In the last year after our study on denning in wolves in May 2020 we have already reported about the peculiar situation in denning by wolves in Naliboki Forest, the central-western Belarus. Wolf breeders stopped denning on open coaches as it used to be, and they began denning in burrows exclusively, when mammals (red deer, bison, elk, lynx, brown bear), which are characterized by aggressive behaviour to pups, got plenty altogether in this forested terrain.
In May 2021 we discovered four active wolf dens and traced the denning behaviour of two wolf breeding groups having two and three breeding females (both cases of a multi-breeding in a wolf pack). All the five breeding female wolves kept pups in burrows only. Altogether we found 33 wolf burrow-dens that were used for denning: 7 self-made by wolves and 26 enlarged badger-setts and outliers. Interestingly, that 11 out of 26 badger burrows were wolf burrow-dens before (2-7 years ago). No any wolf couch-dens were found in May 2021, while before such a situation that is inimical for wolf denning they denned on open couches and pits.
See the video below for the details of denning in wolves in Naliboki Forest during May 2021.
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.
Since the last May we began using video mode in our camera-traps more often in order to create a scientific film about reproduction in wolves in few years. The video sequence you see below is a kind of a report on the video results we gained across breeding of wolves in Naliboki Forest in 2020. In this video you see some interesting moments demonstrating various behaviour of wolf pups and parents during this secretive period.
In our previous studies we registered usage of badger setts by mother lynx with small kittens in June-August (mainly by track registrations), as well as much interest of pregnant female lynxes to badger setts (by camera trapping). We supposed that badger sett is a quite common den of the Eurasian lynx. Nevertheless, a good documentation of using badger sett by lynx mother with small kittens was absent in our materials. We had some photos of that behaviour only.
In May 2020 we traced four breeding groups of wolves in the model area (about 1000 square km) of Naliboki Forest, the central-western part of Belarus. There were mating registered in all these wolf groups in the period from the late January till the mid-March. According to the obtained information from the camera-traps and by reading of activity signs, it looked like all the adult females of wolves got into heat and mated.
By this short post we would like to share some ideas in relation to the necessary changes in the way of our study on the wolf breeding in Naliboki Forest with the researchers and amateurs, who deal with that. With respect to the mentioned changes, three questions may be raised: (1) why do we need to change something in the study approach on the wolf breeding; (2) what the changes will be; and (3) which benefit we expect from the changes?
Concerning the wolf Canis lupus breeding in Europe and wider in Eurasia there is a widely spread belief that the species is strictly monogamous with a certain way of breeding and pack formation in family pattern (e.g. Bibikov D.I., 1985 and references therein; Jędrzejewska & Jędrzejewski, 1998).
Those beliefs suggested the three following theses: first, during breeding season, a wolf pack has merely one litter or there are no pups; second, usually a wolf pack consists of parent wolves and their pups of the current and previous biological years as a normal maximum; additionally, such a pack may subordinate some non-relative wolves; and third, usually offspring disperse from their maternal pack around mating season, in the second year of their life, when they are 20-22 months old.
Together with Irina Rotenko we recently published the second edition of the book on the wolf Canis lupus reproduction biology, which was based on the data gained in Belarus. There, we address the questions of the species mating, denning and raising of pups as well as mortality in wolf pups, which are still insufficiently investigated and full of contradicting hypotheses and knowledge. Therefore, the subtitle is “common beliefs versus reality”. However, the main thing for us in doing this book is to share the knowledge and skills we have gained on wolves in Belarus with wolf colleagues and amateurs.
In the second edition of the book we advanced all the former chapters basing on the results of the intensive study of wolf reproduction during spring-summer of 2018 and 2019 in Naliboki Forest. Also, we added one more chapter about the revealed trends in the denning behaviour of wolves in connection with the changes in the vertebrate community in Naliboki Forest.