Sanctuary wolves' checkup is training, too
Saturday, November 3, 2012
TENINO -- Emily Blade cradled the head of an anesthetized Mexican gray wolf as her colleagues hoisted the animal onto a piece of canvas.
The team of mostly university students was recording the weight of the 11-year-old wolf, known as Lorenzo, at Wolf Haven International near Tenino.
It took two men to hold a metal rod connected by a chain to the canvas to accurately gauge the animal's weight: 85.2 pounds.
It was one of many steps in Lorenzo's annual checkup, which is required by the Species Survival Plan program. Endangered Mexican gray wolves are "one of the rarest mammals" in the world, said Diane Gallegos, executive director of Wolf Haven.
Students and professionals were at Wolf Haven last week to learn about wildlife handling and chemical immobilization from Dr. Mark Johnson, a wildlife veterinarian and the founder of Global Wildlife Resources, a nonprofit organization based in Montana.
It's the eighth year Johnson has taught the three-day course at Wolf Haven; his career in handling wildlife spans 20 years.
He and the sanctuary have similar philosophies about animal care.
"They learn how to give care, honor and respect to the animals," Johnson said. "They learn not to joke at the animal's expense and to work together."
The 17 students and professionals who signed up for the course traveled from as far away as Alaska, Mexico, Montana and Pennsylvania.
The group spent two days in the classroom before putting its knowledge to use, giving annual checkups to Mexican gray wolves.
Each wolf was transported from its sanctuary pen to the site in a large crate. Groups anesthetized them, then carried each wolf to a blanket on the ground.
Everyone kept quiet, speaking in whispers to avoid adding to stress for the wolves.
That quiet was interrupted by an occasional chorus of howls from the rest of the sanctuary's pack.
Anesthesia keeps the wolves down for about 45 minutes while the groups drew blood, administered vaccinations, took measurements and constantly monitored the animals' heart rate and temperature.
Wolves' blood temperature should be between 100 and 103 degrees, but Lorenzo's was dropping to about 99.6. To counteract that, the group put blankets and hand warmers on the animal's body until he was able to sustain a constant temperature.
Another wolf's temperature rose to 106 degrees. The team removed all blankets and laid the wolf on the cool ground.
Johnson and some of the sanctuary's staff and other trained veterinarians were there to offer assistance, but, "We leave it to the group as long as possible," Johnson said. "We want them to be strong individuals and as confident as possible."
Many will take their new skills back to jobs or course work and future careers.
"Talk to each other about how you are going to do this," Johnson told the group as members divided up tasks.
"It's impressive to do more hands-on stuff," said Casey Pozzanghera of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.