Highland Wildlife Park in Scotland recently announced the birth of five wolf pups; the first European wolves born in Scotland since the species was extirpated, or locally extinct, in the late 1700s.
In an interview with Decoded Science, the park’s Animal Collection Manager, Douglas Richardson, talked about what was needed for the wolves to successfully raise this historic litter.
New Enclosure Encourages Wolves to Reproduce
Ironically the new enclosure is not larger than the old one; instead it is more wooded and complex, providing more privacy and environmental enrichment for the wolves.
Restricting visitor and vehicle access around the enclosure also allowed the wolves to escape from human noise and activity, both of which have been shown to decrease resting time in wolves in captivity, an indication of stress.
Adding further complexity to the wolf enclosure, there are three covered structures in the exhibit area and three more off-exhibit, for the wolves to use as den sites. Wolves in the wild commonly create multiple dens, and pups are moved from den to den. Having so many choices helps the wolves settle in, and the pair have now begun digging their own dens, a further indication that the adults are settling into their new home.
Chronic Stress and Wolf Populations
In the early 1990s, Carlstead and Shepherdson reported that chronic stress may compromise reproduction, and that environmental enrichment helps counter that stress. Anecdotal evidence from many captive wildlife facilities has since supported this research. The combination of a reduction in human impact and an increase in environmental complexity likely contributed to the success of the Highland Wildlife Park pack.