I actually had a difficult decision with my choice for the February photo this year for the first time. I don’t want to say what narrowly missed out, because there’s a pretty good chance I will use it for 2018. The courtship of two of our three Arctic wolves is the choice I settled on; if you look closely at the dark green of the spruce behind Chinook you will see that it’s snowing ever so slightly which was a rare sight indeed for the winter of 2015-16. And the position of Dora’s tail in this shot made it the best of the few I had taken in a burst of shots that afternoon.
As our previous wolf population waned quite rapidly earlier in this decade, the Zoo obtained three youngsters as a breeding trio to eventually take over in the main exhibit. Dora, Vera, and Chinook spent their early days in the Canadian Domain and only moved up to the Tundra Trek once the last of the elderly pack had passed on and the fencing had been well reinforced to withstand the more boisterous youngsters. Dora and Vera are sisters from a zoo in Amsterdam; one of my fellow Volunteers, Carolyn, visited their parents a couple of years ago and returned with some amazing shots. I had assumed that Chinook, by dint of his name, had come to us from a zoo in western Canada, but I believe he also came from Amsterdam – though obviously he is no relation to the girls. Vera is the larger of the two sisters but Dora seems to have become the “alpha” and the first choice for Chinook for breeding purposes. At least, that’s how it was last winter; time will tell this year if that continues. At one point the sibling rivalry took a nasty turn and Vera bore the brunt of some aggressive behaviour from both Chinook and Dora. If I remember correctly, they had to be separated for a spell and Vera nursed a couple of wounds that eventually healed just fine. One day in early spring last year I was talking to one of the Americas’ keepers about the wolves and I mentioned, as all three walked past together, that they seemed to be getting along better. I waited for an answer as I gazed as these glorious creatures, but none came. I turned to look at my keeper friend and saw that she had a huge grin on her face and was vigorously nodding her head up and down. “Oh yeah?” I said. “How much better?” She kept grinning and nodding. “Like, better better??” I asked. More grins, more head bobbing. “Who??!” I gasped with glee. “Dora!” she replied, and led me over to show me a den that the wolves had dug out of the side of a hill, clearly visible from the pathway. I learned that there was no confirmation of any kind, but there just might be a litter of wolf cubs in the very near future.
I should remind you (or tell you for the first time, if that’s the case) that at this point we already had two panda cubs, four lion cubs, one polar bear cub, and one rhino calf to celebrate. We had not yet seen the lynx kittens, but I have to say: had there actually been a litter of wolf cubs born at the Zoo last spring, I doubt very much any of you would have heard anything from me for several months. I’d have likely just pitched a tent somewhere nearby that exhibit!
Well, unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately? – it didn’t happen. Despite the magical appearance of a barrowful of straw which the wolves used gratefully to line the den, no little wolves made their appearance in 2016. But the den is still there, and it’s another year, and they are now even more comfortable in their home than last winter. In a few weeks we should start to have some idea whether the possibility might exist for babies this year, which would be fantastic in any event but especially because (as far as I know right now) there wouldn’t be very much competition on the cuteness scale. At least not right away. I’ll be scoping out the situation very closely in the coming days and the moment there’s any news to report you know I’ll be all over it. Watch for it on Facebook!
Next up: the story of a bizarre love affair between myself and a most unlikely candidate. Don’t miss that story!
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite shots I ever took of the previous pack, howling gloriously in deep snow a few years back. Enjoy!