Lemmy, Elvis, Sting, Moby, PJ and KD were their names, the wolves of Wildwood! The rock stars who represented the potential ‘rewilding’ of the British Isles, since wolves were eradicated from our bonnie lands in 1680…..Meaning, these wolf stars are important ambassadors for their species!
……..So, following on from last time, why could these young wolves be frequently displaying dominance and submission towards each other, or even engaging in conflict!!??…..Well, wolves typically mature at 22 months old, at which age they should either become integrated members of their natal pack or they should disperse and form their own new packs, or even join another existing pack. In any case, they must establish their ranks within their pack’s social hierarchy (of which, two separate linear social hierarchies exist for females and males), and in the case of our six new wolfy buddies, they are at the age that they should be establishing these hierarchies.
Now, the reason one would expect to observe an increase in agonistic behaviour or indeed conflict with these new wolves is because they are without their wolf parents – so, their natural ‘alpha’ pack members do not already exist! As I explain in ‘Grey Wolf Communication’, the terms alpha, beta and omega are archaic, and when I say alphas, I merely mean the dominant pack members, i.e. the parents of the pack – so, in this case, the parents are missing – so, who is in charge? Well, that is for the six siblings to determine, hence there is the potential for increased aggression to occur between them.
Why aren’t the human keepers in charge? I hear you ask, simple, the human keepers do not live with the wolves 24/7, and ‘pack leaders’, ‘alphas’, the parents need to be a constant fixture to guide, teach and protect lower ranking pack members, i.e. the kids! Just as we see in our own societies, human parents are in charge (mostly) of their kids, they guide, teach and protect them, to get them ready for life as adults – and on the most part, the kids listen and do as they are told by mum and dad (I know, I know, you guys out there that are parents are now laughing at me, but, bear with me!). Now imagine popping a bunch of 5 year old human kids in a house together, to fend for themselves for a week – within minutes there would chaos as they try to establish a ‘leader’ – it’s exactly the same with our new wolves – it’s just 2 year old wolves tend to have bigger teeth than 5 year old humans! (Though, that’s not to say a 5 year old human bite does not hurt!)
Now, I had never met these wolves before and from experience wolves tend to be pretty darn cautious (‘fearful’ even) of humans, even the scent of a human from 2 miles away will make a wild wolf literally run for the hills (more on this later….). So, despite the director wanting to film me up-close with the wolves, chances were these guys were going to stay clear of me. And sure enough, they did at first, but being young wolves (which you can identify via the presence of guard hairs on the back of their necks) and very inquisitive to these new strangers lurking about their enclosure, they eventually started to come over, close enough for filming! And as I said in Part 1, as the lower ranking pack members came closer, the higher ranks would give them a bit of a ‘telling off’ using visual and auditory cues – however, on the most part the wolves were pretty relaxed, they were more like hippies!! Not what was expected, but at the same time, perfect…….as this showed that despite the preconceptions that some people have of wolves (evil, vicious, spoiling for a fight), this showed that wolves are anything but! The wolves (despite their young ages) settled their ‘differences’ via subtle, simple behaviours, namely facial expressions used to convey their affective states – just as us humans do when having a conversation with someone. These facial expressions are used to avoid conflict, not to elicit it!! They can seem scary, but, they have a functional, social purpose. The other interesting thing about these wolves is that they appeared to have already established some ranks within their social hierarchies, with some clear dominant members (especially the ‘alpha’ female, KD), and they were just 24 months old – again, wolves demonstrating just how fast they can easily adapt and organise themselves – utterly amazing!
It was an absolute pleasure filming with these wolves, and I would not hesitate to do it again. Wolves are truly amazing animals, and in part mirror ourselves – it’s no wonder the domestic dog became ‘mans’ best friend, when the blueprints for such similar social behaviour already existed in the dogs ancestor, the wolf.
And, that’s a wrap!