The wolf exhibit first opened to public in August 2002 with three wolves from the Wildlife Science Center. These three wolves were named Rutger, Saleen, & Caleb. These wolves lived to be about 14 years old before they succumbed to old age. In the wild, wolves typically live between 6 and 8 years.
On October 2, 2014, the Wolf Exhibit received its second pack from the Wildlife Science Center in Stacy, Minnesota, consisting of 2 brothers and 2 sisters who were 11 years old. Although these wolves were born in captivity they were raised by parents who were originally wild. Their father had been taken into captivity because he was a “problem wolf”, preying on livestock, in the areas surrounding Yellowstone National Park. Their mother had been caught in a leg trap, needed an amputation and could not be returned to the wild. Therefore, the wolves at Menominee Park learned behavior typical of wild wolves. Before they arrived in Wisconsin, these wolves exhibited the normal wolf behavior of attempting to kill weaker members (their parents) of the pack. For example, when they first entered the Menominee Park Zoo exhibit they quickly cleared it of all other inhabitants, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks that had moved in over the summer when it was empty. The local crows also learned that these wolves would not share their meals willingly. Although they are beautiful to look at and playful with each other, we must never forget that they are top predators in the wild and in their enclosure!
Our wolves were named by the people of Oshkosh and the two sisters were named Sienna and Echo. The brothers were named Thunder and Rebel. Rebel died in May 2015. Aged animals often die of kidney failure, which is why Echo was euthanized in April 2018 at age 14 and Sienna at age 16 in May 2019. Currently Thunder is the remaining wolf in the exhibit.
About Wolves in Wisconsin
Before human settlement, wolf populations in Wisconsin were estimated to be 3,000-5,000 animals that lived throughout the state. By 1900, wolves were extirpated from the southern two thirds of the state and were extinct by 1960. Bounties on wolf pelts were in place from 1865-1957 in the state of Wisconsin and subsequently wolves were hunted to their extinction. Humans and wolves are in perceived conflict because of depredation on livestock and game, such as deer. However, wolves switched to predating on livestock, an easy target, after their natural food supplies were decimated by explorers, trappers, and settlers. Finally, wolves do not have a detrimental impact on deer populations because they primarily feed on weak herd members that would have likely died from natural causes.
Wolves are a natural part of the Wisconsin ecosystem and play an important role in maintaining biological diversity in the region. The wolf population has recovered in the state because of protections. In 2004 the gray wolf was removed from the state threatened species list, but remains a federally endangered species. The most recent population estimate from 2018 counted 905-944 individuals a 2.2% decrease from 2016-2017. Now, we have a second chance to figure out how we can coexist with this tremendous and beautiful species.
Read more about wolves in Wisconsin from the DNR Gray Wolf Fact Sheet
Did You Know?
Once a wolf has found a mate, they usually stay together for life.