Red Wolf “Birth” Update

No. Don’t get excited. No red wolf pups were born at the Museum this year, and with about one week left in birthing season we are not expecting any this year. We’ll hope for a better outcome next year, maybe even some fertility dances.

All pups are born typically in April or May because red wolf females only go into estrus once a year, usually for a two week window sometime in February or March (also known as “cycling” or menstruating). This means there is only one period of time per year they can become pregnant, and why all pups are born around the same time, rather than spread throughout the year, like people, for instance.

And, with just about a week left in birthing season, there have not been that many pups born in the captive population. Thus far, only three litters. The litter of four pups at Sandy Ridge, a single pup born at Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, and a large litter of eight at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.
Four of the pups born at Lincoln Park were fostered to a pair of wild red wolves at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Fostering is the best way to get wolves from the captive population to the wild population. The way fostering works is wildlife biologists locate a wild red wolf who has given birth around the same time as a wolf in the captive population. The captive pups must be fostered within three weeks of birth: the transfer has to happen before the pups eyes open, that way the first thing they see will be their parents and siblings. It’s really cool, and it works as it has been done successfully int he past.
I’ll try to get an update on how the wild population of red wolves has been doing as far as number of litters and number of pups. Look for this information next week.

6 responses to Red Wolf “Birth” Update

  1. Jeff Stern says:

    Great update! Lots of great information in here, and very nice way to sneak in the term “estrus” along with a definition! THANKS!!!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    That title was too much of a teaser…I was worried I had missed something!

  3. Anonymous says:

    So, if the pups are fostered out to wild families, does that then limit their possible mates when they grow up? Partly its a question about how do they know who is “okay” to mate with when in the wild? Do they know their siblings and avoid that problem? Or do they spread out over territory so they don’t meet up?

  4. Sherry says:

    Anonymous (and others),this question is best answered by a wildlife biologist who works with the wolves. With that said, i’ll give it a shot. When old enough the pups will disperse and find mates elsewhere, away from their siblings. Fostering hasn’t been done enough to really know the answer to your question, but the pups rasied together are raised as siblings and therfore should act as biological siblings would.With all of this said, when there is limited mate choice mating with “anyone” does happen. In the past, mating with coyotes has taken place, and in theory a wolf could mate with its sibling.Keep the questions coming- I am happy to try to answer.

  5. Larry says:

    Re: mating in foster pupsI don’t think any work has been done with wolves, but mammals in general are known to avoid mating with close relatives. Kin recognition is usually possible even when they are raised separately. Mammals also tend to identify “litter mates” as siblings and avoid mating with them too. So a fostered pup might avoid mating with a litter mate even though they are not a true sibling. My guess is that is a very small price to pay to get another animal into the wild.

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