KEEPERS at Longleat Safari Park are celebrating the arrival of seven tiny wolf pups. The bumper litter of European wolves, which were born last month, are being carefully looked after by mum Eliska and dad Jango.
The protective parents periodically pick the cubs up and move them between three separate underground dens in their woodland enclosure. The pups weighed less than half a kilogramme when born. They can eat small amounts of meat from 15 days old but will not be fully weaned until eight to 10 weeks of age.
“Both Eliska and Jango are extremely attentive parents, which is a really good sign,” says Longleat’s team manager for carnivores, Amy Waller. “As the pups spend their first few weeks underground it makes it very difficult to work out exactly how many there are. Initially we thought there were only five, so to discover there’s actually seven of them was a wonderful bonus.
“The pups’ older siblings have also been getting involved with transporting them from den to den but have still not entirely got the hang of holding them the right way up so mum and dad do have to occasionally intervene.”
Wolves live in a highly complex social structure and each knows its place in the pack hierarchy. In the wild the pack depends on this close cooperation for survival, both in hunting and in raising offspring.
Wild wolves were eradicated from most of Western Europe in the 19th century and they have been extinct throughout the UK for more than 250 years.
Following a number of reintroduction programmes the wild wolf population in Europe is now thought to be around 12,000 in over 28 countries. There are established packs in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Portugal, Spain and Italy with numbers also on the rise in parts of France and Germany. In 2011 wolves were also reported in Belgium and the Netherlands.
This is the second litter born at Longleat Safari Park in the last year and boosts the pack size to 14.
Pictured: Mother wolf Eliska with one of the cubs, and parents and cubs at Longleat.