About a year ago, the folks at The BarkPost went to the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY to say hi to some wolf pups and learn some awesome stuff about wolves, dogs, and how they collide. At the WCC they host packs of two endangered species of wolf, the Mexican grey wolf and the red wolf, and currently have three Ambassador wolves (Atka, Alawa, and Zephyr) who are used to interacting with people and participate in educating the public about their endangered brethren. The WCC also recently welcomed a new wolf pup, Nikai, who is a burgeoning internet sensation and a future Ambassador wolf, but for now she’s just insanely adorable.
1. Dogs and wolves split from a common ancestor around 34,000 years ago.
But different breeds of dogs are more closely genetically related to each other, and not their wolf counterpart. What this means is that Huskies have more in common, genetically speaking, with Boxers than with grey wolves, even though they may look more similar to wolves and have lived in the same geographic area. This means that dogs and wolves are farther removed from each other than humans have historically presumed.
2. Wolves howl for countless reasons.
Wolves howl by themselves to get the attention of their pack, or the pack of wolves will howl to get the attention of another pack (usually to tell them to stay off of their turf!) Wolves may also just start howling because another wolf has begun—it’s contagious.
3. In order to socialize them early, it helps for Ambassador wolves to have puppy playmates.
Not to mention it’s just super cute.
4. When the WCC raises pups without their mothers, they sometimes enlist dogs be parental figures, to show the wolf pups how to properly interact with the hoomans.
Atka had Eno, a German Shepherd, who passed away in 2005. Now Nikai has Kai, another German Shepherd, who serves as his nanny and guide. Kai goes everywhere with Nikai, including on errands in the Wolf Conservation Center minivan!
5. To ease red wolves back into autonomous packs, conservations like the WCC will insert newborns into litters of red wolves in the wild.
That way, there is no question as to whether they belong to the pack. Trying to introduce wolves when they’re older is not an easy task, but when they’re babies they blend seamlessly into a new litter of wolf pups. Like wolf adoption!!
6. Wolves are crepuscular (!!), meaning they’re most active at dusk and dawn.
Check out wolf pup Nikai digging, playing, and running in the early morning!
7. And yes, they get the hiccups too.
But when they get them, it goes viral. Such is life.
8. Wolves have larger skulls, because they have bigger brains. Adult dogs are about as intelligent as wolf cubs.
That’s why you can’t train a wolf. When wolves are comfortable with people, they might comply with your commands (because they know what you’re asking, they’re wicked smart), or they just might not care enough.
9. Wolves are quite skinny, and have long, gangly legs, so they run much faster than dogs.
Flo-Jo couldn’t even keep up with one of these pups.
10. When they’re two or three years old, wolves typically disperse from their natal pack.
For the Ambassador wolves at the WCC, this was tricky, because after a few years living with the older Ambassador pack (Apache, Kaila, and Lukas, who have all since passed), Atka began to challenge Apache, the alpha, for leadership of the pack. They moved Atka to a new enclosure, and all was well with the wolves.
11. Both wolves and dogs have 42 teeth, but…
Wolves have longer canines, which means that they can make quicker work of their prey. But they don’t always! Check out how gently WCC’s Ambassador Wolf, Atka, eats the most delicate food in the world, an egg:
12. Though wolves and wolf hybrids may look like dogs, they aren’t pets.
These are wild animals, and you cannot control them. Even the experts at the WCC have to be resigned to the fact that no matter how much they socialize a wolf cub for the Ambassador pack, they cannot predict which cubs will grow into adult wolves that are comfortable and compliant around people. Wolves like Atka, who are comfortable in public, are not the norm, and bringing a wolf or wolf hybrid into your home is not advisable.
13. But…they both love their Barkboxes. (Although for wolves they’re called HowlBoxes.)
A HUGE thank you to the Wolf Conservation Center for letting us visit and pick their brains! They are incredible advocates for these amazing animals!