I happened to be at the Red Wolf Overlook late in the day on January 31 when I noticed the female sniffing around the entrance to the man-made den inside the wolf enclosure. The den is in the enclosure to facilitate the birthing and rearing of pups, should our wolves successfully mate this season. The entrance is directly in front of the overlook. There is a camera mounted on the ceiling inside the den.
Our previous male red wolf (#1414) used the den frequently, he spent nearly the entire summer inside the cool, dark den last year. To my knowledge, neither of our current wolves had been in the den. I may be witnessing a first.
The female was being very cautious, and very alert, as she stood at the front of the den entrance (you can clearly see the female’s raised hackles in the top two images at right). A good five minutes passed before she felt safe enough to poke her head into the black plastic tube that serves as the entrance to the den.
Meanwhile, the male, curious as to what the female was doing, approached from the side. She immediately retracted, bared her teeth, arched her back and confronted the male. He, being an intelligent animal, backed off without hesitation, no sense in getting hurt if you don’t have to.
What was the female up to? Was she inspecting the den for future use to have her pups? This was premature and unlikely since the hormones that trigger mating have yet to kick in (sometime this month). In fact, she would more than likely need to be pregnant before the drive to den takes over.
The female pushed on and entered the den one wary step at a time. Finally, I could see her on the “den cam” as she entered the circular chamber inside. And then, she was back outside. She had spent perhaps 20 seconds inside the den and was out again.
I thought about what she was doing, what was on her mind as she approached and cautiously entered the den. I doubted she’d been inspecting the den for possible maternal use in the coming season, estrus is near, but not quite here.
It wasn’t until the next day that I realized what had actually been occurring. The wolf was retrieving food from the den.
As I mentioned in my previous post to this journal, the animal keepers enter the enclosure daily to clean up and toss about meatballs for the wolves. The keepers had tossed a meatball into the den. The female was after a meatball!
The food connection to our female’s behavior goes a long way in explaining her aggressiveness, a female looking to den would probably not act aggressively towards her mate. As often is the case with wild creatures, even captive wild creatures, food is a powerful motivating force.