National Wolf Awareness Day is from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday, October 15, and Big Bear’s Zoo is well suited to celebrate since it’s home to three separate gray wolf packs—one of the largest populations in captivity in the country.
Join the zoo, one of only two alpine zoos in the country, for fun activities while keepers dispel myths about the so-called “Big Bad Wolf.” The zoo really has three distinct packs, making it one of the best places to observe wolf behavior around. Nine wolf pups born spring 2009 and their elders formed a social hierarchy that evolved into three packs and not all play well with the others. Even as the zoo prepares to move it has had to shuffle enclosures to accommodate the packs.
Keeper Christy McGiveron bottlefed and hand-raised four of the pups while former curator Debbie Richardson raised the other five, human interaction that keeps them from being released in the wild. Still the wolves do what wolves do, establishing a pecking order.
Logan and Noele, the two highest ranking females out of the nine-pup liter, have been separated from the others and are in a pen near the education center because they go after lower-rank siblings. Interestingly they were the runts of the liter, but that just made them grow up tough.
The main pack of seven wolves has formed a hierarchy with larger Blair top dog as alpha male. At the other end of the spectrum there’s Bayou, the smallest and lowest ranking female and it’s easy to pick her out of the pack, not by her dark black with red coloring but her actions.
Then there’s Truck, a low ranking male that usually shies away to the back of the enclosure. Sadly one of the wolves, Legend, died of cancer last year.
Navarre, the pups’ father, lives in yet another enclosure, the head of his own pack. He’s joined by Nova, sister of Wakiza, the wolves’ mother who passed from throat cancer.
All wolves are gray wolves, with arctic and timber subspecies—the zoo’s population falls into the latter category. As intense as the 44 sharp teeth are, the eyes are piercing in their own right…a fierce olive-green that’s deep and mysterious. Their bone-chilling howls during Flashlight Safaris are intense but they don’t howl just at night. Even during daytime they sometimes let loose with howls, especially if the coyotes are making noise.
In the wild, a wolf pack goes after 400 lb. elk. Since there aren’t any in Big Bear, zoo wolves have to settle for bear chow, steaks, pork and whole chicken. About 30-80 pounds a day worth for the three packs, depending on the time of year. In the wild, these top tier predators only live about five to seven years—estimated life-span in Yellowstone is just 3.4—but in captivity age expectancy doubles.
The zoo is open daily from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is $12, $9 ages 3-10/60 and over, under three free.
Big Bear Alpine Zoo is at 43285 Goldmine Dr. across from Bear Mountain. Call (909) 584-1299.