By MATTHEW LANE
KINGSPORT - For the second time this summer, Bays Mountain Park has lost a member of its family.
Park officials announced on Saturday one of its oldest grey wolves - Ahote - had to be euthanized on Friday.
“We don’t know what happened,” said Naturalist Rhonda Goins. “He suffered a spinal cord injury from a broken back. He was in good shape, there were no bite marks or fur missing and he wasn’t beat up. He might have just fell, running with the wolves.”
Goins said Ahote suffered the injury during the night Wednesday and park staff found him Thursday morning with the broken back and paralyzed legs. Staff monitored him for a day, consulted with a local doctor who recommended the wolf be euthanized.
“I held him in my lap and he went to sleep,” Goins said.
Ahote arrived at Bays Mountain Park in June 2002, along with Wahya and Kiva from Bear Country U.S.A. of South Dakota. Ahote is Cherokee meaning “singer of sacred songs.”
As a pup, Ahote was nicknamed the “lap wolf’ because he enjoyed crawling into the laps of staff and volunteers, who helped socialize him and his siblings, to be scratched and rubbed and sometimes take a nap, said Rob Cole, park operations manager.
“Sporting a beautiful black coat, Ahote grew to be a large 115-pound wolf who always possessed a curious nature and was entertained by visitors, volunteers and staff alike,” Cole said. “As a staff we are devastated by the passing of Ahote. He was a truly beautiful wolf who brought a lot of joy to our staff, volunteers and the many visitors who came to observe he and his pack mates. He will be sorely missed.”
Ahote is the second wolf Bays Mountain Park has lost this summer. In July, Kiva died of natural causes and had been diagnosed with myelopathy (spinal nerve degeneration). Wahya has also been diagnosed with myelopathy and is being medicated three times a day in an effort to slow down or possibly stabilize the advancement of the condition.
Goins said Ahote did not have the spinal condition.
“There was no way to make him better. He was in pain and you have to do what’s best for them,” Goins said. “He was my first wolf, my baby. It was just so hard to do.”
Bays Mountain Park will not be doing a wolf program this weekend in light of Ahote’s death. As with Kiva, Ahote will be buried during a private ceremony at a hidden graveyard on the mountain.
“We’ll miss him so much. He’s our big old fat baby. But he’s not in pain any more,” Goins said.
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 in 2007. The last two groups of wolves added to the park were from Bear Country USA of South Dakota.
In captivity, wolves live 12 to 14 years on average, and in order to maintain the dynamics of the pack, Bays Mountain Park needs to add wolves every five to six years. All four of the current wolves are grey (a.k.a. timber) wolves, with one being 10 years old and the other three being 6 years old. The two females in the pack are sisters.
The park attempted to purchase four additional wolf pups earlier this year from Bear Country. However, due to an unsuccessful breeding season, no wolf pups were born this season. Park officials have said they will attempt to purchase additional wolf pups next year.