I had already planned to write NEVER CRY WOLF and was starting to research wolves when I had the opportunity to participate in a Wolf Ecology Workshop in Wisconsin.
There I met a couple of “wolfmen” who resemble my hero, Donovan Wilde. They were dressed in skins wearing mocassin-type boots and head coverings made from a coyote or fox, which included the heads. They taught participants to trek through the Wisconsin snow-covered woods on snow shoes and look for signs of wolves. We learned to re-create wolf prints (I still have mine), and we examined collars and telemetry equipment and learned how they worked.
Here are some fun things I learned about wolves…
A pack consists of an alpha male, an alpha female, biders waiting for an alpha position and dispersers who will leave to try to start a pack of their own. There are also omega males or females, hanging at the back of the pack. Only the alpha male and female mate, but the whole pack takes care of the pups and yearlings.
Wolves can hear sounds at six miles, while humans can hear noises from a mile and a half at the most. If two wolves howl on the same note, one will change octaves and make it sound like three are howling.
What do wolves eat? In Wisconsin, 55% deer, 10% snowshoe hare, 15% beaver, 19% miscellaneous. Wolves hunt in pairs. A wolf can go for a week without eating, then can ingest one third of its body weight and bring it back to the pack. To share. The whole pack returns to the den after hunting to feed the pups. Pups are weaned and leave the den at 6-8 weeks.
DNR (Department of Natural Resources) state trappers trap and collar wolves to determine where they are traveling within a territory. Wisconsin is broken into blocks for volunteers to do howling surveys and tracking. Howling is a research tool, revealing how many wolves there are in a pack as well as their ages.
Wolf traps that are used to catch wolves to collar are set under soil. They consist of a chain and grappling hook and 3 grapples. “Stink bait” or urine from a different pack is used to draw them to the trap, which is checked twice per day. They are modified with metal ‘knobs’ so the trap doesn’t cause injury. The wolf’s paw is larger than its leg bone and therefore it can’t get its leg out of the trap.
A trapped wolf is tranquilized for an hour and a half. Blood samples are taken for genetic and disease testing. The trapper might pull a tooth and split it open to determine age, then collar and tag the animal’s ear. In Wisconsin, they use planes with telemetry to follow and see the wolves below.
A trapper can determine how many wolves are in a pack through their tracks. All wolves will walk in same line down the road. Their front feet are bigger than the back. One of the trappers teaching the workshop said he was able to distinguish nine wolves from one line of prints.
The wolf ecology weekend was a really special research event for me since I am a staunch animal advocate. I came away knowing more about how wolves operated in the wild and was able to use some of those details in NEVER CRY WOLF, and later in WOLF MOON. I hope you enjoy Donovan Wilde and his psychic connection to the black wolf that saved him when he was a child lost in the northern woods…
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