The goodbye was hard… on so many levels

Last week we transferred eight of our red wolves to the Mill Mountain Zoo, one of our Red Wolf SSP partner institutions. We’ve been updating folks through Facebook so hopefully everyone is aware of the changes.

I’ll write a few different posts over the coming days to let people in on the enormity of the project. From planning, communications, wolf catch-up, health checks, transportation, emotions, documentation, institutional readiness, supply management, and more; the project was intense.

Today, let’s focus on the actual catch-up of the wolves. Just how do we get a wolf (actually, 10 wolves) caught up?

The wet and rainy day made an already challenging task even harder.

To catch-up 10 wolves from their habitat is quite the project. In general, the plan is to get the wolves from the larger habitat, to small areas (like the den or side cages) where we can more easily crate them once confined. Our wolf habitat is wonderful, but the elevation in the yard makes it extra hard for humans to work in and move through.

We had a team of 17 down at the yard for the catch up: 13 people in the yard, 1 person on the side cage area, 1 on the outside of the fence along the ridge-line, and 2 on the Overlook area. In the photo above, you’ll see a bunch of us getting into position to divide the yard “in half”. Everyone from the Animal Care Team was in, as well as a select group of other Museum staffers. These additional staff are vetted for their ability to navigate the wolf habitat safely. They came from a variety of departments: Exhibits, Human Resources, Guest Relations, Communications, Retail Operations, and Innovation and Learning. Those on the Overlook area were keeping track of time, photographing, and doing general wolf-watches for any concerns about wolf behavior that may have required immediate attention.

We have 4 “tarp” teams: an upper and lower cliff team; a den team, and a ground team. Each group has a tarp and a plan to get their area covered, including tight interaction on the ends between teams. There were also 3 independent “netters”. Once the tarp teams are in place, it is difficult for them to move, so the netters can help fill gaps or more easily move to help encourage wolves to the desired areas.

With 10 wolves to catch up, we’re prepared to start, stop, adjust, wait, stand, move, hold, continue. The goal: as quickly and safely as possible, get 10 wolves to the side cage, den (or net) so we can get each one into a crate.

good view of the ground and den teams, with two netters in front. We’re encouraging a wolf into the side cage areas

I know the wolf in the photo above is hard to see. Jill, in the black jacket with the net, has a wolf in front of her. That wolf was encouraged into the smaller side cages. Once in the side cage area, we stopped, and got the wolf into a crate.

A good look at our smaller side cages, each about 10’x10′.
In this photo, it’s hard to tell but there are actually 3 wolves.
At this point, all the tarp teams held their ground, and the three netters left the habitat to go crate the three wolves. Once crated, we moved them into a confined space outside of the wolf yard and continued with the catch.

So, the first three wolves were caught up from the side cage area and crated. Eventually, another two wolves went into the same area and we crated them up similarly.

Two wolves would not go into the side cage area, or the wolf dens. Netting wolves is commonly done, but it is not my favorite means of catching a wolf. If a wolf is running fast, the force of the catch can put a person off their feet. The speed to get a wolf out of a net is also sometimes hard. Years ago, I had a wolf run into a net, put the human on the ground about 4 feet from where he started, and the wolf chewed a hole in the net and kept going.

Check out the upper area of this picture. Michele, in the red jacket, is on the outside of the fence. In front of her is a wolf. Can you see?

Like I mentioned, sometimes a net is what is needed. In the photo above, there is a wolf near the top of the cliff. After numerous attempts to encourage this wolf to another area, it became clear that he/she wasn’t budging. Janine and I were able to (Janine much better than I) scale the cliff face and get a net on this wolf about 18 feet up.

Yay! But now what? We had a wolf in a net on the side of the wet muddy cliff, in the rain. After a quick discussion, we secured the wolf in hand and made our way to a lower section of the cliff.

Once at a lower level, the crate, seen in the photo below, could be more easily stabilized. A group of five of us got the wolf from the cliff to the net to the crate!

The final three wolves to catch-up had run into the den(s).

We have a front den and a back den. Two staff were blocking the front den door so wolves would not run out. When we opened the back of the den up, we noticed no wolf was in the front den. That meant the remaining three wolves were in the back den.

staff guarding the front den door.

With the last three wolves confirmed in the back den, we made our plans to crate them up. The first wolf, who was hunkered down in the center of the den was pulled out the back human door opening and crated. This wolf would not move, so it was pretty much the only choice. However, pushing a wolf out into a crate is much easier than pulling a wolf. For the remaining two wolves, who had positioned themselves in the tunnel area of the den, we planned to push them back out directly into a crate

Seven people in the photo below on the back den door opening readied themselves to ensure that the wolf would go into the crate, and not over or around the crate. They worked brilliantly together ensuring the smooth crating of these last two wolves!

team on the back den door ready to crate up the remaining two wolves

Voila, all 10 wolves, each in their own crate in about 80 minutes

crate moving!

So, that’s how we catch-up and crate 10 wolves from our habitat. Notes below from our note-taker, Carrie, of how the timeline actually went. Next post about the day coming soon!

Leave a Reply