Co-author Irina Rotenko
In the book on the grey wolf reproduction biology (Sidorovich & Rotenko, 2019) we told about several patterns of wolf pack multi-breeding, which we documented in Naliboki Forest and Paazierre Forest in Belarus during the last two decades. The main distinctive feature in wolf pack multi-breeding is how many big adult males, which perhaps equally ranked, take part in a breeding group of wolves. If a male leads a breeding group, normally it is only a strong male in the breeding group. Such a group of breeders may include two or three breeding females.
Quite opposite, if a female leads a breeding group, there may be two or even three big males in the breeding group. For instance, in the given main model pack leading by Torn Ear female there were three big males in the breeding group during reproduction season of 2020 and two big males in the breeding group during reproduction season of 2021. You may read about the Torn Ear pack in four earlier posts: (1); (2); (3); (4).
During the winter 2021-2022 the Torn Ear female had disappeared. Plausibly she was killed by hunters. Afterwards one of the big males (easily recognisable; we called him Pryhazhun) became leading this pack, which consisted of one more adult male and two adult females. Important to mention that none of the pups of the reproduction period of 2021 survived till December 2021. Leading of the pack by Pryhazhun was evident from the numbers of footages that we made with camera-traps.
In the late January 2022 another big male left the pack, and Pryhazhun mated with both the females. These three wolves (Pryhazhun and his two females) stayed together afterwards. In the late March one of the female gave birth in a burrow-den. In the 20th of April there were at least three pups with her. Another easily recognisable female (we called Pliamistaja) gave birth in the late April on the distance around 1.8 km from the den of the first female, and in the mid-May Pliamistaja had 4 pups of about 3 weeks old in her burrow-den. Pryhazhun served for both breeding females. Pliamistaja visited denning area and dens of another breeding female. All the three wolves (Pryhazhun and his two females) were numerically registered walking together in April and May.
In the below footage you will see preparing of several dens by pregnant female wolf Pliamistaja. A total, at least 34 such prepared dens in kinds of a burrow or a cavity or only a pit there were found in the denning area of the wolf breeders. You see one of the actual burrow-den of Pliamistaja. That is outlier of badgers that was enlarged by the breeding wolves. The litter was inside this burrow 4-6 days, at least.