They don’t have names yet, so for now just call them the puppy pack.
These 5-week-old wolves are the latest addition to the Oatland Island Wildlife Center.
The wolves — three brothers and one sister — were an unexpected birth at a wolf rescue center in Indiana. The Wolf Creek Habitat near Cinicinnati also welcomed two large planned litters of nine and 11 pups this spring, creating a wolf surplus there.
Meanwhile, Oatland’s would-be mother, a 3-year-old wolf named Luna, didn’t get pregnant by either of her geriatric packmates, 15-year-old brothers Teddy and Odin. It was clearly time for some new blood.
When Wolf Creek offered the gray wolf puppies for free, Oatland director Heather Merbs drove to Indiana to pick them up. Returning with the then 2-week-old fur balls, Merbs and her husband had to stop frequently to feed them, warming up the wolf formula in convenience store microwaves along the route and sneaking the pups into their hotel room one night.
No tell-tale howls gave her away, she said.
Three of the pups now spend their days at Oatland, playing rough and tumble with one another during playdates until one gives the “Uncle!” yelp. They sleep and eat but aren’t yet on public display. Each goes home with a staffer at night. The fourth stays full time at the home of staffer Carol Suttle, whose husband, Ron, keeps him entertained while she works.
At first the pups needed a person around for frequent bottle feedings, but even now that they’re eating raw meat — a zoo blend called Nebraska canine — they still benefit from the one-on-one human attention, said Oatland veterinarian Lesley Mailler.
“We pull them from the mom at 10 days and hand raise them so they get habituated to us,” Mailler said, pausing as one pup chewed her shoe.
Oatland’s original pack wasn’t habituated to people. When several escaped in the 1980s, it took two weeks to recapture them.
“We couldn’t treat them when they got sick without having to dart them, which could take a day or two because they’d go in their dens,” Mailler said. “Now when one gets sick we just call it up and within minutes we’ve drawn blood; we don’t have to sedate them.”
In about a month the pups will be back together full time, having gotten sufficient human imprint. The three black pups will turn silver as they mature. The brown one will likely turn an even lighter shade than his siblings, Mailler said. In about six months they’ll join Oatland’s three adult wolves at the Wolf Wilderness exhibit.
Mailler is hopeful they’ll all get along, but if they don’t, the keepers can separate the exhibit into two areas. She expects the young adult female already in the exhibit, Luna, to adapt well.
“It’ll be good for Luna because she’s young and has a ton of energy compared to those old boys,” she said. “She’ll enjoy having playmates that are younger.”
Donate to the wolf pups
Oatland Island Wildlife Center is looking for the following items to help care for its new wolf pups: paper towels, Clorox whites, laundry detergent, plus cash or gift cards. The center is located at 711 Sandtown Road, Savannah. To keep up with the pups’ progress, follow Oatland Island’s twitter (@oatlandisland) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/OatlandIsland/) feeds and its new wolf blog (https://oatlandisland.wordpress.com/) for updates, including an upcoming pup naming contest.
View the pups
What: Visitors can see the wolf pups at special “Animal Encounters”
When: 1:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays
Where: The Oatland Island Wildlife Center, 711 Sandtown Road in Savannah.
Info: Call 912-395-1212 for information. The pups will rotate through the program one at a time. The program costs an additional $2 on top of the usual admission fee with the money going toward upkeep of the wolves.