Wolf watch: Viewers can see endangered wolves grow up
By: Diane Plattner
When six wolf pups were recently born in West County, they could not have known that they might soon have an audience spanning the globe.
Viewers for the first time can now follow rare footage of the first weeks of these six Mexican gray wolf pups born recently at the Endangered Wolf Center (EWC), in Eureka.
The center’s new “Lair Cam” now gives viewers worldwide a rare glimpse of the iconic wolf pups, born May 1 to parents Abby and Perkins. The pups are one of four litters born in 2011, and their very existence has national and international implications for the endangered species, EWC officials said.
“To be able to broadcast streaming video of these endangered wolf pups and their adult parents is an amazing feat we have never tried before,” EWC Board Chairman Ralph Pfremmer said. “This will give everyone an opportunity to see these remarkable keystone predators inside the wolves’ lair.”
Pfremmer said recent online, live video of bald eagle chicks and even common domestic dogs have been Internet sensations visited by millions of viewers. Similarly, he hopes many people will view videos of the rare wolves, whose birth, he said, could not have come at a better time.
“Like many non-profits, the EWC is facing extremely challenging financial times,” he said. “We hope the public the world over will watch these adorable pups and find it in their hearts to help us be able to afford their care.”
EWC Director of Animal Care Regina Mossotti said the pups, which live with their parents and five yearlings born last year, already are creating a sensation.
“It is really neat to watch their interactions,” she said. “Their eyes were closed for the first two weeks, when Mom and Dad were very protective and kept the yearlings away. Then, the yearlings took over the baby-sitting role, giving the parents a break. They take turns with the cleanings and feedings of the pups.”
Although viewing the wolves can be entertaining, Mossotti said the main purpose of the videos is to educate people about the endangered animals.
“A lot of people never get to see wolves in the wild because they are secretive animals and have huge territories,” she said. “We are hoping this will be a good opportunity for people to watch natural wolf behavior. This can also be used by teachers in the classroom and naturalists.”
Mossotti said the new litter consists of five female pups and one male, thereby sparking optimism for their population growth. Critically endangered, only 50 Mexican gray wolves are living outside captivity in New Mexico and Arizona. The EWC, which currently has 30 wolves, has been the birth site for 170 Mexican grays. At least one alpha member of each existing wild pack can trace its ancestry directly to the EWC, which the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) has called “the cornerstone of the Mexican gray wolf program.”
Hunted, trapped and poisoned for more than a century by ranchers and the expanding population in the western states, the Mexican gray had been nearly eliminated from the planet. Only the critical and painstaking work of the EWC and a handful of similar captive breeding centers have begun the difficult process of bringing the species back from the brink over the past 29 years. The Mexican gray was designated an endangered species in 1976 and considered extinct in the wild until its reintroduction in 1998 into Arizona and New Mexico.
There are no wild wolves in Missouri, Mossotti said.
The new pups will be one of the very rare “multigenerational” packs in captivity and will learn skills that will contribute to their success in the wild. The EWC is participating with the USFWS and the Wildlife Service of the USDA in first-of-its-kind research to place “pup radio” telemetry collars on the litter’s pups when they are 6 weeks old. The collars are designed to stretch and expand with the growing pups and will help biologists locate them in the future.
That is important because only about 20-40 percent of pups survive each year in the wild. The USFWS is unable to find the bodies to determine cause of death so cannot address the cause.
Located on 63 isolated, wooded acres, the EWC was founded in 1971 by acclaimed naturalist and zoologist, the late Dr. Marlin Perkins, and his wife, Carol. To view the videos, visit www.endangeredwolfcenter.org.