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.
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.
This post is connected with the recent post about mortality in wolf pups in Naliboki Forest and the whole Belarus. In that post about wolf pup mortality we provided quite a lot information on stalking for wolf pups by lynxes, particularly by adult male lynxes. The most vulnerable period in this kind of lynx-wolf interference starts since mid-July, when still quite small vulnerable pups begin to walk alone rather faraway from the coaching place of the wolf family homesite.
Until wolf pups are about one month old, they stay mainly at dens being taken care of by parents who stay at the den or, at least, in the close proximity. Then wolf pups begin to be more mobile, but very hidden life of a wolf family in the tall and dense vegetation makes hard to learn the pup behaviour in June-July. The topic of wolf pups life when they are about 30-100 days old is still very poorly known in Europe and the whole Eurasia. Smart and careful usage of camera-traps can help in studying the question, while telemetry does not seem to be a right method in this case. In our study, besides camera-trapping we also used several other sources of data that are mentioned below in the post.
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.
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.