Wotan’s race is run. His loss of kidney function, which progressed for several months, reached the stage where his kidneys could no longer function enough to do him any good. We are only given our friends (human and otherwise) and family for “a while” and none of us know how long “a while” is.
It is a comfort to remember that his summer was mostly a good one. In his last week he was so energetic that we hoped it augured well for his being with us for several more months. He was able to spend most of his days with Timber, though we did separate them on the days when the wolves get their large meals, to give him plenty of time to eat without Timber “volunteering” to “clean up his leftovers”. Sometimes he did not feel like eating a great deal at one time. So we also offered him daily snacks.
It’s common for elderly wolves to become picky about what they will eat and they often become disinclined to eat a lot at one time. Wotan was no exception. We took to keeping a smorgasbord of dainties in the refrigerator to tempt his appetite. One recurring favorite was beef tongue. We had to keep changing the menu to tempt his tastebuds, and various staff members and volunteers took up the challenge. One of our volunteers cooked pot roast and saved some for Wotan – he really liked that, as well as Monty’s grilled offerings. Bulgogi is not something you would normally think of wolves eating, but Wotan loved Monty’s garlic free version for several days. Sometimes he went for meat that the other wolves were getting – carcass, organ meat, or freezer meat – but we cut his food up in easily swallowed chunks to save his energy. When he was in the mood for spare ribs, he seemed to enjoy crunching the bones. The challenge to find things he would eat also included finding food in which we could hide pills. Wotan was good at detecting pills. A recurring favorite pill hider was McD’s cheeseburgers, especially the Double Quarter Pounder – one piece of cheese is usually between the burger patties and makes “glue” for holding pills between the burgers! Periodically Wotan went off burgers, but, given a break from them, he’d find them tasty after several days of eating another favorite. One favorite especially during the hot days in August was…vanilla ice cream. But it had to be Fresh Thyme Vanilla Bean ice cream. We did try the Purple Cow brand, but that was a no go.
After losing Fiona on 9/11, and to help Kanti adjust to her loss, we put him at East Lake with Sparrow on one side and Wotan and Timber on another side. With three other wolves “next door,” Kanti was diverted, and began posing for Sparrow and Timber, and he also threatened Wotan, who reciprocated with lateral threat displays. Standing broadside, hackles raised, and looking his most imposing, Wotan paraded up and down along the fence opposite Kanti. He could not run along the fence like Kanti but he trotted and walked tall, clearly in “look upon me and tremble” mode. This slow motion fence fighting definitely gave him an added interest in life and his appetite perked up with his activity level. We were pleased to see him having an interest! It contributed significantly to him having a good last week.
On October 1, he took all his pills (in canned cat food – a new favorite) but at feeding time his appetite was small and he had less energy. Timber, in a next door enclosure because it was a big feeding day, was very bouncy at the prospect of being reunited with her big guy. He was lying down and did not get up when she came in. Instead of requesting and requiring that he get up and join her in jollification, she lay down, quietly, next to him, so close that they were touching, and stayed that way.
Next morning he was more lethargic. We called the vet, and took him in to the clinic for examination. The veterinarian thought that his kidneys had shut down or were in the final stage of doing so. She did a blood test that could be analyzed in-house. The results bore her out. She said that in her opinion he had reached the point at which trying to buy him more time would do him no favors. We agreed and he was peacefully sedated and then euthanized. A gross necropsy performed that evening, confirmed the diagnosis. There was nothing more we could have done.
In losing Wotan, Wolf Park loses an icon. His passing marks the end of several chapters in the park’s existence. His lineage goes back to Cassie, one of the first two Wolf Park wolves, acquired from the Brookfield Zoo in 1972, and he was the last living wolf that Dr. Klinghammer knew. He was also the last living wolf to take part in our Wolf – Bison demonstrations. Until Kanti and Bicho reached maturity, Wotan was our largest wolf. Wolf Park’s sign, at the head of our lane, shows him standing in the light of the setting sun. He was an attentive, devoted mate to Timber, and their pups, Aspen, Mani, and Sparrow, carry our hope of continuing Wolf Park’s bloodline.
We have lost Fiona, our beautiful black female wolf; eight years was not nearly long enough, but as Wolf Park friend Ken McCort says, when faced with mortality, “We are only given friends and family and pets for a while and we don’t know how long ‘a while’ is.” It’s a reminder to treasure our dear ones while we have them; every day of life is a gift.
Fiona was one of six pups; four grew up blond, showing the influence of their white, arctic maternal grandmother, and two, a male and female, were black, showing the influence of their maternal grandfather who was a black, non-arctic wolf.
Growing up and living with her bumptious brothers, Bicho and Kanti, Fiona had to learn to stand up for herself. As she matured, she was often subjected to “guy humor” by Bicho and Kanti, who thought “sisters are for squashing”*. They learned that it may all be fun and games up to a point but if Fiona was pushed too hard, there would be REPERCUSSIONS.
That isn’t to say that it was all rowdiness and retaliation between the siblings. One summer we were hanging out with the young wolves and Fiona happened to be lying between Bicho and Kanti. She rolled lazily toward one and who, instead of starting a favorite game of “can you feel it when I do…this?” nibble groomed her tenderly for a few minutes. He stopped and she rolled to the other brother, who also groomed her tenderly. We all watched in amazement; I had never seen such a prolonged and gentle display of affection from the brothers to their sister. I kept expecting mischievousness to overwhelm them but it didn’t. She rolled back and forth between them several times and they took turns grooming her gently.
For health reasons, Fiona and her brothers were surgically sterilized. They all had juvenile cataracts, though Fiona’s did not require surgery. Her brother Bicho also had a defective heart valve, and while both conditions could be improved by surgery we opted not to chance passing on serious health problems to future generations.
Because she was sterilized and not spayed, Fiona cycled annually and each year she had a false pregnancy, including complete denning behaviors. She appropriated objects as puppy substitutes. One year it was pine cones. Wolf Park , when asked by visitors whether they couldn’t get the striking black Fiona to come out and be seen, explained “No, I’m sorry; she’s having pine cones.” Her repertoire of maternal behavior stood her and us in good stead in 2017 when Wolf Park again reared puppies – Aspen, Máni, Sparrow, Niko and Khewa. It’s advantageous to let wolf pups reared by human foster relatives also spend time with adult wolves who like puppies and have good parental behavior. Timber was a good mother to Aspen, Máni, Sparrow, Cypress and Tauriel when they were little infants in the den; when they were older she wanted to treat them as toys, or play partners, but she didn’t know how to play with them appropriately. Fiona stepped up in a big way, and was Mom to the pups all summer. On her first visit to the nursery her whole face lit up when the pups approached. She lay down and let them swarm over her. Her whole demeanor said “My puppies! I knew I had them – and here they are!”
Eight years is not nearly long enough, but it is what we were given and we are glad we had her. Having her at all is worth the pain of loss that comes with mortality. In closing, the opening verse of “She Walks in Beauty” by George Gordon (Lord Byron) seems a fitting tribute to Fiona. Rest in peace, dear girl. We will not forget you.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
From “She Walks in Beauty by
Lord Byron (George Gordon)
*an observation by Caity Judd
In 2005, Wolf Park saw the birth of a litter of six pups from Erin and Chetan. The staff was very excited because these pups could trace their lineage all the way back to the park’s original alpha female, Cassie.
During their second winter, Wolfgang and Wotan teamed up to dominate their older brother Renki and rise to the second and third rank in the pack. They switched ranks on a regular basis and didn’t seem too concerned over which one was which rank. In the summer of 2009, the two staged a fight against dominant male, Tristan, and drove him from pack. Wolfgang emerged as the alpha.
In 2012, Wolfgang fathered a litter of six puppies with his mate, Dharma. The next spring, the main pack was divided into smaller groups to ease tension among the wolves. Within a few years, Wolfgang and Wotan were living out their peaceful ‘retirement’ away from the busy youngsters of the main pack. The brothers are very happy together and much tension and grumpy has vanished from their relationship now that they aren’t pestered by younger wolves or females.
Among his many talents, Wolfgang turned out to be a dancer. He discovered the staff would give him lots of treats if he jumped backwards several times in a row. One of the staff taught him to bow. They created a dance routine in which they’d march back and forth together while she hummed a waltz. He was also a skilled pick-pocket, who regularly attempted to make off with humans’ prized possessions.
During 2018, Wolfgang fought an ongoing battle with cancer. Treatment help and he rallied for a time, but began losing stamina toward the end of the year. He passed away quietly on his own the evening of December 28, surrounded by staff and volunteers who’d known and cared for him all his life.
Bicho was born to Dharma and Wolfgang along with his five siblings in the spring of 2012. Bicho, Kanti and Fiona were chosen to live at Wolf Park for their whole lives.
Bicho had some health problems as a puppy. He was born with a heart murmur which was fixed thanks to the cardiology team at Purdue University Teaching Hospital. He and Kanti were also born with cataracts which had to be removed to improve their vision.
In the spring of 2013, the main pack was divided into two smaller packs. Kanti, Bicho and Fiona were happy to have a pack all to themselves. Kanti emerged as the dominant male and sometimes micro-managed Bicho’s activities. Bicho wasn’t all innocence either. He was often spotted intentionally irritating Kanti into a bad mood when Kanti just wanted to be left alone. Most of the time, the brothers appreciate one another’s company. They sought each other out for comfort when frightened, pressed their hips together when nervous and jointly pestered their sister. It was rare to see one without the other in the enclosure.
Bicho was found during morning rounds on December 21, having passed away suddenly. His weak heart appeared to be the cause. He’d shown no indication anything was wrong, but that is not uncommon in cases like his. Although the staff had hoped surgery would provide him with a normal lifespan, they were glad they’d at least provided him with a prolonged and improved life for the time they had with him.
April 12, 2004 – August 13, 2018
Ayla was born to Tristan and Erin in the spring of 2004. As part of the first litter born to Wolf Park after a five year gap, she was eagerly welcomed into the family.
Ayla was the smallest of the four pups but cheerfully wrestled her siblings, climbed into human laps and generally caused mischief in the pack. During her first winter, Ayla and her sister, Kailani, decided sneaking up and biting their mother on the rump was a fun game. Erin found this less amusing and began chasing her daughters around the enclosure every time they came close to her. Erin was later removed from the pack to reduce the stress on the girls. Although Kailani settled into life in the pack without Erin, Ayla did not. Wotan and Wolfgang continued to harass her, often with Kailani’s assistance.
In the fall of 2006, Ayla was removed from the pack and placed in the retirement area. She was soon prancing up and down the fence thumbing her nose at her former pack mates.
Wanting to give the young wolf social time, the staff arranged play dates between her and her brothers, Renki and Ruedi. Renki and Ayla were some of the Park’s best hunters and were frequent participants in the (no longer held) wolf-bison demos. Eventually Renki and their father, Tristan, were removed from the main pack. The three wolves formed a happy little trio which stayed together for several years.
After Tristan passed away, Renki took turns living with Ayla and Kailani, depending on which sister would put up with him hoarding all the food. Ayla got along with him better and they usually shared an enclosure on non-feeding days. Renki passed away in 2018, making Ayla the oldest wolf in the park, and too old to receive a new live-in companion. Aspen the puppy visited her occasionally, and the staff made sure she received lots of human attention.
During the summer of 2018, Ayla was diagnosed with cancer. Due to age and health, the vet recommended against surgery. The staff worked hard to give her a good final summer. She began having play dates with Wolfgang, which she thoroughly enjoyed. As she began to lose weight, volunteers provided her with special foods to tempt her appetite.
Ayla departed this life peacefully at 7:25 p.m. on Monday, August 13. She’d refused food for several days prior and everyone recognized it was time.
She’ll be remembered as a goofy wolf who greeted visitors with demands for belly rubs and a cheerful smile. She gained brief internet fame with the ‘Moon-Moon Meme’ in which she was often featured as a fluff-brained were-wolf.
April 3, 2006 – June 4, 2018
Twister and his sister, Willow, were brought to Wolf Park from a facility in Utah which studies non-lethal forms of predator control. Twister was named after the natural disasters threatening the park on the day of his arrival.
The coyotes grew up much faster than the wolves and exhausted their puppy parents by scaling walls and searching for new activities with which to amuse themselves. They were glad to move from the puppy nursery to the adult pen which had been specially reinforced to contain young coyotes.
Twister developed phobias of many things as he grew older. He didn’t like things with wheels, construction equipment or anything new and unusual. The staff tried to help him get over some of his fears.
One of the coyotes’ favorite weeks of the year was when dog trainer Ken McCort came to visit. He would always spend a long time working on target training the coyotes. They also appreciated the environmental enrichment efforts of the interns. The interns would provide them with boxes filled with strange foods, things to destroy, or unusual scents.
During evening rounds on June 4th, Twister was found to have passed away without warning. He’d been fine during morning and afternoon check. The most likely causes of death were seizure, stroke, or heart attack, but the vet found nothing conclusive. Twister will be sorely missed by those who learned so much about coyotes and their incredibly unique behavior during his time at the park.
May 6, 2013 – April 4, 2018
Gypsum was born at a facility in Minnesota on May 6, 2013. Ten days later, he arrived at Wolf Park. Along with his sisters, Ifa and Hunter, they became the first socialized grey foxes at our facility. Even at that early age, with his eyes barely open, he was already climbing up shirts and curling up on shoulders.
He was the favored sleeping companion by almost all who assisted in raising the kits. He was an amazing snuggler. He was also a little thief, so it was important to clear out pockets before he had a chance to investigate them. This continued throughout his life. He even managed to nab a set of car keys and cache them. Over his first few months of life he had a tendency to play hard and sleep hard. It was not unusual for him to be carried, sound asleep, like a baby back into the nursery after a big day outside.
Gypsum was shy of crowds, and often displayed the typical elusive nature of grey foxes during open hours. He had a select group of humans that he loved. For those lucky few, he enjoyed licking the inside of their noses, cuddling, and receiving belly rubs. During sponsor visits and seminars, he would come out and sit on his “safe stones” and watch. Eventually he would work up enough “brave juice” to approach close enough for someone to toss him a treat.
Gypsum’s social circle was small, but his personality was mighty. The world was his to conquer. He once threatened Kanti, who was so frightened that he ran away and hid behind Bicho. Gypsum was convinced wolves were easily defeated ever after. He absolutely loved his walks. That is often how he connected best with people he didn’t know.
He lived life to the fullest. In the fall of 2014, Gypsum tried to swallow a mouse whole and got it stuck in his insides. The wonderful team at Purdue University Veterinary Teaching Hospital removed it. Gypsum spent several months inside recovering from his surgery. His human friends kept him entertained with toys, strange foods, and books on tape. It was during this time that he developed his signature “What’s up” move – a nod that was captured when he pushed his cone up allowed his handlers to continue to work on relationship building with him.
Even though he enjoyed both of his siblings, he was exceptionally close to Hunter. They were never far from one another. Whenever one came back from a walk, there would be instant face greeting. We put face greeting on cue with “bisou”, the French word for little kiss, as the cue signal.
On Monday, April 2, Gypsum started acting not quite right. He had been dealing with a lot over the weekend (tours, kids) and we let him sleep. On Tuesday, he didn’t get up for medication rounds. We checked on him, and he just wasn’t his perky self. He didn’t want scrambled eggs (a favorite food) and, after a physical exam, and there was a concern about his stomach being tight. We took him into the clinic for a check-up but that was inconclusive. The game plan was bland diet, fluids and re-assess over the next 24-36 hours. We kept him inside. Kimber and Dana spent a lot of time watching over him. On Tuesday night, Gypsum went downhill and was in a lot of pain. We took him back to the clinic Wednesday morning, and the decision was made to do exploratory surgery. There was an odd mass that had started leaking fluids and his internal organs weren’t healthy at all. The only humane choice was to say good-bye. Even though he had a small social circle, Gypsum had a mighty personality and will be greatly missed.
Renki and his three siblings were born at Wolf Park in 2004. Renki was named after Irenaus ‘Renki’ Eibl-Eibesfeldt, a well-known German ethologist. He was an easy wolf to identify in the pack due to the crooked, black line that runs down his nose.
In the pack, Renki became known for testing boundaries, both with wolves and humans. He rose to be the #2 ranking male, only to be deposed within a year by his younger brothers, Wotan and Wolfgang. Eventually he was removed from the big pack and went to live with his father and sister in the retirement area.
After their father’s passing, Renki and his sister, Ayla continued to live as a somewhat contented pair of wolves. Renki loved food and didn’t love sharing so he and Ayla had long visits together on non-feeding days. Sometimes he also spent time with his other sister, Kailani.
In July 2016, Renki was diagnosed with bone cancer. To halt the spread, his front leg was amputated. Renki recovered from the operation and quickly adjusted to life on three legs. He still loved walks, attention, food and playing with his sisters. He moved back in with Ayla as soon as he was recovered and has been managing life as a ‘tri-pod’ with a cheerful smile.
In December 2017, Renki began having trouble breathing. He was brought inside and treated in hopes of an easy recovery but his condition slowly deteriorated. He had good days in which he enjoyed exploring the Animal Care Center, going for short walks, and visiting with Ayl. As his breathing grew labored and he became unable to stand without assistance, the staff brought him to the vet clinic for more intense diagnosis. The results were not promising and Renki was euthanized.
Renki is remembered as a challenging and cheerful wolf. He led the procession for nearly every Walk for Wolves during his lifetime. He once met and danced with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He loved participating in research, if it involved food. He will be well-remembered.
Kailani was one of four pups born to Tristan and Erin in 2004. She was a pale colored, petite wolf .
As a youngster, Kailani thought sneaking up on her mother and biting her on the rump was a fun game. When she lived with the main pack, she continued to enjoy nipping other wolves whenever the opportunity arose. The boys would wrestle with each other but when Kailani arrived, they tended to break up their fights in a hurry. She bit too hard for their taste. Still, she was the only girl in the pack at the time and they took their turns courting her every year.
Once she retired from the main pack, Kailani occasionally visited her brother, Renki, but lived alone much of the time. She loved human company and would demand long belly rubs from her favorite people whenever they visited.
In October, 2016, Kailani was diagnosed with cancer. The staff made her as comfortable as possible and made her last months happy with walks, visits from Renki, and any food she could possible desire. On November 24, she was put to sleep surrounded by the staff and volunteers. Shell be remembered as the fierce, pale gray wolf, who could death stare her brothers, while receiving a belly rub.
On May 6, 2013, an independent-minded grey fox named Ifa was born in Minnesota. Ten days later, our lives changed forever as the ‘kit-moms’, Amanda, Bronwyn, and Zach brought Ifa, Gypsum, and Hunter to Wolf Park and into our lives as the park’s first socialized grey foxes. Even on the ride home, Ifa made it abundantly clear that she was an independent vixen by continually attempting to climb out of the nest box her mothers’ had prepared for her. She almost succeeded! From an early age, she kept her kit-moms busy with unpredictable behavior, and was usually the first to surprise them with the onset of the next stage of development earlier than expected. She chose an exclusive group of people to be her best friends. The circle expanded only once to include volunteer Jacob, although she tolerated and worked with most other people.
Even with her independent attitude, Ifa loved training with anyone who had a treat. The sound of a bait bag opening would pull Ifa out of a slumber, onto a platform and ready to work; unless, of course, it was early. She wasn’t always a morning fox (and was often seen with ridiculous bed head if disturbed). She was quick to pick up cues and was known most for her signature “wave” and “meerkat” pose. If you were working with Gypsum or Hunter and looked down, you would typically find Ifa at your feet, offering up a behavior in hopes of a reward.
Along with training, Ifa also enjoyed rambles around the park. Exploring tall grass was always a favorite, and negotiating with the handler in an attempt to climb a tree or go under a deck was always attempted. Walks were always on her terms, though—she wouldn’t always choose to go. She would, however, dictate when she came back. On one occasion, she refused to go home and instead walked twice around the loop trail, enjoying a leisurely spring day.
On Wednesday, August 17, Ifa began acting not quite right. Our vet, Dr. Becker, was coming out to examine several other animals, and we put her in the line-up. After a brief exam, it was decided to keep her in the Alison Franklin Animal Care Center overnight and take her to the clinic the following morning in order to do a full work-up. At the clinic, Ifa’s abdominal area didn’t look right. After consulting with another doctor, surgery was recommended. It quickly became apparent that Ifa was suffering from a ruptured abscess that had enmeshed itself to the pancreas and other organs, and that there was nothing that could be done. True to her independent personality, Ifa passed away on Thursday, August 18, 2016 after giving us only one day’s notice that anything at all was wrong. Prior to this ordeal, she was working hard on a new cue—“reach for the stars”—We are all going to miss our little star dearly.
April 27, 2010 – June 9, 2015
Dharma was born in 2010 at the New York State Zoo in Watertown, NY. She was brought, with the rest of her litter of nine, to Wolf Park to be socialized and to become one of our ambassador wolves. She was the shy pup in her litter, but, as she grew older, Dharma blossomed into an outgoing, affectionate wolf that seemed at times to have an infinite capacity for making human friends. Known as “our little Diva”, she consistently influenced people to get exactly what she wanted. “Hello,” she would say, “would you like to share my personal space and scratch me here? Don’t stop.” Her infectious canine grin was totally endearing.
Although we expected many more years with Dharma, her life came to a sudden end on June 9th.
At some point between the evening of Monday, June 8, and the morning of Tuesday, June 9, Dharma, Kanti, Bicho and Fiona, for reasons unknown to us, were highly motivated to escape their respective enclosures, which we believed to be secure. (They remained within our perimeter fencing the entire time.) Animal care staff quickly worked together to retrieve the wolves. Kanti, Bicho and Fiona came promptly to us and let themselves be led to another enclosure, but Dharma was not immediately visible.
A search party found her standing in some bushes, with fight wounds that looked painful. Our regular veterinarian, Dr Julia Becker, was out of state but was contacted by phone and she made arrangements with Purdue Small Animal Clinic to have Dharma brought to them. A wonderful team, headed by ER DVM Paula Johnson, worked on Dharma all day and into the evening. Dr. Becker arrived home in the early evening and stayed with us at the vet school waiting room, talking to the Purdue vets and to us.
The news got steadily worse throughout the day. While none of the injuries were individually life threatening, cumulatively they were too much even for Dharma. We had been making plans for a convalescent process, but it became apparent to all of us that euthanasia was the only remaining kindness we could give our little diva. It was with heavy hearts and with many tears that we said goodbye. Dharma left us surrounded by friends and those that loved her dearly.
Even when they live into their mid or late teens, it feels like the lives of our canine friends are never long enough. Dharma was only five years old, and it feels as though we are missing out on many years we should have had with her. The pain of her loss will be with us for a long time.
Wolf Park would like to send a heartfelt thank you for trying to save our little girl, both to the doctors and staff at Purdue Small Animal Clinic and to Dr. Becker.
We are assessing our enclosures, which have held the wolves securely for years, to make them more secure and help prevent the occurrence of further events.
April 20, 1998 – April 22, 2015
Marion was peacefully euthanized on the evening of April 22nd, after what looked like an “ouchie walk” turned, over the course of a few days, into increasing loss of control and then paralysis in her hindquarters. Dr. Julia assured us she was not in pain. She enjoyed special treats on her last two days and visits from human friends. A necropsy showed that her chest cavity was riddled with tumors. Given her presenting symptoms she may have had a tumor also affecting her spinal nerves. It was plain that she had had all the good time we could give her.
Marion was born to Karin and Seneca in 1998 and was the last of her age-mates left alive. As a puppy she was outgoing, volatile, and mercurial, with a forceful personality who had to be involved in whatever was happening, and she kept these traits her entire life. As she grew up she eventually acquired the nickname “Marion the Barbarian” because she ruled most of her packmates with an iron paw. Her mate, Seneca, was not intimidated but he was extremely tolerant of her. Visitors used to ask how such a tiny wolf could dominate and intimidate wolves who were much larger. “She’s only little on the outside” was my stock answer.
Fortunately for us, Marion seemed to like most humans better than wolves (except Seneca). Monty was her favorite person in the whole world. This came in very handy given Marion’s mercurial mood shifts. Even for a wolf, Marion was fast. Her mood could change so quickly that the wolves themselves seemed to want as much advance notice as they could get of when a change was coming. Monty could handle Marion even when she was angry, and he often pushed her limits, winding her up and then rewarding her for calming back down. Learning to calm down was a skill we were grateful she could master. We could work on training her to remain calm, but in inevitably there were times when she cast calm to the winds and we had to deal with a highly aroused Marion in full Barbarian mode. With this in mind, Monty working with Marion’s arousal levels, revving her up and having her calm down from this state, was extremely useful.
Marion’s social interest in humans sometimes got us all, including Monty, into trouble with Seneca during the annual breeding season. During those 7 to 9 days when Seneca was attending and guarding Marion, he became aggressive towards anyone who took Marion’s attention off him. This put the staff in an awkward position of having to tactfully discourage Marion’s desire for interaction with us. Seneca used to approach us with her, looking on with disapproval as she greeted, twittered, and kissed. He might take us by the wrist and gradually increase pressure while giving us meaningful looks. Realizing that Seneca was down to one frayed nerve during those days, we opted to go in with the pack very little, usually just to deliver food and leave.
Marion and shovel and tong diplomacy: Marion went through a period when she guarded food against us – even though it was food we wanted to give her – and the rest of the wolves. It started with her meeting us at the gate and putting her front paws in the wheelbarrow as we pushed a carcass into the enclosure for the pack to feed on. She clearly decided the carcass was hers and threatened us. We dealt with this by bringing in several people carrying shovels to accompany the wheelbarrow. In the beginning we swung or twirled the shovels. We didn’t wave them at Marion or threaten her. We made a point of talking conversationally with the wolves while doing this. From past experience of having their enclosures shoveled the wolves know to stay out of the way of snow shovels and they generalized this to the garden shovels. The shovels made a barrier between Marion and the food she tried to claim and guard. It gave us a window of opportunity to train her to “ask nicely” for the carcass.
Like her mother, Karin, Marion was good at climbing trees. Once, to avoid Seneca’s amorous overtures, she went 12 feet up a willow tree and stood, looking down at her frustrated mate. Usually her tree climbing had to do with posing for Monty’s photography seminars. Monty used whipped cream to entice Marion onto photogenic branches. Tristan enjoyed whipped cream too, and he could also climb, but once, instead of climbing the tree, he reared up, and put his paws on the end of a springy pine branch. Marion was already mincing her way along the branch to the whipped cream, but Tristan’s “short cut” allowed him to lick the cream off the branch before Marion got there. With his treat down the hatch, Tristan dropped back to all fours, and the branch bounced up and down, giving Marion a ride and a balancing challenge. She rode the branch to a standstill, but was too late for that serving of whipped cream. Some of her most contented moments in life did involve whipped cream. She had learned to push the nozzle of the whipped cream can to the side and dispense the cream into her mouth. Monty let her cuddle in his lap while she “nursed” from the can of whipped cream. Her eyes were half shut and she was completely relaxed, looking utterly blissful, a state she rarely achieved while awake!
Socially Marion was an iron lady, and she was also a formidable huntress. Marion, Seneca and Miska were a dependable team with which to do wolf – bison demonstrations. They were likely to go in and give dramatic but non-damaging demonstrations of how wolves will “work” bison to see if they are vulnerable to predation. On one occasion a bison cow was many yards away from the herd, busily licking a salt and mineral block. Marion, Seneca, and Miska all tried to move the cow away from the block. Not that they objected to her being there but they wanted to assess her. Probably her refusal to budge stood out as unusual or possibly abnormal. Did this change in behavior mean vulnerability? The three fanned out behind the cow, but in vain they tried feints, bows, even invitations to the cow to chase them. She stood four square against the wolves’ efforts and continued licking the salt block, kicking in their general direction when they became too pesky. Finally Marion could stand it no more. She darted around in front of the cow and took a quick lick at the salt block herself, as if she just had to see what was so wonderful about its taste.
Marion’s relationship with Seneca’s brother, Miska, changed in interesting ways through the years. From her youth she looked for opportunities to dominate the male wolves, except Seneca, and she often used Seneca’s proximity to assert herself over Miska. This was especially effective during the breeding season when Seneca got grumpy with anyone who took Marion’s attention off him and off the business of mating! With Seneca not letting Marion get much more than a body length away from him, Marion could go around threatening other wolves and Seneca would act as an “enforcer,” not necessarily because he wanted to help Marion “run for higher office,” but because he was defending his prospects of mating with her and this defense included discouraging interruptions of any sort. But when Seneca eventually passed away, Marion and Miska would court and mate during the breeding season. For at least that slice of time they seemed to see each other, not through rose-colored glasses, but through a rosy haze of hormones that made each other’s company not just tolerable, but enjoyable. Outside of breeding season they usually tolerated each other and sometimes even played together nicely. But Miska did tend to tense up when Marion was excited. He knew from years of experience that she could go from happy excitement to aggression in about 0.0001 seconds. His response was heightened vigilance and some subtle warning signals to Marion that he was ready to defend himself if necessary.
Marion helped blow the mistaken notion that wolves can’t or won’t pay attention to human social signaling out of the water. Years ago Dr. Clive Wynne, Monique Udell, and Nicole Dorey (both of whom now have Ph.D.’s) came to revisit the question of whether wolves can be as adept as dogs at using human social signaling. Specifically, could and would wolves follow a human’s pointing finger to locate a treat? Marion made one error in her repeated trials of following points to get treats. Her one mistake was, I think, almost necessary to check what the “rules of engagement” were for this game. After the one mistake, she proceeded to rack up a perfect score. Not only that, she learned very quickly that after getting her treat she needed to return to her human handler and wait for the next trial to be set up. Marion stopped waiting for us to call her. She’d dart down, collect her treat for correctly following a point, then about face and return to her handler. The handler’s presence seemed little more than a formality to Marion. After her spectacular performance the researchers got to meet Marion, who was happy to hold court, but wanted to know if she could still go on earning treats!
After outliving both Seneca and Miska, Marion lived in an enclosure alone, but within sight of other wolves at East Lake. She was particularly interested in Dharma, probably because Dharma was willing to posture and fence fight with Marion. Marion kept very busy watching other wolves. As she got into her mid teens, her howls became less powerful — a lot of our wolves who live past 14 show some degree of paralysis in their vocal cords, gradually losing the power to vocalize. Marion’s howls became softer and more breathy, but her ability to growl did not diminish! She was active and tough right up to the end. In January 2014, she stared down the polar-vortex-driven storm that shut down west central Indiana for a while. She did not sleep in her warm, insulated hut; instead, she slept in the lee of one little flake of straw, while the wind howled around her. Later she was up and busily trotting around, looking for something to “snoopervise”. This past fall she served as the “pace wolf” for our Walk for Wolves fundraiser.
Marion – brilliant, tough, athletic – was one of the most memorable wolves we’ve raised. Given her personality, it seems strange to wish her to “rest in peace,” but maybe spirits like hers get to hunt shooting stars. Marion, we will never forget you!
Spring 2000 – September 12, 2014
in the full moonlight of autumn at the hour when I was born
you no longer go out like a flame at the sight of me
you are still warmer than the moonlight gleaming on you
even now you are unharmed even now perfect
as you have always been now when your light paws are running
on the breathless night on the bridge with one end I remember you
— from the poem “Vixen”, by W. S. Merwin
Miss Ember, our last remaining red fox, has left us, only a few weeks after the passing of her sister, Miss Devon, in July – both to the collection of complications and complaints to which we refer as “old age”. Old age brings with it a storm of issues, from hormonal imbalances to loss of organ function, and as at age fourteen the girls got less and less able to cope with living outdoors in the heat we brought them into the Observation Building to enjoy the benefits of civilization and air conditioning, as well as the services of personal medical attendants. For a while Ember responded well to our supported nursing and her blood values improved, giving us hope that we were staving off renal failure. Several times volunteer Karen stayed overnight with Ember in order to monitor her. When the temperature was not too hot, Ember got to go out on walks or spend a night out in the fox habitat. When she was indoors, she pottered around, looking out windows, choosing to sleep on a heating pad or the cool floor depending on what she wanted. People brought her treats, including mice, pimentos, and mice in pimentos. People sang to her. She had a lovely last couple of months, full of affection and high-value munchies.
Unfortunately Ember’s condition deteriorated significantly the second week of September. She was not able to pee normally and our efforts to express her bladder were unsuccessful. The only way to keep her bladder from getting dangerously distended was to drain it with a needle. At this point it was clear that while we could keep Ember alive a while longer, it was at the cost of a significant loss of comfort for her and with no hope of recovery for her in the future. Sadly, we decided it was time for the final mercy we can give our animal friends when their bodies fail them. Dr. Becker came out and gently put Ember into her last sleep on the evening of September 12. The next time I see the streak of fire from a shooting star, I’ll think of her, our own little streak of fire.
Ember came to live with us along with her (foster) sister, Devon, in spring of 2000, as a tiny ball of dark brown fluff with a little white poof on the end of her tail. Less than a quarter the size of wolf pups of that age, the girls presented problems Wolf Park hadn’t seen before; notably, they could almost fit inside the human baby bottles we used for the wolves. We purchased kitten feeding bottles at the pet store and spent an exciting couple of hours in the office carefully adjusting them. The UPS delivery driver was quite surprised to be handed a bottle when he entered and asked to test the flow rate. The fox kits (all parts included) were so tiny and quiet that for a while it was safe to have a television in the nursery, and the girls got to watch “Yellow Submarine” while balanced on the stomach of a snoozing puppy mom.
The girls never really knew what to do with their housemates, Basil and Corey (both males, both sterilized). Basil had grown up around humans and courted like the dandelion fluff he was, getting overexcited and overstimulated and having to run around the enclosure in circles to calm down. Corey had grown up around the stately older female fox Angel (now deceased), and at least had the vague idea that courtship in the fox world had little to do with sitting on the head of one’s intended. He and Ember, the two red phase foxes, paired up, inasmuch as foxes do. They slept within a few feet of each other while apparently studiously ignoring each other, coming together occasionally to groom. Corey sometimes brought Ember gifts of food, feeling perhaps that that was the sort of thing you do when you are a young male fox who knows a young female fox, but the relationship apparently ended there. (Of course, in late February, when interns were out watching the wolves during wolf breeding season, fox breeding season was going on as well – and we heard lots of yelling and screaming coming from the fox enclosure. The lights were not on in the enclosure at the time, so we never saw exactly what was happening. Neither Corey nor Ember ever told us what they were up to, and when daylight came they were politely, possibly affectionately, ignoring each other again….)
The girls were always fond of snacks, and would spend time “trading” tidbits. An intern would arrive with food, and each girl would take treats until she could no longer fit anything more in her tummy, at which point she would take just one more piece of food, run off with it, and cache it somewhere safe in the enclosure. Her sister would observe this behavior and, after caching her own piece, run to the other’s piece and dig it up, while, on the other end of the enclosure, her sister did the same thing with her piece. Of course she would have no room for this piece, either, and would cache it…then run to the other girl’s newly-cached treat, dig it up, cache it…they could trade treats in this way for a considerable amount of time.
Where Basil was a crazy ball of squeeing fluff, Corey was a somewhat awkward and shy gentleman, and Devon was a powerful personality, Ember was a graceful and quiet lady. She was never one for high-intensity social interactions with humans; with patience, interns could feel the end of her muzzle touch them as they took treats or, possibly, trade a chin scratch for a lick. She kept her distance from groups of visiting campers and photographers but allowed them to enjoy her presence, sometimes sneaking around behind them for a sniff or settling just in front of them to remind them that, right now, they were somewhat less interesting than her left leg. She was a great reminder that, no matter how carefully one raises a wild animal, they remain just that: wild. They have their own goals and desires, and it is ultimately their choice whether to associate with us or not. We are flattered that she chose to associate with us.
Good bye Ember. We will never forget you.
Devon, our beautiful silver-phase red fox, was put to sleep on the evening of July 22, 2014. For several years her blood tests had indicated that her kidneys were gradually losing efficiency. This is typical of aging animals (including humans). This spring, her blood work showed that the trend had accelerated, but for a few months Devon did not show any appreciable change in her behavior. She pottered around, pretty active for a geriatric fox lady, with days on which she was positively sprightly. She still liked her favorite foods and would eat some kidney-aiding medicated diet if it was mixed with food she liked better. We gave her subcutaneous fluids on an as-needed basis.
We also experimented with moving Devon and Ember into the air conditioned observation building on hot days. To our relief, the elderly ladies accepted this and sometimes competed to lie on a cold air register. Then in late July, Devon’s appetite flagged and she became restless. More blood work showed that her kidneys had lost more function. Since even vitamin B12 and Cerenia could not revive her appetite, and she would absolutely have to take oral medication to manage her condition any longer, we sadly decided the time had come to give her the last gift we can give our animal friends. A necropsy showed that fluid was accumulating around her heart, impairing its ability to pump. With her kidneys having already lost so much ability to function, this information about her heart indicated that we had given Devon all the help we could.
Devon had a long and eventful life. Brought to Wolf Park as a two-week-old pup along with her foster sister, Ember, in 2000, she was hand-raised by several loving puppy parents and introduced to the then-resident male red foxes, Basil (white-phase) and Corey (red-phase). The four formed a strange and winsome group — the girls ranged between amiable cohabitation and screaming arguments over frozen mice, and the (sterilized, but still at least somewhat interested) boys circled them like hormone-crazed fourteen-year-olds, uncertain what to do.
Romance was a bumpy ride for Devon. Corey was more interested in Ember, and Basil, who had fully imprinted on humans as a pup, was enthusiastic but impossible to aim, and had a tendency to forget he was supposed to be impressing his beloved and would suddenly scream and sit on her head. Breeding seasons came and went and all we heard from the fox enclosure was hysterical shrieking as the foxes chased each other hither and yon. Later in life Devon and Basil could occasionally be seen making more affectionate gestures toward each other, especially during the breeding season in February. On one notable occasion, Devon went for a walk while Basil yowled after her from the fox enclosure. When Devon returned, Basil pounced his beloved and sat on her in various phases until she could stand no more and retreated to a fox box.
Devon was an avid collector of frozen mice, and would gather them by the half-dozen in her mouth, tails sticking out every which way, because of her reluctance to move away from the mouse distribution area in order to cache them. She and Ember would “trade” mice — Devon would receive a mouse and cache it, then go to retrieve another, and while she was distracted, Ember would swoop in on the cache, steal the mouse, and cache it elsewhere. Devon, busy caching her second mouse, would see this, exclaim, and go steal her first mouse back while Ember busied herself unburying and recaching Devon’s second mouse. The “Wheel of Mice” would continue until finally the girls gave up and ate them.
All her life people remarked on Devon’s loveliness. Lord Byron’s poem might have been written for her:
SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.
Goodbye, Devon. We will not forget you.