Rhonda Goins, Naturalist at Bays Mountian Park, plays with a wolf pup in this 2007 file photo.
KINGSPORT — As a result of an unsuccessful breeding season, Bays Mountain Park will not be receiving new wolf pups this summer as previously expected.
Park officials received the official notice earlier this week from Bear Country USA of South Dakota that no wolf pups were born this spring.
Bays Mountain had requested four tan pups, with no more than two females, from Bear Country USA and was to eventually add the newborns to its existing pack of six gray wolves. Park officials had planned to go pick up the wolves in May.
But two weeks ago, park officials were notified by Bear Country officials about the possibility of no wolf pups being born this season.
“They told us then the wolves had not gone into their dens to give birth, which was cause for alarm,” said Rob Cole, operations manager at the park.
Rhonda Goins, a naturalist at Bays Mountain and the one who would have picked up the new pups, said she was disappointed with the news.
“I talked with the owner (of Bear Country) and they really don’t know why. There was a snowstorm in March and the owner thinks that might have been the reason,” Goins said.
“But they like us and respect us and we’ll be at the top of the list next year. Hopefully, I’ll be making my trip next May.”
Bays Mountain Park’s wolf program began in 1992 with the arrival of three 6-month-old pups. Additional wolves were added in 1995, 2004 and, most recently, 2007. The last two groups of wolves added to the park were from Bear Country USA.
Park Manager Ken Childress said Bays Mountain will try again next year to obtain new pups.
“A lot of hard work and planning has gone into this process,” Childress said. “While we can’t control the breeding outcome, we can still continue our work to ensure we are ready for their hopeful arrival next summer.”
As in previous years, Bays Mountain Park had lined up about 60 volunteers to serve as mothers for the pups for the first two to three months. The volunteers stay with the wolves in their habitat 24 hours a day to socialize the animals to humans.
“A great deal of time and effort is placed into getting things ready, including habitat maintenance and preparation, fundraising, plus the recruitment and training of qualified and committed volunteers who will dedicate many, many hours to this effort,” Childress said, noting a number of individuals and businesses donated money to cover the cost of obtaining the wolves.
“We wish to once again thank them for their amazing support and let them know that while the pups’ arrival has been delayed, we will continue our efforts with great anticipation of better results next summer.”
Wolves in captivity live 12 to 14 years on average. To maintain the dynamics of the pack, Bays Mountain Park needs to add wolves every five to six years. All of the current wolves are gray (aka, timber) wolves, with half the pack 10 years old and the other half 6 years old. The two females in the pack are sisters.
Two of the park’s older wolves are suffering from spinal nerve degeneration and being medicated three times a day. One of those wolves may be seen struggling with his hind legs.
“We do take very good care of our animals and as soon as we spotted this, we contacted the vet,” Goins said, explaining the medicine helps stop or slow the spinal nerve degeneration. “That’s why (the wolf) seems pitiful sometimes. He’s not in pain, but sometimes he can’t control his back legs.”
Since the habitat’s first three gray wolves were introduced to Bays Mountain Park in 1992, wolves have become an integral part of the park’s educational efforts for schools throughout the region. Thousands of students attend wolf programs each year.