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Red River Zoo plans for a second wolf pack

In this file photo, a wolf at the Red River Zoo gazes through the glass Monday, January 6, 2014 in temperatures native to its environment in the wild. Darren Gibbins / The Forum

FARGO – In a year or two, a second pack of gray wolves will be unleashing howls and feasting on deer carcasses at the Red River Zoo.

Plans are in motion to bring three or four more wolves to the zoo, which is preparing to build a separate space to house the new pack when it’s not on display.

“You can’t really just add new wolves to a pack, especially an adult pack,” said Lisa Tate, the zoo’s executive director.

Because a pack views new wolves as a threat to its survival, putting both packs in the same enclosure could be deadly for the losing side.

“With any carnivores, even in the wild, you’re not going to want anybody new to come into your family,” said Erick Lamun, the zoo’s general curator.

By this winter, the zoo wants to finish construction of a 1,500-square-foot holding area connected to the wolf exhibit and the existing holding area. The second holding area is needed to create a buffer between the two packs and prevent nose-to-nose fighting through the gaps in a fence, Lamun said.

Original pack

In 2008, the zoo obtained its original pack of five wolves, all littermates. Two of them, males named Mozart and Sirius, have since died. Suffering from a brain tumor, Mozart was euthanized this past winter, and about 1½ years ago, Sirius died after his bowels became twisted, Lamun said.

The three 7-year-old wolves that remain are Moose, a dominant male; Orion, a laidback male; and Ella, a she-wolf. Nowadays, Ella and Orion have to be kept apart because they don’t get along.

“She has decided to kick him out of the pack,” Lamun said. “If we were to leave Orion in with Ella, he could sustain life-threatening injuries from her.”

Lamun said zookeepers plan to slowly introduce Orion to the new wolves with the hope that they’ll accept him into their pack, while Moose and Ella will continue to live together.

The original pack came from a wildlife sanctuary in Ontario when they were 5 months old. Tate said the zoo aims to acquire another young pack of wolves, so they can become socialized with humans. The new pack will likely consist of three or four siblings, Lamun said.

The zoo has not located a new pack, but Tate predicts that one will join the zoo in one or two years.


Like other animals at the zoo, the wolves would not be purchased but would come through a program run by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Tate said. Although there won’t be a charge for the animals, there will be transportation and veterinary costs, she said.

“It’s actually very, very expensive to bring animals into a zoo and to send animals out,” she said.

Tate estimates that building the new holding area will cost $20,000, an expenditure the zoo is trying to offset with donations.

So far, workers have removed trees and marked underground utilities so a hill can be excavated to make room for the new holding area. Enclosed by a 8-foot-high fence and a roof made of fencing material, the holding area will give the wolves more room to run, play, dig and climb. It will also allow the packs to be regularly rotated for public viewing, Tate said.

The wolves, which safely spend the winter outdoors, are part of the zoo’s focus on cold-climate species. In an exhibit that simulates a natural setting, they’ve become one of the most popular attractions, Tate said.