back and forth along the fence, teeth clacking as they snapped at each other. Monty tackled Ayla before she and Brandy could grab each other through the wire. Catastrophe was averted. Ray Coppinger was impressed to see Monty tackle an aggressively aroused wolf (a female no less – they play for keeps) and not get bitten.

Green, stinky Ayla in the bison field

Ayla unknowingly gained internet fame thanks to the Moon-Moon meme. According to the meme, Moon-Moon was a particularly stupid werewolf. Internet users would seek out pictures of wolves and dogs in ridiculous poses and caption them with jokes. Ayla, ever the goof, frequently had her photos used in the most unflattering ways.

We think she would have laughed if we could have explained the joke.

Training to use the scale

Despite her image appearing in the Moon-Moon meme, Ayla was quite smart. When we started hosting researchers studying canine cognition, she did well, backing up this reputation as a smart girl with data, even if Monty has immortalized some of her comical, “derpy” facial expressions. Some researchers were interested in comparing how social tame wolves could be with humans compared to how social dogs are. One researcher collected data on how long a dog or a wolf would stay with a person who petted it, without giving it treats. Wolf Park staff did the petting. Pat petted Ayla for the researcher, who wanted us to test a very plain way of petting, which wolves find boring: stroking repeatedly from the head, down the back to the base of the tail. Most wolves will tolerate, or even like, about three such strokes. The researcher was using two minutes as her cut-off point. Ayla stood for a few strokes and then wandered off. After the researcher had her data, Pat asked if she could show her how long Ayla would stay if petted in ways she really liked. The researcher was interested, so Pat entertained Ayla with stroking, scratching, tickling and massaging, keeping her engaged and wanting more and more for over two minutes. Wolves are connoisseurs of petting.

We loved our derp wolf

Aspen and Ayla

In her last six years or so, Ayla had recurring spots of hemangiosarcoma on her tongue, which Dr. Becker repeatedly removed.  This led to Ayla having two notches at the front of her tongue, one on either side. It looked as if someone had made cut-outs for her fangs to rest in, or possibly was starting to shape Ayla’s tongue to resemble an oak leaf.

In January, 2018, Renki passed away leaving Ayla without a companion. Of the 2017 puppies, Aspen had proven very gentle with her and was able to have periodic playdates with his elderly auntie. Later in the summer, Ayla and her half-brother, Wolfgang, began having playdates, which were extremely pleasant for both of them.

Ayla and Renki

Ayla departed this life peacefully at 7:25 p.m. on Monday, August 13. She’d been living with cancer for many months. Given her advanced age and health, our vet had recommended against surgery. We’d done our best to make her final summer pleasurable and comfortable. For three days prior to her death, she had refused food, which is often a sign that the end is near. We gave her a final day to see if she’d turn around, and then decided it was time to say goodbye.

She had a final visit with Wolfgang that afternoon, and visits from her many human friends. They came bearing food, but the only thing to spark her curiosity was a blueberry Slurpie. She took a few licks, and that was all. She welcomed everyone with a smile. She showed no sign of pain, just weariness. Dr. Becker came out that evening. The necropsy results revealed multiple cancerous spots and tumors. It confirmed surgery wouldn’t have significantly extended Ayla’s life. Instead, we’d been able to give her a final good summer. Memories of how much she was enjoying herself and her playdates with Wolfgang, fence fights with her “frenemy” Timber, and visits from human friends are our best comfort now that she is gone.

Wolfgang and Ayla

She was cancer survivor and we hope her documented battle with The Big C may ultimately help other canines.  For ourselves, we will always remember her affection, occasional silliness, smartness, her hunting skills, and her beautiful howl with love.

Goodbye Ayla. Rest in peace.

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STEM Day Celebration!

Identifying butterflies with the Chicago Field Museum

What an amazing day our first STEM Day turned out to be! We are so grateful to the groups who came out to present their fields, and the families who came to enjoy science-based activities. With the kids heading back to school, we hope some young people will be inspired in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering (and Ecology!) and Mathematics. Thanks so much to the Imagination Station, Indiana Network of Genetic Councilors, “You be the Chemist” Chemical Education Foundation, West Lafayette Public Library, Indiana State Museum, Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Chicago Field Museum, NASA and the First Robotics Team of Lafayette. We hope we’ll be able to offer more amazing programs next year.

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Join Us For Tipping Point THIS THURSDAY, August 16!

Update: New Guest Speaker!

Join us at 5:30 pm this Thursday, August 16th, for a great chance to meet Gabriel Grant, CEO of Human Partners and cofounder of the Byron Fellowship Educational Foundation!

Think about the last time you tried to talk with someone about political, social, or environmental issues who didn’t already agree with you. How well did it go? You may be passionate about your cause, but ultimately success depends on your ability to communicate and inspire others. Within this short workshop, you will take on transforming one stuck conversation for yourself and learn how to create clear-cut and actionable pathways for hard conversations that effectively share what you most care about.

Gabriel Grant’s life is in service of creating a world where all life flourishes together through people experiencing their life as a calling. His work supports organizations in crafting cultures of purpose, trust, and engagement by aligning the pursuits of personal, organizational, and planetary flourishing. Over the past fifteen years, he has provided training for more than one thousand purpose-driven leaders and world-class change agents, including social entrepreneurs from more than 20 countries and sustainability directors and vice presidents from more than 150 major brands. He is the CEO of Human Partners and cofounder of the Byron Fellowship Educational Foundation and has authored several books and peer reviewed research papers on the topics of sustainability and expressing purpose in one’s life and in the workplace.

Gates open at 5:30, and the talk begins at 6 pm.  There will be time for Q&A following the presentation!  As always, nonalcoholic beverages, and beer, will be sold by People’s Brewing Company of Lafayette.

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