Amid continuing flood repairs, Roosevelt Park Zoo introduced its new wolves Friday, a pair of year-old female grays the zoo acquired around Thanksgiving.
The wolves were named by employees of Enbridge Pipelines, a Bakken oil patch firm of which 75 employees volunteered more than 600 hours to the zoo's rebuilding efforts. The Alberta-based company has been operating in North Dakota for decades, and has been rapidly expanding its infrastructure to match the state's oil production.
In a released statement, zoo director David Merritt explained the rationale behind allowing Enbridge Pipelines to name the pair.
Two of Minot’s Roosevelt Park Zoo’s trio of wolves. A pair were added last November and named by Enbridge Pipeline employees, who had done a considerable amount of volunteering for the zoo after the 2011 flood.
"The turnout of volunteers at the zoo in 2012 was truly amazing. Enbridge staff stood out to us not only because of the number of individual groups that participated, but also because of their attitude and work ethic. Our zoo staff is truly grateful for the support shown by Enbridge employees," he said.
Asked if it normally takes a few months to name its animals, zoo education coordinator Jennifer Fry said it's not out of the ordinary.
"It's not usual, but there are a lot of instances where we get animals that aren't named, sometimes only having a number. Depending on the prestige of the animal, we sometimes name them in-house. But with the wolves, they're such bigger animals and Enbridge has really helped out so much. We thought it would be a fun way to show our appreciation," she said.
Zoo staff submitted a pool of 14 names, which were voted on by Enbridge employees. Of the names to choose from, the company decided on Luna and Denali - suitably wolfish names referencing the moon and the Ahtna name for Alaska's Mt. McKinley and the national park that surrounds it, respectively.
Luna and Denali were both obtained last November from Bear Country USA, a drive-through wildlife park in the Black Hills of western South Dakota. As one of Bear Country's owners, Pauline Casey, was able to point out over the phone, the park's animals are largely bred on the premises and subsequently acclimated to the presence of humans. The pair are thus unlikely to have come from the wild, though they are far from being domesticated.
The zoo's carnivore keeper, Lana Erickson, is excited to work with the additions. A graduate of the NDSU zoology program, the Columbus native worked at Roosevelt seasonally for a few years before starting full-time in 2010.
"I grew up on a farm, but it's been a lot of fun working with exotic animals, like the lions, bears and wolves," Erickson said.
Working with some of the zoo's toothier critters, Erickson spends her days tending to the feeding, cleaning, and general enrichment they require.
This is not the first time Roosevelt Park Zoo has featured wolves. In fact, the pair were added after the previous female died a year ago.
"We didn't want the male to be lonely," said Erickson.
The other wolf, seven-year-old Gage, has been with the zoo for about five years. From all appearances the wolves are getting along admirably, excitedly darting around almost non-stop during their presentation to the press. Meanwhile, Roosevelt Park Zoo is hurrying to return and quarter all of its animals before its intended reopening May 4.
The gray wolf (species Canis lupis) as a species is found across the Eurasian, African and North American continents. The forebear of the domestic dog, in recent centuries its habitats have been diminished by a combination of agricultural expansion, trapping and hunting. Though the International Union of Conservation for Nature holds them globally as a creature of 'Least Concern' so far as threat of extinction is concerned, the near-eradication of the species from the continental United States has placed them under the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
After a process of managed reintroduction pocked with controversy, by 2003 the wolf population had increased to the point where could be considered threatened rather than endangered. Several states have since begun issuing permits for wolf hunting, with Montana legislators pushing through dramatic expansions to the practice Friday. These would allow hunters in the state to use electronic calls and suppressors, not require them to wear fluorescent orange, and would prohibit the park service from restricting hunting in areas surrounding Yellowstone Park. Last year park officials had begun cracking down after hunters killed a number of wolves, including some tagged for research purposes.
When orphaned through hunting and wildlife control, pups have an extremely low rate of survival on their own. It becomes a difficult task finding suitable places to send them.
"Zoos don't normally breed bears and wolves. There are enough of them out in the wild that need a home to go to," Fry explained.
Adoption by zoos and parks give these a second chance while providing visitors a unique opportunity to see a marvelous, contentious creature.