Thanks to the generous support of our visitors through our adoptions programme, we were able to save the life of one of our wolves.
Our wolves are now two years old and fast approaching maturity. This means that over the last few months they’ve been working out their internal hierarchy. With such a rich and complex social life, a clear hierarchy is essential for the stability of the pack. However, it doesn’t just happen. It takes lots of often intense ‘negotiations.’
Visitors lucky enough to witness the process will often see members of the pack rearing up against each other with lots of snarling and snapping. It all looks very intense and violent but in reality, much of it is performative – almost ritualistic – and very rarely progresses to actual physical fighting. A play for dominance is made, the recipient responds, perhaps resists, then one will submit. Even the most intense and strongly contested encounters often only last for a few seconds, then calm returns until the next encounter.
However, injuries are not unheard of and in the case of Moby, one such encounter had potentially life-ending consequences.
During February, the keepers had noticed Sting becoming increasingly assertive towards other members of the pack. Many of his displays of dominance were directed towards Moby.
One day in late February, the keepers called the pack to one of the socialisation areas for a regular training session but Moby was nowhere to be seen.
They immediately mounted a search of the enclosure and quickly established that he was hiding in the undergrowth near a favoured sunny spot. But there was no sunshine to enjoy. Moby was obviously in trouble.
A short time later he moved away from the cover and it was clear that he had sustained an injury to his rear left leg which was unable to bare weight.
After consulting the vet, the team made efforts to ensure he received pain-relieving medication. With any captive wild animal this can be a tricky task. With a pack of wolves, it’s a serious challenge.
Nevertheless, they were able to administer medication in his feed, but it had no effect. There was only one thing to do – we had to get ‘hands-on.’
Early next morning the team were able to separate Moby from the rest of the pack. He was scared and in obvious pain but with the help of Senior Keeper, Kerry, the vet JJ Van Dijk from Coombefield Veterinary Hospital, was able to dart Moby with a sedative, with minimal stress.
It was then that we discovered that Moby had suffered a severe fracture.
Even for a domestic dog, this was serious. Something that would take complicated surgery and weeks of hands-on aftercare. But for Moby, a captive wild wolf, this was essentially a life-ending injury.
Knowing that there was no realistic hope of providing Moby with the aftercare this kind of operation would demand we searched for proven alternative options. There were none to be found.
Specialist orthopaedic vet, Joe Fox, of St. David’s Veterinary Group talked us through what we already knew. It wasn’t looking good. Our options were rapidly disappearing as Moby lay asleep on the floor of the wolf house. We were very close to making the entirely humane decision to not revive him.
But Joe gave us some hope. There was a way, albeit unproven and risky, to give Moby a second chance.
This was the plan: Conduct the essential surgery, bolting metal plates to Moby’s broken limb; close the wound with glue so that there is no external stitching or dressing for him to interfere with; give him enough pain relief to take the edge off and enough antibiotics to stave off any potential infection.
The rest would be up to him.
All our research pointed to the fact that this had never been tried before. A domestic dog would be expected to rest quietly for weeks after an operation like this, and we were planning to let Moby fend for himself in the midst of a wolf pack with a contested hierarchy.
Even with first class surgery, expert veterinary and keeper care, everything depended on Moby’s ability to fend for himself.
We decided to give him the chance.
After three tense hours of surgery, Moby was allowed to recover in the wolf house. Once he was awake he began to move around almost immediately, though he was still unable to put weight on his leg.
Whilst he was in the house, the keepers were able to administer pain relief and antibiotics. They also fed the rest of the pack just outside so that they could see their brother up close without interfering.
Remarkably, the next day Moby was walking almost as normal with only the slightest indication of discomfort, already showing signs of impatience.
The following day, after barely two days, Moby was insisting that he be let into the main enclosure to join the rest of the pack. We crossed our fingers and obliged.
With no sign of a limp, Moby ran into the main enclosure and the rest of the pack immediately converged on him. We stood by hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. Would Moby be ‘punished’ for his absence? Would Sting see an opportunity, a sign of weakness and try to take advantage?
His brothers and sisters closed in around him, more curious than challenging, but still it could have gone either way. This wasn’t a ‘welcome home’ party.
Moby showed no signs of fear or anxiety. They sniffed at his strangely bald leg, nudged and nipped him in the usual fashion. Moby stood his ground.
For a fleeting moment the pressure built, curiosity turned to invasive investigation, too close for comfort. Moby immediately snarled and snapped – a clear indication that boundaries had been set.
After a tense stand-off, the rest of the pack acquiesced.
Their brother had returned and, despite a funny-looking leg and some odd smells, all was well.
This was a huge relief. Moby still had a hill to climb but he had navigated this fist important exchange admirably. He had proven he was no push-over and still very capable of being a valued member of the pack.
Since that first nail-biting encounter, Moby has gone from strength to strength. He participates fully in the complex rough and tumble of life in the pack, giving as good as he gets.
In addition to being hugely relived that Moby’s close encounter with death is now well and truly behind him, we’re also extremely grateful that, thanks to the generous support received via our adoptions programme, we were able to give him the chance he needed.
Adoptions provide vital funds needed in the care of our animals. Thankfully, most of the time these funds go towards routine vet care, food and enrichment. However, as Moby’s story illustrates, adopting our animals can be the greatest gift of all.
Find out more about our adoptions programme.