Biology AB – Animal Behaviour
Tihomir Svilanovic 9F
The Arctic Wolf (canis lupus arctos) is a subspecies of the broader Gray Wolf family (canis lupus), and inhabits the Canadian Arctic, as well as the northern coast of Greenland, roughly upwards of 70 ͦNorth latitude. The arctic wolf’s primary biomes are the arctic & alpine tundra, the taiga, and the alpine biome. Contrary to popular belief regarding its harsh habitat and the much-publicized climate change, the endangerment status of the arctic wolf is listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN and WWF, and, in fact, it is exactly due to their unforgiving environment that the arctic wolf is one of the only subspecies of wolf that is unthreatened, as it leaves them relatively safe from human activities such as hunting and habitat destruction (with the possible exception of “global warming” and “climate change”). Due to the species’ abundance, as well as their unique and rare natural habitat, there has been much discussion as to the morality of keeping arctic wolves in captivity as the conditions and temperature are generally vastly different and ill-suited compared to their natural habitats.
Illustration 1 – Arctic Wolf populated area
Contrary to regular zoo custom of portraying the captive animals as active, carefree, and happy, the wolf pack we studied in Schönbrunn proved to be a rather sad and discouraging sight. Generally speaking, the wolves were not very active at all and spent much of the time lying on high ground, though there is a very good chance that our misfortune regarding the wolves’ (lack of) activity lies in the fact that they are an arctic species, and as such, would favour arctic conditions, and would be that much more affected by the warm, summery weather that we had on the day we went to the Zoo, especially seeing as there was no sign of any kind of facility or modification to their enclosure that would provide a kind of faux-arctic environment and “weather”/temperature, for example, in the scorching Viennese summer when it is not uncommon for the temperature to reach up to 35 ͦ Celsius (as opposed to temperatures of well under -30 ͦC which are common in the Canadian tundra). Nonetheless, what little activity we did witness on our trip was just as discouraging as their lack of activity. Although we were unable to attend the feeding of the wolves, there were still a few pieces of untouched meat lying on the ground. In light of the wolves’ inactivity and obvious weakness for heat, we took this as a sign that the wolves’ usually sizable appetite was affected and overridden by their weakness to the heat; that they were too hot to eat. Their inability to handle high temperatures was quite apparent from the very start, as they were quite often sticking their tongues out and breathing heavily while walking/lying on the ground; something dogs often do when they get hot in the summer in order to cool themselves. Regarding their enclosure, we found out from a zookeeper that the terrain in it was not quite ideal. The wolves had plenty of logs and pieces of wood scattered about them so that it would resemble a forest and to make it more interesting for them to range the enclosure, but the terrain itself was actually too steep, as the enclosure was built into the side of the “hill” in the Schönbrunn Zoo. This means that the wolves are actually unable to make use of the logs to jump over when they are active in order to emulate their behaviour in nature, and amuse themselves, and, in effect, it reduced their area, as some parts were too steep to walk over, and made the bottom half very unappealing to them (especially as most of it was walled off by the small observer’s hut, in effect disabling them from looking outside their enclosure from half of the bottom part). When the wolves did come down to the fence, they did not appear to be fazed or unnerved by the observers, and, indeed, they did not show any signs of being affected by a relatively large...
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