Friday, March 18, 2011

Pack Intact

Just prior to red wolf whelping/denning season last April (2010), biologists with the Red Wolf Recovery Program were alarmed at the sudden disappearance of female red wolf 1470F, the breeding female of the Northern Pack. 1470F was then just short of four years old, and had recently formed a new pair bond in her natal territory with male red wolf 1628M. Program biologists were hopeful she would have her first litter that year.

During whelping season, biologists conduct radio telemetry flights three times a week in an effort to pinpoint when and where each breeding female is denning. When a female restricts her movements to a particular place it is assumed that she is denning. Biologists then use ground radio telemetry to track to her and the den. Just as it appeared that 1470F was beginning to restrict her movements and establish a den, her radio telemetry signal was lost. Had something bad happened to her? Or was it simply a malfunctioning radio telemetry collar. We had hoped for the latter.

The only way to know for sure what had happened to 1047F was to set traps in an effort to capture her. Trapping would have to wait, though. If she was still around, and if she had a litter of pups, it would be too risky to capture her while she was raising a litter. Attempts to capture her would have to wait until the pups, if there were any, were large enough to be trapped and fitted with a radio telemetry collar.

Then, in June, a graduate student conducting research on red wolves was working in the Northern Pack’s territory when he happened to see three wolf puppies. As luck would have it, we were able to capture one of the puppies. A blood sample was taken, and genetics results confirmed the pup to be the offspring of 1470F and 1628M. This was great news! We now knew that 1470F had indeed given birth to her first litter. But we still weren’t sure of her presence. The pup, of course, was released right away to rejoin his pack.

In January (2011), we decided the pups would finally be big enough to be safely captured and fitted with a radio telemetry collar. Traps were set, and three pups were quickly captured, including the pup we had captured the previous June; they were in perfect health. Soon after, 1628M, the breeding male, was captured along with a fourth pup. But there was still no sign of mom. Finally, about a week later, our lucky day arrived. A strong, healthy 1470F was caught in our trap. The radio telemetry collar she was wearing had malfunctioned. We replaced it with a new one, and released the entire family back into their territory. -- Ryan

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