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2024 Pupdate #2

Having Red Wolf pups at the Museum is one of the most inspirational and exciting things to happen. It’s also one of the most stressful and daunting times. The first 30 days of a pup’s life are critical and fraught with many perils. Our role as human caregivers is to provide a quality environment, with plenty of food for the adult wolves to eat. Then, we let the wolves do the rest. The mantra of “less is more” when it comes to human presence around the Red Wolves is an important adage to remember and one that the USFWS Red Wolf Recovery Program asks of us.

Our 2024 litter of Red Wolf pups

Remembering that “less is more” helps to stay the course and let the parents — Oak and Adeyha — do what they need to do. Right now, Adeyha is to be spending his time watching the habitat and providing food for Oak. (He’ll have to do more in a few weeks, don’t worry.) Oak, on the other hand, spends her time nursing the pups, keeping them and the den clean, and leaving to eat food when she can.

Red wolf walking through hallowed out tree log

While the roles of the parents are innate, or instinctual, there is still a lot of learning that occurs when Red Wolves have pups for the first time. We have two first-time parents, as neither Oak nor Adeyha have done this before. Oak especially must learn how to position herself to tend to the pups.

To repeat again, the first 30 days of a pup’s life are critical and fraught with many perils. On April 21 Oak gave birth to seven pups, while the average Red Wolf litter size is four. Foot pad issues have been known to lead to the death of pups in the first week. We’ve made it through that period.

However, with seven bodies to keep track of it’s not uncommon for a pup to get pinned under mom or other pups. With an inability to free themselves, suffocation can occur.  Two of Oak’s seven pups have thus far succumbed to this end. Pups getting pinned and unable to move is a natural occurrence. Devastating, but normal, especially with first-time moms.

Why? Why does something like this happen? Mothers sit on pups all the time and usually the mother re-positions and the pups move around. We saw footage of this multiple times on the camera. We think it just was horrible luck and the nature of dealing with a lot of pups as a first-time mom.

Oak and her pups on the den camera.

On the plus side, and yes, there are good things to share. Oak is showing other good signs for a first-time mom. Oak leaves the den easily when we go in for pup checks, and she returns quickly when we depart. Returning to the den to care for her pups is great, and we know the pups are gaining weight, so she is producing great amounts of milk. Other good news about Oak is that she removed the second dead pup from the den herself. While hard to hear, mothers will remove and eat dead pups, and that’s what she did. You might say “eeewww,” but this is what happens.  Why this is important is that the den needs to stay clean and smell free. Moms lick up feces from their pups as well — this also keeps the den clean.

To be very clear, the first 30 days of a pup’s life are critical and filled with peril. We’re only halfway through. It’s important to remember that conservation gains come with ups and downs, but it’s all part of the greater conservation plan.