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The circle of life

Young Arctic wolves challenging alpha in Ambassador pack

Keith Vandervort
Posted 4/12/18

ELY – The circle of life is playing out this spring in the Ambassador Pack at the International Wolf Center in Ely. Now grown, the two young Arctic wolves are challenging for the alpha or …

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The circle of life

Young Arctic wolves challenging alpha in Ambassador pack

Posted

ELY – The circle of life is playing out this spring in the Ambassador Pack at the International Wolf Center in Ely. Now grown, the two young Arctic wolves are challenging for the alpha or leadership position in the pack.

In the spring of 2016, two rare Arctic wolf pups arrived from Canada to the International Wolf Center in Ely. Those little wolves have grown up and are now giving educators a rare opportunity to witness a shift in pack hierarchy and the natural circle of life in the center’s Ambassador Pack.

As related in a recent segment by Twin Cities television station, KSTP, “This is definitely a nerve-racking time for our staff,” said Rob Schultz, executive director of the International Wolf Center. “A lot of time people never get to see this in the wild.”

Shultz was referring to the challenge by the young pups to longtime alpha wolf Aiden. “The two youngest Arctic wolves, Axel and Grayson, are stirring the pot; they aren’t little anymore. They’re anything but little. Those are some big, big wolves. Axel is a more aggressive. He’s out there wanting to challenge. Grayson is more subdued.”

A video released in January referred to the changes coming in the Ambassador Pack. “We’ve had some possible dominance posturing,” said Wolf Curator Laurie Schmidt. “It could be a normal hormonal thing or a possible loss of confidence from Aidan that has created a dynamic change within the pack.”

The Arctic pups are approaching maturity at two years of age. Boltz is a five-year-old. Denali is nine years old. Aidan is on his way out as alpha male, as was foreshadowed when the pack started behaving differently last fall, according to Schultz. “Having a strong leader is crucial. It’s important that the pack is unified,” he said. “They’re a family unit. They have to work together as a team to hunt and to survive and to maintain their territory.”

Rarely does one get to witness the replacement of an alpha wolf, and the process can take months or even a year. Schmidt said she recorded a lot of posturing by the animals this past winter. “This is something that very few people have seen or been able to research,” Schultz said. “It’s so hard to see wolves in any kind of a wild area. So when we can see in kind of a controlled environment like this, what’s happening and how those dynamics change every day, it helps us to understand how things play out in the wild.”

A change of leadership in a wolf pack is serious business and it can get violent. “It seems that when both of the young pups are together, they seem to target Aidan, who often seeks refuge in the den,” Schmidt said. “That’s kind of a safety zone for him.

“We know it’s a part of nature, it has to work, they have to work this out themselves. The alpha has to be a caretaker of everyone,” Schultz said.

Schmidt is taking caution in allowing the natural changes to the pack leadership occur. “We don’t want to put Aidan into retirement too soon. He will just become agitated and that is not healthy for him,” she said. “We also don’t want him to get hurt by waiting too long.”

Nature has a way of taking and giving back, as is playing out currently in the changing of roles in the Ambassador Pack. Things have calmed down for Aidan and he is still leader of the pack. When the time comes, he will be moved to a retirement pack in a separate enclosure at the International Wolf Center. 

“The biggest challenge we have to watch is that the rest of the pack doesn’t have any leadership,” Schmidt said. “It doesn’t appear that they are responding to deposing a dominant, but rather responding to a weaker mental state (in Aidan) and just have to figure out why Aidan is experiencing that.”

KSTP-TV contributed to this report.

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