Later this spring, Bays Mountain Park is planning to add four newborn wolves to its existing pack of six grey wolves. Naturalist Rhonda Goins, who plans to travel to Bear Country USA in South Dakota around the middle of May to pick up the pups, says she couldn’t be more excited.
"I’ve asked for four wolves, tan ones this time and no more than two females," Goins said. "Girls are just typical girls. They still act like wolves, so the girls are very protective of their babies. When they go into heat, the girls are really picky and the only ones that fight and do damage. The boys fight, growl and are mostly vocal, but the girls really do the damage."
Bays Mountain Park’s wolf program first began in 1992 with the arrival of three 6-month-old pups. Additional wolves were added in 1995, 2004 and most recently in 2007. Three years ago, a number of wolves escaped from the park habitat; one was never found and another eventually died.
All of the current wolves are grey (AKA timber) wolves, with half of the pack being 10 years old and the other half being 6 years old. Only two are females — and sisters at that.
In captivity, wolves live 12 to 14 years on average. To keep up the dynamics of the pack, Bays Mountain Park needs to add wolves every five to six years.
Two of the older wolves currently at the park are suffering from spinal nerve damage and are being medicated three times a day, which helps, but will not repair the damage, Goins said.
"We’ll have three generations in the pack. The elderly wolves are 10 years old, some are middle age and in their prime and we need babies. We need the older ones to introduce and teach the babies," Goins said.
Mating season ended about three weeks ago, which puts the pups being born in late April. The park will have to seek permission from the state of Tennessee to obtain the four wolves. When approved, Goins will travel to South Dakota to bring the pups to their new home and unveil them to the public, likely around Memorial Day.
Bear County USA is where the park has obtained all of its wolves, except the first pack. Like in previous years, volunteers will have to serve as the mothers for the pups for the first three months of their lives. Goins said she had to cut off the number of volunteers at about 60.
"We live with the babies ... to socialize them. We have to stay with the wolves 24 hours a day, seven days a week for three months and never leave them alone, just like a baby," Goins said. "We’re their momma if they get scared. If you just put them in there as babies, you can’t do that.
"The wolves love babies and they accept them, but the wolves have not been socialized to humans. They would hide, their stress level would go up every time they saw a human and they would never feel comfortable. We get them acclimated to humans. They know they’re wolves, they act like wolves but they’re not afraid of us."
Each wolf costs $500, and Bays Mountain Park has raised $1,500 to date. The park is holding a fundraiser at Applebee’s, and anyone who wants to buy a ticket for the event can email Goins at email@example.com for more information. Any donations above the goal will go towards travel expenses to South Dakota.
A list of approved, Native American names has been created and will be revealed when the wolves arrive at Bays Mountain Park.
"I’m so excited. This is my third time (with the wolves)," Goins said. "I still work at the park, but most of my summer is going to be spent volunteering. I just love to do it."