Coauthor Irina Rotenko
In 2020 we published series of posts (1); (2); (3); (4); (5) about triple-breeding pack of wolves, which consisted of three semi-independent breeding couples. This breeding group and the whole pack was led by one of the breeding females that we call Torn Ear. She was easily recognisable on photos due to really torn right ear.
First, we would like to remind the interesting story of the Torn Ear wolf pack in 2020 until the late autumn, when radical change happened in the pack.
During the previous winter of 2019-2020 Torn Ear led quite big pack of changeable composition. In the mid-April 2020 before denning Torn Ear still stayed with five more adult wolves (two more females and three males). During denning these six wolves created three semi-independent breeding couples. In May-July the pups of three families stayed nearby at the distance up to 3 km away from each other only, usually only 0.3-1.8 km apart. All the adult males we registered in the close proximity to each of the three litters. Also, two of the mothers with evident nipples (Torn Ear and another one) were registered nearby to each other for several times, too.
We filmed how two mothers and two their males in turn or in pairs were preparing a burrow-den by enlarging a former red fox earth; then they checked once and again the created burrow-den during several days; then one of the couples brought about five quite big pups to the den (the first homesite). The pups spent in that burrow-den two days only and then they were relocated by parents for about one km in a marshland with a stretched island (the second homesite), where two litters were seemingly put together, i.e. these five pups were joined with the pups of another mentioned parent couple.
Then at the distance about one km within the next homesite about 20 hectares (the third homesite) we already definitely documented a united stay of the two breeding couples with their pups and a newly appeared non-breeding adult female, which plausibly played a role of pup-sitter (because of it was registered close to the pups more often).While the wolf families stayed in the 20 hectare homesite, the pups, being only 80-90 days old, walked up to 2 km away from the homesite centre alone or in groups 2-5 pups without any parents. This free walking behaviour of pups in so early days old was registered common in July. Respectively, when the parent wolves bring food in their stomachs, only few pups, which appeared nearby, were fed.
In coaching spots of the wolf family the presence of two adult male lynxes were regularly registered. Perhaps, stalking of these adult male lynxes for wolf pups forced these two joined wolf families to relocate for about 2.7 kilometres away (i.e. to the forth homesite). That had happened in the beginning of August.
In the forth homesite already all three subfamilies of Torn Ear pack have joined. Their pups stayed there on the area 2-3 km2 till the end of October. In the mid-August according to some visual observations of moving pups with three adults across drainage canal in this united family there were, at least, 10 pups of different sizes.
That period the six parent wolves and one subordinated adult female (plausible pup-sitter) hunted all together in this area and around (up to 6 km away). In the beginning of November two adults (one subfamily with the smallest parents) gone somewhere. At the same time all the pups (5 that survived till November) disappeared, too. We assume that the two smallest parents gone fairly faraway and took all the pups along with. We succeeded to take video of their going away together. That was the last documentation of the two parent wolves and joined pup group in the area.
By applying camera-traps and track survey on snow cover, we searched for this group of wolves (two adults and 5 pups) everywhere around (the radius was 13-24 km from the last homesite), but there was not found the wolf group in that so large area. In the period from the mid-November till 1oth January in the former home range of Torn Ear there was once and again registered presence of five big adult wolves: Torn Ear, its mate, one more couple and the above-mentioned pup-sitter wolf.
It is worthwhile to notice that we are sufficiently informed that during the last autumn and early winter (September 2020-10th January 2021) none of wolves was killed by hunters in the Torn Ear territory and, at least, 10 km around. So, those 2 adults and 5 pups definitely gone splitting from the rest five adults.