Wolf Pack Hierarchy

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Wolf Pack Hierarchy Empty Wolf Pack Hierarchy

Post by Guest on February 12th 2011, 5:19 pm

This is not the way things are at BWP, however, this is real wolf pack information.

If you don’t want to read a lot, here is the gist of this message. Studies have shown that wild packs are family groups with the parents being the leaders. In the 1970’s, wolves were just beginning to be studied and they didn’t know that the packs were family based and so they assigned names to them. Since then scientists have learned a lot about wolves and their social structure. The top wolf biologists today don’t use those assigned names.

Okay for those of you that want to read more on this topic and want to learn more about pack hierarchy, here you go.

First of all, let me introduce to you one of the world’s top wolf biologist. Here is a brief biography of L. David Mech from Wikipedia.

L. David "Dave" Mech is an internationally recognized wolf expert, a senior research scientist for the U.S. Department of the Interior (since 1970), and an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. He has researched wolves since 1958 in places such as Minnesota, Canada, Italy, Alaska, Yellowstone National Park, and on Isle Royale.

Mech is the founder of the International Wolf Center and sits on its Board of Directors as Vice Chair. The project to create the facility, which he started in 1985, was a natural outgrowth of his wolf research as well as his ambition to educate people about the nature of wolves that they may come to respect the creature through understanding.

He has published ten books and numerous articles about wolves and other wildlife, the most famous of these being his books The Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species (1970, University of Minnesota Press) and Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation which he co-edited with Luigi Boitani (2003, University of Chicago Press).

The reason I am introducing him to you is because he is the one that started the use of the term a l p h awolf in the 1970’s. As many of you know, wolves are illusive and hard to study. At that time, scientists learned what they could from wild wolves and relied heavily upon captive wolf populations. As many of you also know, captive animals can act differently than wild animals. In the wild, scientists observed that there was a hierarchy to wolf packs. They assigned descending Greek letters to the positions in the pack to used to describe the pack members.

Since the 1970’s, much wolf research has been done. A couple of key places for wolf research in the past 20 years have been Yellowstone National Park in USA and Ellesmere Island in Canada. The reintroduction of Yellowstone wolves has provided researchers with open areas to observe wolves and a population in which they knew every wolf and where it came from and its lineage. On Ellesmere Island, the landscape is wide open and the wolves have had such little contact with humans that it didn’t disturb them that they were being observed. The research from these places and many others showed that wolf packs are family groups, not unrelated wolves. Just like in many family groups, including humans, the parents are in charge.

In 2000, Dr. Mech wrote an article about how the views of pack hierarchy have changed. You can find that article here:

If you don’t want to read the whole thing, here are a few highlight quotes:

Labeling a high-ranking wolf alpha emphasizes its rank in a dominance hierarchy. However, in natural wolf packs, the alpha male or female are merely the breeding animals, the parents of the pack, and dominance contests with other wolves are rare, if they exist at all. During my 13 summers observing the Ellesmere Island pack, I saw none.

The point here is not so much the terminology but what the terminology falsely implies: a rigid, force-based dominance hierarchy.

Similarly, pups are subordinate to both parents and to older siblings, yet they are fed preferentially by the parents, and even by their older (dominant) siblings (Mech et al. 1999). On the other hand, parents both dominate older offspring and restrict their food intake when food is scarce, feeding pups instead. Thus, the most practical effect of social dominance is to allow the dominant individual the choice of to whom to allot food.

The typical wolf pack, then, should be viewed as a family with the adult parents guiding the activities of the group and sharing group leadership in a division-of-labor system in which the female predominates primarily in such activities as pup care and defense and the male primarily during foraging and food-provisioning and the travels associated with them.

Dominance displays are uncommon except during competition for food. Then they allow parents to monopolize food and allocate it to their youngest offspring.



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