DAVE: Disappointment! We checked the gully where the male disappeared yesterday, hoping it was the den or a rendezvous site, but unfortunately it had only been a temporary resting spot for the male. But we did have a big breakthrough! We saw the real breeding female today and stayed with her from 9:00 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. Glad it’s light all night! We could see at least 6 well-used nipples, indicating she’s still nursing pups and probably 3 – 6 of them. Dean got some good pictures of her and was able to backtrack her about 5 miles in the sand and dust while I stayed with her waiting for her to return toward the den. When she did head out, however, she did some fancy maneuvering and gave me the slip after a mile. I spotted her again with binoculars a couple of miles away and lost her again. One thing interesting is that she did not backtrack the way she had come but rather paralleled that route about 1.5 miles to the north. So the question is: Will the backtrack help us find the den, or would it be better to search where I lost her as she returned? We will first try the backtrack because that is where there are many tracks of many wolf trips.
Dean took a picture of a female wolf with dark, swollen nipples. (See photo) It is obvious she has pups. If the den or rendezvous site is close to the researchers’ base, the pups could be quite young, perhaps 5 weeks old. At that age, they need to nurse about every 5 hours, and the mother would not leave them to travel a great distance. Young as they might be, however, they are active and robust and growing rapidly. They are beginning to eat solid food regurgitated by the breeding pair and by the older siblings that have remained with their natal pack. Trying to figure out where the rendezvous site is located is part of the frustration and part of the fun of field work. Ideally, a rendezvous site is situated where the adults can leave the pups while they hunt. This “wolf pup nursery” provides shelter and protection from predators. It is located near a water source if possible. Sometimes an older brother or sister will remain behind to babysit while the other adults search for food.