In May of 2014, the Funny River Wildfire burned about 200,000 acres of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Reportedly hearing “yipping” sounds, the firefighting crew discovered a grey wolf den in a bulldozer line – 3 females and 2 males – and with no mother in sight for 2 days, they intervened and brought the 5 pups to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. The 2-week old pups were dehydrated and punctured with porcupine quills, weighing less than 3 pounds each; left to fend for themselves, they never would have survived.
The wolves were named Hooper, Huslia, Gannett, X-Ray and Stebbins, after the fire crew who found them. Bottle-feeding them every 3 hours, the zoo staff brought the pups back to health, but with an existing wolf pack in their care, they didn’t have the space or resources to keep this litter.
When they were 8 weeks old, the Alaska Fish and Game Department had multiple offers from other organizations to take the pups, and the Minnesota Zoo was selected among all of them, with the Alaska Zoo praising them as “well-qualified and respected.”
Delta Airlines flew the wolves to Minnesota, where the zoo staff here has been hand-raising them and providing the nutrition and medical care needed for them to grow into healthy adults. They’ve known human contact almost their entire lives, and they have no fear of us.
I was fortunate to be invited “behind the scenes” at the zoo, to see how they work with and feed the wolves. While they really act like big, goofy dogs, they’re still wild animals, and the zoo has training and feeding procedures in place to keep everyone safe. When it’s time to eat, they open up the gates at the back of their enclosure, and the pups come running in to their designated areas. They’re fed individually, separated from each other. They were SO excited to eat, they were clamoring all over each other and bouncing straight up in the air. With their long legs, they have an impressive vertical jump!
The animal care staff have been training the wolves to lay down before they’re fed, and they’re getting pretty good at it. They’re fed through the fence so no fingers get bitten, and while they’re eating, the animal care staff gently rub a stick over their ears and paws. This gets them accustomed to being touched, which helps when they need to be handled for exams and medical care. It also serves to apply insect repellent, so they’re not bothered by flies throughout the day.
We also took a few photos from the Medtronic Minnesota Trail, where zoo visitors can see the wolves in their habitat. It was the middle of the day, so the pups were lazing about, finding good lay-down spots in the shade. A HUGE thank you to the MN Zoo for this special opportunity! What a wonderful experience. I hope that photos of these happy, healthy, grey wolf pups might bring more awareness to their rescue and rehabilitation programs, and all the great work they’re doing for wildlife.
A fun way to support the zoo is through sponsoring an animal. Click here to sponsor one of my new friends!
Check out the MN Zoo’s website and Facebook page for upcoming events and learn about ways that you can get involved to help the animals. (I also recommend doing a Google Image search for “funny river wildfire orphaned wolves,” to see the wolves as teeny baby pups) :)
You can see my blog post from last year’s visit to the zoo here: http://sarahbethphotography.com/2015/05/20/monk-seals-at-the-mn-zoo-rescue-of-the-month/