On May 3rd, Wingham Wildlife Park welcomed their first ever European Wolf pups. Wolves have been part of Wingham Wildlife Park since 2013, when Dakota (the mother of this litter of pups) and her sister Arya arrived at the UK from Parc Animalier de Sainte Croix in France, to be joined later in 2015 by male, Raksha, from Bern Zoo in Switzerland.
The new litter of four pups is a first for Dakota. However, having grown up in a fairly large pack in Sainte Croix, she is used to the mechanics of what should be done and how best to keep the litter healthy and safe, as Tony Binskin, the managing director of WWP explained: “We are really pleased with how she is doing with the pups. When animals have their first ever babies it can always be a bit of a worrying time. Do they know how to socialize them? Will they know how to make their own den? Will they know to use their artificial den if they don’t? There are so many variables which can potentially go wrong!”
Jackie Binskin, Tony’s wife finished by saying, “She really is a great mum though! So far, she has done nothing wrong, and as for how the pups are faring with here… The proof’s in the pudding – they look great.”
On the morning of May 13, the den, which Dakota had dug herself using a fallen over tree and its root system as a starting point and natural barrier, was inspected from a discrete distance by management staff at Wingham Wildlife Park.
The result of this inspection was a huge relief and surprise for the staff, as Tony explained; “Today was the clearest we have seen the pups so far. Before she had spent most of her time laying down with the pups huddle under her. In that position, we always only saw 3 but had our suspicions that there might be a 4th – after seeing the odd tail or foot hanging out which didn’t quite look right! Today however we saw all 4, clear as day.”
Markus Wilder, the parks curator interjected with; “…And to top it all off they all have their eyes open already and are moving around really well. When Dakota first made her den, it was quite shallow, but we can see now why she has been excavating it more – making it deeper and steeper. Whilst she is doing really well, it’s obviously also a bit of a learning curve for her!”
According to the Species360 ZIMS (Zoological Information Management System) database, the pups born at Wingham Wildlife Park are 1 litter of only 5 born for the European Wolf (Canis lupus lupus) in the past 12 months world wide (however, there may be some smaller institutions who do not use this standardized animal information record keeping system). The only other UK based institution using this system that has had European Wolves born in the past 12 months is the Highland Wildlife Park.
The European Wolf is a subspecies of the Grey Wolf, which used to be the world’s most widely distributed mammal. However, while it used to be found throughout most of Europe, this particular subspecies is now already extinct in the UK, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland.
Tony finished by explaining why breeding Wolves at WWP is so important for the collection, “When we first built the European Wolf enclosure, it was designed to be big and laid out in a natural manner. It features a nice big pond, which they actually go in to during the hotter months, as well as plenty of British bushes and trees. We had always designed it with the intention of building up a nice sized pack, which these pups are going to let us do. A lot of zoos had stopped breeding this species for some years, however as the European population starts to get older, this genetically diverse pups are going to be a terrific addition in to the European gene pool at some point in the future. In the meantime, we thoroughly look forward to keeping them here.”
The baby Wolves at the park are not yet on display, as mum is keeping them underground. However, with their eyes being open, and considering how they are moving around, it doesn’t look like it will be much longer before they can be seen bounding around their own little woodland in the Kent countryside at the Park.