Friday, July 14, 2006

Father of 3 wolf pups missing

Officials find collar, fear he was killed


The father of three wolf pups cared for in a Forest Lake sanctuary and delivered this week to the Wisconsin Indian reservation of their birth may be dead. Wildlife conservationists on the Menominee Indian reservation near Green Bay found the gray wolf's tracking collar torn or cut off Wednesday, just a few miles from where the puppies are being held in an outdoor pen. Biologists had hoped to release the motherless pups to their father and had spent the week monitoring and feeding them in preparation.

"This, unfortunately, shows just how difficult wolf recovery is," said Peggy Callahan, executive director of the Wildlife Science Center where the pups have lived since early May. "Just because killing wolves is illegal doesn't mean it doesn't happen. It does, all too often."

The pups were brought back to their birthplace Monday with the hope that their father and his new mate would take over parenting duties. A captive wolf at the Forest Lake center had raised them since their mother was found dead near the den on the reservation in early May. Biologists considered it a high-stakes biology experiment.

"It's been in the back of my mind that the dad was killed, but we're hopeful that's not what happened. It would be so disappointing," Menominee biologist Don Reiter said. "We are going back to the site to examine everything again."

He found wolf tracks within one mile of the pups' pen after the collar was discovered and is optimistic that the tracks belong to the male or the female he's been spotted with on cameras. "We need any adult wolf out there to come get these puppies," he said. "Wolves can smell each other from two miles away, so hopefully this can still work."

The male and his companion are the only known wolves in the vicinity, however, and the pups were the first litter born on the reservation in 75 years and hold great significance for the Menominee people.

Reiter had been baiting the area with deer carcasses to keep the male wolf close, and, sure enough, he was spotted on monitoring cameras a couple of miles away the first night the pups were back.

Callahan and staff from the center delivered the wolf pups Monday, and the tribe celebrated their return. The Menominee Tribal Legislature welcomed the envoy, and the tribe's drum group played a song of prayer for good luck.

The pups were too scared to leave their crate and venture outside until everyone left. Slowly, they crept out, Reiter said. "They are still scared," he said. "I watch them playing and wrestling around, but they hide when they see me." That's a good thing. The pups must be afraid of humans and mimic pack behavior to have any chance of survival in the wild.

Back in Forest Lake, the surrogate mother who had nursed them for months remains anxious, Callahan said. "The minute she saw us and the truck come back, she paced and looked toward the gate where the puppies left," she said. "She just kept looking and looking. "After we left, she called out her other three puppies from the den and licked and checked all of them. She did a great job with the Menominee pups. They are big and beautiful."

On the reservation, Reiter feeds the pups road-kill deer three times daily and will begin giving them a round of antibiotics over the next few days. He is working to set up more cameras nearby to try to spot any adult wolves. And he also re-rakes the dirt road every day where tracks were spotted to locate new signs.

He is planning to attempt their release next week. If the release does not work, the pups probably will return to the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake. The pups were facing daunting circumstances before the abandoned tracking collar showed up. They are not old enough to hunt, and could not yet make it on their own. The male, or the female he's with, could reject or harm the pups.

"When I got there, I was sobered by just how risky it really is for these puppies," Callahan said. "It's a great big wilderness out there, and it has to be the perfect storm of circumstances for this to work."

But Menominee staff remains confident an adult wolf probably will raise the pups. Reiter and his family go out at night to howl to the pups, hoping that their response will bring in the father. "We're good howlers, but we can't get them to respond yet," he said. "With their surrogate parents, howling was a safety blanket.

"Here they know they are small and just clam right up. They don't want to howl and let predators know where they are."

  • St. Paul Pioneer Press

    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Is there any new information about the wolf pups? I haven't been able to find any updates to the original story.

    7/27/2006 1:30 PM  

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