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We receive so many good questions about what we do as animal caretakers that we thought we should include a Frequently Asked Questions page in our portion of the website. If you have a question you feel belongs here, please feel free to submit it to animal curator Wendy Spencer or post it on our FaceBook page.
You may click on any of the questions below in order to go directly to the answer, or you can just scroll through all of the questions and answers at your leisure. Thanks for your interest!
1.How many canids does Wolf Haven currently care for?
We typically have about 50 animals in our care at any given time and most of them are permanent residents. However, Wolf Haven Intl. is involved in two federal captive breeding programs for highly endangered Mexican gray and red wolves. These programs are a collaborative effort between the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). All wolves in the program are on loan from the USFWS, but are managed in cooperation with, and under the auspices of the AZA’s Species Survival Plan (SSP). We presently have 12 Mexican gray wolves and 4 red wolves in our care.
2.How often do you feed the animals at Wolf Haven?
Here at Wolf Haven we maintain our animals on a bi-weekly feeding schedule. Our geriatric animals are given smaller meals on a daily basis. SSP’s are maintained on a different schedule, please see below. In the wild, wolves generally succeed in hunting one out of ten times. Subsequently, their systems have adapted to live on a feast or famine lifestyle. Wild wolves will often go days between meals, and in fact, there have been documented cases of wild wolves going up to two weeks without food. Here at Wolf Haven we try to mimic a wild setting as much as possible. This means adjusting their diet accordingly to simulate a “feast or famine” style of eating. We successfully accomplish this by maintaining our animals on a bi-weekly feeding schedule. We feed them less quantity, but on a more frequent basis than what a typical wolf would ingest in the wild.
3.Why do you follow that schedule?
In the wild, wolves generally succeed in hunting one out of ten times. Subsequently, their systems have adapted to live on a feast or famine lifestyle. Wild wolves will often go days between meals, and in fact, there have been documented cases of wild wolves going up to two weeks without food. Here at Wolf Haven we try to mimic a wild setting as much as possible. This means adjusting their diet accordingly to simulate a “feast or famine” style of eating. We successfully accomplish this by maintaining our animals on a bi-weekly feeding schedule. We feed them less quantity, but on a more frequent basis than what a typical wolf would ingest in the wild.
4.What and how much do you feed the animals?
As mentioned above, most of our animals are maintained on a bi-weekly feeding, one of which is a beef feed and the other is chicken. The chicken feedings consists of whole, human grade chicken which includes all the internal organs of the chicken. The beef includes muscle tissue and any of the cow’s internal organs. On average, we feed 800 lbs. of meat per week (not including treats or pilling media), though this is subject to seasonal change. During the winter their feeding allotments are approximately 12.5 lbs. per animal to compensate for the extra calories burned to maintain their core temperature. Spring and fall feeding allotments are approximately 10 lbs. per animal. During the summer months appetites tend to wane, so portions may be further reduced. However, portions are based on individual dietary needs. The amount we feed is also subject to population density.
5.Do you ever put live prey in with your animals?
We do not put live prey in with any of our animals, as they are not in their wild setting but rather they are in a captive situation. The prey animal would have no chance of escape and would most likely either seriously injure themselves or die a horrible death attempting escape. Conversely, our animals could also be seriously injured. Further still, there is also the possibility that the prey animal may be used as a toy by our animals. By putting live prey in their enclosures the wolves would employ strategies that are contrary to the hunting strategies that they would utilize in the wild, so it would be counterintuitive, even for pre-release wolves.
6.Do the wolves eat all the food at once?
Usually the animals will consume most or all of the food in one sitting. But occasionally the animals will cache their food for later. Some food isn’t cached or consumed, but is just left on the ground. Generally other animals, especially ravens, will retrieve pieces left on the ground.
7.Do you ever feed your wolves road-killed such as deer and elk?
Wolf Haven has a permit to obtain road kill. Deer and elk are the only animals that we deem appropriate for our needs. There are strict criteria that the road killed carcass must meet prior to being fed out. If the carcass is deemed safe to feed to our animals we then freeze the carcass for a minimum of 24 hours to kill all ectoparasites. If there is any concern regarding the carcass we then respectfully and safely dispose of the carcass in a manner that will not endanger our animals or any wildlife located on or around our property.
8.Do you accept other animals as food for your animals?
Wolf Haven does not accept food donations from private donors.
9.How do you provide water for your animals?
Every enclosure has at least one, 2-3 gallon, stainless steel water bucket. All of the water buckets have a handle that is attached to the chain link to prevent the animals from moving them. All of the water buckets are rinsed and filled at least once a day. In addition to the water buckets, each enclosure has a 50 gallon galvanized metal splash tub. This splash tub is for the animals to play in and, it also helps thermoregulation during the summer months. Buckets and splash tubs are scrubbed and cleaned as needed.
10.How often do you have to clean out the animals' enclosure?
The enclosures are cleaned on an as needed basis. While cleaning out the enclosures we will pick up feces, fallen branches, old bones/carcasses, old enrichment items, or any items ravens may have dropped in. In addition, deckpens and shelters are also cleaned on an as needed basis.
11.Do you do routine maintenance on the animals’ enclosures? If so, what?
Periodic maintenance is required to ensure that the enclosures are up to our specifications. Some common maintenance requirements include ensuring that the ground skirt is covered with gravel at all times, ensuring that all locks/gates/hardware are functional and secure, and ensuring that the structural integrity of the enclosure/deckpens/shelters is not compromised. Occasionally we do some landscaping inside the enclosures (planting trees or groundcover). Also, if an animal has dug under the ground skirt, the hole may need to be filled in. This is handled on a case by case basis. Due to inclement weather, some unforeseen damage requires immediate attention.
12.Does Animal Care staff socialize with the animals?
Because the animals come to us with varying degrees of socialization, many of them do not solicit human attention. It is our intention that the animals thrive in an environment that is conducive to their physical and mental well being, and for some, that means limited to no interaction with us. However, a few of our animals are highly socialized to humans and do desire some interaction with us.
13.How do the animals behave when you enter their enclosures?
Periodically it is necessary for us to enter the enclosures, whether it is for cleaning, maintenance or catch-up. Human and animal safety is paramount, so generally two staff members enter at a time, and we always carry at least one “Y” pole. Regardless of what the goal of entering the enclosure is, one person is always charged with the task of maintaining a visual on the animal(s) at all times.
For many of our residents, it makes them uncomfortable when staff enters their enclosure. Most will move to the opposite side of their enclosure and pace nervously. And just as we maintain visual on them, they too, keep a constant eye on us.
Occasionally those animals that have been well socialized to humans can be overly curious, and may attempt to approach in order to investigate what we are doing and this behavior is usually discouraged. Conversely, there are a few animals who will attempt to “bluff charge,” and that behavior is also discouraged.
14.How do you catch-up your animals?
There are many factors to consider when we catch up our animals which help us determine a strategy. What is the purpose for catch-up? How tractable is the animal?
What is the lay out of the enclosure? How will the animal’s enclosure mate(s) behave? What is the age of the animal? What is the ambient temperature?
For many of our animals, catching them up can be a very stressful experience. Most are not tractable, so we try and employ strategies that will make things as easy on the animals as possible. Over the years, we have developed and modified (and continue to modify) methods in an attempt to accomplish this in the least invasive way.
Our present method involves hanging sections of 5’ tall nylon canvas strategically in the enclosure to cut down on space as well as to as to “funnel” the animal into either a shelter or deckpen. Several staff members, equipped with “Y” poles enter the enclosure and form a line, and moving as one unit, the “line” drives the animal into the desired location. The “line” moves slowly and quietly, giving the respective animal time to consider his/her options and make choices. The calmer we are, the calmer the animal is. At no time do we “rush” the animal, for that would only serve to further agitate the animal. Ideally, the animal chooses to run into the deckpen and the guillotine gate is lowered to seal the animal in. Once the animal is in the deckpen (or desired location), the animal needs to be physically restrained.
Two staff members enter the area with “Y” poles and then one member of the team safely restrains and head covers the animal. Depending on the goal of the catch up, the second person performs the required procedures (immobilization, vaccinations, blood collection).
While the above method works for most of our animals, it does not work all the time. Rather than choose to utilize a deckpen or shelter, some animals will just lie down and “hunker”. In those instances, the “line” will slowly advance and when close enough, one person will safely restrain with a “Y” pole. We then proceed much the same as above.
When other options fail, we occasionally have to resort to netting an animal. Staff forms a line in the enclosure but rather than each person having a “Y” pole, the people on each end have large nets. We assign a person with a “Y” pole to each netter, so that once the animal is in the net, the other person can safely restrain with a “Y” pole to reduce the animal’s desire to struggle. And again, depending on the purpose of the catch-up, we proceed accordingly.
15.Do you ever allow visitors to touch the animals?
For the reasons stated above (question 12), visitors are not permitted to touch the animals. Also, because of safety and liability issues, visitors are do not have contact with the animals.
16.Are volunteers allowed to interact with the animals?
Volunteers are not permitted to directly interact with the animals. However, there is an incentive program that has been established that allows volunteers that have accrued a certain amount of hours to participate in their choice of either a feeding tour, photography tour, or an enrichment tour.
17.What is enrichment?
The definition of enrichment is ‘to add greater value or significance to something’. Here at Wolf Haven the purposes for enrichment are to mitigate boredom, to encourage natural behaviors (i.e. exploratory or foraging), and provide opportunities for the animals to make choices on their own. Enrichment helps keep the animals’ mind and body stimulated, which in turn helps them to be well balanced and less neophobic.
18.What do you do for enrichment?
Enrichment comes in a variety in forms- everything from food, to auditory, to tactile and scent objects.
Some examples include:
Certain criteria must be met before handing out enrichment, most importantly, could the item be potentially toxic or dangerous? If the item is deemed safe and the animals respond well, then we consider the item a success.
19.How large are your enclosures?
The enclosures vary in size, ranging from a 1/3 of an acre to 2.7 acres depending on the number of animals and the lay of the land. Most animals are housed in mated pairs, so their enclosures are approximately ½ an acre. Pre-release enclosures are an acre each, and our largest enclosure which is utilized for family groups is 2.7 acres.
20.How are your enclosures constructed to keep the wolves from getting out?
Wolves are notorious escape artists, so it is imperative that our enclosures are designed to be as “wolf-proof” as possible. The enclosures are constructed from heavy 9 gauge chain link fabric and consist of an 8’ vertical fence, with a 3’ “tip-in,” and a 3’ ground skirt. The tip-in angles 45 degrees into the enclosure. The ground skirt is attached to the vertical at a 90 degree angle and then covered with several inches of gravel. The chain link fabric is not taut between posts, nor is there a header bar attached to the tip-ins, allowing for some give so that if one of the wolves were to jump or try and climb the fence they would not be able to get any purchase.
21.How do the wolves stay cool in the summer?
Because wolves are highly photoperiodic, they have already shed out their thick winter coats before summer arrives. However, activity levels wane during the hot summer months and often we find them taking respite from the heat by either lying in shady day beds or sleeping in their “deckpens,” which have a concrete floor that stays cool in the summer. Occasionally, some of the wolves opt to sleep in their natural dens. In addition, each enclosure has a 50 gallon splash tub which many of the animals will get in and splash around. Some, like Kiawatha, will even sit or lay down in their tubs to cool down. Sprinklers are also set up at several enclosures, though any cooling benefit is probably lost because they exert so much energy chasing the oscillating stream of water.
22.Do your wolves dig dens?
Both males and females engage in den digging. Den digging is not just a preparation for whelping, as we see them actively digging year round. However, during metestrus, both gravid and non-gravid intact females will almost always dig or modify an existing den in preparation for pups.
23.What is a false pregnancy?
All non-gravid, intact females undergo a pseudo or "false" pregnancy. In most of the females the symptoms are more covert than overt. However, with the females that experience overt pseudo pregnancies, symptoms present much like an actual pregnancy. Symptoms range from pulling belly fur, swollen nipples, lactation, den digging, and localizing either in or just outside the den. In severe cases we have observed females regurgitating their food or gathering pup-sized rocks and tending to them, as well as obsessive-compulsive self-nursing or worrying at their bellies. They are often short-tempered with their mates, and again, in the more severe cases, they behave in a more stressed or anxious manner. Pseudo pregnancies are thought to be caused by elevated levels of prolactin, and once hormone levels return to normal, symptoms disappear.
24.Why and how often do wolves shed?
Wolves are highly photoperiodic and shedding is correlated to their endocrine system which is in turn correlated to the duration of daylight. They shed once a year, usually in late spring. It has been our experience that older wolves tend to shed later than younger wolves, and often males shed out before females.
25.What does your program of veterinary care entail?
All SSP animals receive annual vaccines, de-worming, and physical examinations (including blood collection and analysis). All other residents are given prophylactic parasite medication twice a year. However, we do not perform annuals on non-SSP residents but rather they are treated for medical issues on an as needed basis.
26.What is the protocol for administering non-emergency veterinary care to our animals?
Fortunately, we do not have a lot of medical emergencies, but there are certainly times when medical attention is required. Each situation is assessed on a case-by-case basis. Even though we see our animals every day, and we have become accustomed to their “normal” behavior, wolves are very stoic animals. Often by the time they present with clinical symptoms, it warrants some type of treatment.
Animal Care first consults with our attending veterinarian in an attempt to determine a course of action. Animal Care staff will provide as much detail as possible, including e-mailing digital photos if that helps better formulate a course of treatment. We also provide any samples needed to help our veterinarian better diagnose. We opt to treat as conservatively as possible, due to the stress that the animal would incur during the catch up process. If it is a specific aliment that we have previous experience with and already know the best course of treatment, our veterinarian will recommend a course of medication (i.e. antibiotic, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, or oral steroids) that would be best suited for that ailment. However, usually the animal must be in hand in order to make an accurate diagnosis, which means transporting the respective animal to the clinic.
27.What do you do in the case of an emergency?
Again, each situation is evaluated on a case by case basis and handled accordingly. If possible we will treat the animal on site. If the animal cannot be treated on site he/she will be immediately transported to the clinic for emergency care.
28.How do you transport your animals?
If it is necessary to transport an animal to the vet, the animal is usually chemically immobilized for transport to reduce stress. Prior to transport the animal is caught up (see question 16) and then injected (either by hand or syringe pole) with an anesthetic agent. Once the animal is anesthetized, he/she is crated and prepared for transport. Two staff members are always required for transport- one to drive the vehicle and the other to constantly monitor the anesthetized animal’s vitals.
During driving rescue operations, we do not utilize drugs for a variety of reasons. One being that often, the journey is long (sometimes up to 30 hours) and it would not be safe to keep an animal drugged for such and extended period of time. Also, often we do not know the medical history of the animal, so potentially the animal could have an adverse reaction. Should an animal “crash”, we would not have veterinarian support readily available to tend to the animals’ medical needs. If the animal is being transported via air travel, the animal remains unattended for hours at a time, so there would be no one to monitor the condition of the animal if he/she were drugged.
29.How does the care that you offer the animals involved in the SSP program differ from the “non-SSP” animals?
The animals that are part of the SSP program are managed very differently from the other residents at Wolf Haven. The SSP animals are managed strictly hands off, the reason being is so that they don’t become accustomed to human interaction. Socialization would not be conducive to the goals of the program, although we are required to enter their enclosures on a daily basis for fecal clean-up. With the Mexican wolves that are slated for release it is imperative that these animals do not become habituated to the presence of humans. Occasionally, some individuals who exhibit interest in their caretakers must be aversively conditioned to reinforce their innate wariness of people. All program animals are also maintained on a different diet and feeding regimen than our permanent residents. Rather than bi-weekly chicken and beef feedings they are maintained daily on high quality dry kibble.
Our pre-release wolves are maintained on the same dry food formula, however, they are fed larger quantities less frequently to minimize human presence. In addition to the dry food they are also given road-killed deer and elk carcasses. If fed a carcass, they are then fasted for a number of days depending upon the size of the carcass. In 2007, Wolf Haven installed remote viewing cameras in the enclosures that house our off-tour animals. The purpose of the cameras are to obtain visuals on the wolves without having to physically enter their enclosure, this mitigates stress on the animals and once again reduces the amount of human presence around the animals. Another reason why we utilize the cameras is so we witness behavior that is unaltered by the presence of humans in close proximity to the wolves. The behavior that we witness could be classified as natural behavior (even though they are in a captive setting).
30.Are wolves prone to the same diseases/disorders as domestic dogs?
As previously mentioned, wolves tend to be very healthy animals. However, wild wolves are of course more prone to the viruses that we vaccinate our dogs against (i.e. parvo, rabies and distemper). Wild wolves are also highly ecto and endoparasitized. Captive wolves tend to be very healthy, in that most live in “closed” environments and receive veterinary care. However, they are by no means impervious to the same diseases or disorders that afflict domestics. We often see degenerative conditions like arthritis and spondylosis, as well as the occasional cancer. We have also seen cases of Addison’s, Diabetes, and Epilepsy.
31.What do you do with your animals when they die?
We are privileged to have an on site cemetery where we can lay our friends’ bodies to rest. We bury them at least 4’ deep, and cover their graves with pea gravel. We then hand pick a large piece of slate to cover their grave. Their grave is then outlined with large rocks. A ceremony is then held were volunteers and staff are welcome to join and pay homage to our departed friends
32.Do you ever introduce a Wolf with another animal that has lost his/her mate?
Most canids are very gregarious animals, in the wild or in captivity. Here at Wolf Haven we try insure that all the animals’ needs are met, this includes companionship for each animal. Introducing an animal to another that has lost his/her mate is handled strictly on a case by case basis. There are many variables to think about before introducing new animals. Some considerations are age, temperament, health, activity level, enclosure and size/layout.
33.Do you only accept pure wolves?
One of Wolf Haven’s missions is to provide sanctuary for captive, displaced wolves, therefore, our population is composed of pure wolves. There have been certain circumstances which required us to take in wolf hybrids for companions to some of our current residents. Due to our limited space we try to keep our open enclosures available to pure wolves, subsequently we aren’t able to offer sanctuary to wolf dogs. We work closely with reputable wolfdog rescue agencies and refer most of the hybrids that we are contacted about directly to them. Wolf Haven also currently offers sanctuary to two coyotes.
34.Do you ever sell or give away your wolves?
Here at Wolf Haven, once we take an animal into our sanctuary we offer care for that animal’s physical and mental needs for the rest of the animal’s life, no exceptions. Wolf Haven also participates in two federal SSP programs and the wolves that are involved with these programs are on loan to Wolf Haven from the United State Fish and Wildlife Service. They are not permanent residents of Wolf Haven and these wolves are occasionally moved between participating facilities, depending upon the needs of the program.
35.Has Wolf Haven ever had a litter of puppies?
When Wolf Haven was first established they occasionally bred gray wolves. Our philosophy has since changed, and Wolf Haven no longer breeds our gray wolves because this would be counter intuitive to our mission of providing captive displaced wolves with a sanctuary to call home. We are currently participating with two federal programs, the Mexican wolf, and the red wolf SSP programs. Depending upon the needs of the program these animals may occasionally be recommended for breeding.
36.Do you medicate your animals?
Some of our animals are maintained on daily preventative medication such as joint support and fish oil. Other animals that have specific health ailments (i.e. wound, arthritis, etc.) are maintained on daily medications for a set period of time (i.e. antibiotics, steroids etc.). All medication is administered in various pilling media such as ground beef, hotdogs etc.
37.What are some of Animal Cares' responsibilities?
Here at Wolf Haven International we have set daily routines that are required to be done in a specific order.
Here at Wolf Haven International we have set weekly routines that are required to be met. The order of these routines differs sometimes due primarily to the fact that you cannot plan around animals and expect it to run smoothly.
Here at Wolf Haven International many of our duties are done on an as-needed basis. The following are some of the duties with brief descriptions that would fall into this category.
When working with animals there are always unforeseen happenings that arise (usually during the most inconvenient times) that must be handled. These are most of the required duties that we are responsible for in order for Wolf Haven’s animals to prosper.
38.Has an animal ever escaped Wolf Haven?
No. Over the years, a couple of animals have managed to escape their enclosures. However, there is a perimeter fence around the sanctuary to deter the animals from further escape. In addition to physical barriers, we closely monitor each individual animal to ensure that they are safely in their enclosure at all times. However, if an animal escapes their enclosure, it would be quickly detected, therefore not giving them time to breach the perimeter fence.
39.Why are some animals not on the tour route?
While several of our residents’ enclosures are on the public tour route, the majority of our animals actually reside off tour.
Wolves by their very nature are wary of people- particularly large groups of people- so it takes a unique individual to be able to handle tours on a daily basis. Even for an animal that has been well habituated or socialized, it is a lot for them to handle.
Many of our animals have come to us from situations where they have had limited exposure to people. Some have spent their life in a small kennel, others tied or chained up, and others still have been neglected or abused. Because it is our intention to provide sanctuary, an animals’ needs are always foremost, therefore we would never force an animal into a situation that would cause them undue stress.