Parenting is hard—teething babies, never a moment alone, always hungry pups… These are the human-like struggles faced by gray wolf parents in Yellowstone National Park, where at least 108 wolves roam wild and free in their ancestral habitat. While raising wolf pups is not the same as human children, some of the similarities across the animal kingdom are shocking. For example, cameras on trails in the park have captured the Yellowstone wolves returning to their dens with toys for their young to teeth on, especially between meals.
Wolf parents are devoted. Once pups are weaned off milk, they eat like their carnivore parents. However, the parents must do the hunting, returning home as devoted providers with dinner. However, between meals or when food is not to be found, it seems wolf parents bring other things for pups to chew on. Trail cameras captured adult wolves of “Mollie’s Pack”—one of the park's 10 packs—coming and going on trails in Yellowstone with strange items in their mouths. These antlers, bones, and sticks are clearly meant to be puppy toys on which to cut their canines.
While the park did not post footage of the pups chewing on their treats, this behavior is fascinating evidence of wolves' social structures and instinctual parenting behaviors. In fact, the presence of pups alone is a happy development. Gray wolves were once on the brink of extinction due to being hunted as pests. In 1995, the wolves were reintroduced to the Yellowstone area. The program has been a success and the individuals now number above 100. Gray wolves have also been reintroduced in Michigan and soon will be in Colorado. Still listed as endangered, the gray wolf is an iconic North American animal, with a sweet parental instinct, too.
When wolf parents don't scrounge food for their young, they bring them teething toys to keep them busy.
— Yellowstone National Park (@YellowstoneNPS) August 22, 2023
h/t: [Smithsonian Magazine]