I had just walked up to the Red Wolf Enclosure Overlook when I noticed the male wolf approach and sniff the female’s rear quarters. I quickly fumbled for my camera. The camera was in its case strapped to my belt. The zipper on the case had lost its pull-tab—tough to get the case open. This, and building anxiety at my not moving fast enough, delayed my ability to get in the first few shots of the event.
For the past week or more, I’ve been visiting the red wolves more frequently than usual. The female has been in heat. And we, the staff here at the Museum, have been patiently waiting to see what would happen between our male and female red wolves. They are, in fact, here at the Museum as part of the Species Survival Plan with hopes that they’ll breed here.
There are four stages to the canine estrus cycle (reproductive cycle)—proestrus, estrus, diestrus, and anestrus.
Proestrus is the stage where the female’s estrogen level peaks. Proestrus lasts for, on average, 9 days. Males are attracted to her but she is not receptive to them.
Estrus, which also averages 9 days, is the fertile period. Estrogen levels drop and proestrogen levels rise. More importantly, the female is receptive to males.
Diestrus lasts for about 2-3 months or until the female gives birth, if she’s has become pregnant. The female is no longer receptive to males.
Anestrus is the rest of the year.
The male had mounted the female and the two were now “tied” together—the male facing in one direction, the female the other. It’s said that this “tied” position has evolved to allow the wolves to face outward in order to defend themselves while the transfer or sperm takes place. They could remain in this position for as many as 30 minutes! Very quickly, though, our two became separated.
The entire process from mounting to separation took approximately 3-4 minutes, if that. Is that enough time for a successful mating? I can’t say with confidence whether the brief encounter that I witnessed was successful or not. I am confident, though, that more matings will occur and am optimistic about the future of our wolves’ chances at procreating.
The timing of the matings of red wolves here at the Museum is consistent. I recorded mating on February 17, 2012 and 15 February the following year (read about it here). This year’s observation was 14, February. The first two pairings consisted of the same female and two different males. This year’s pairing included two totally different individual wolves.
Keep your fingers crossed.