Wolves in South Africa

Male Coywolf (Wolf X Coyote)

Male coywolf (wolf X coyote)

When I was in Port Elizabeth last week, I went, with friends, to the Tsitsikama Wolf Sanctuary. It is currently the only wolf sanctuary in South Africa and houses a number of wolves from zoos or that were originally kept as pets. Because of how they were raised, they can no longer be released into the wild. Even if they could be, they are not a native species to South Africa. It’s nice to know that there are people that are looking after these beautiful animals and, if you are in the area (It’s about an hour and forty minutes drive outside of Port Elizabeth), I would recommend a visit to support them. You can see some of my own pictures from the day below.

A pack of wolves in a large enclosure.

A pack of wolves in a large enclosure.

Wolves in the shade.

Wolves in the shade.

I don’t have very good pictures of the packs for two reasons. First, I was taking pictures with my phone and, secondly, the day was extremely hot and the wolves were mostly in the shade. I have better pictures of the coywolves (wolf X coyote hybrids) as there were two pairs, in smaller enclosures, right next to where we ate lunch. The wolves all looked good to me but I couldn’t always see where they were getting water, particularly the packs above. The coywolves had noticeable barrels of water and one of the packs, final picture, had a pond in their enclosure.

Smiling coywolf

Smiling coywolf

Female coywolf and mate of the male pictured at the top of the page.

Female coywolf and mate of the male pictured at the top of the page.

Unfortunately, not all of the pages on the wolf sanctuary website are up to date, so the dens described there are not the ones that we saw. Some of the research in their wolf behaviour section is also out of date and more limited than the text would suggest. They make the, commonly believed, claim that “[t]he wolf pack hierarchy is a very strict social order” ranking from alpha to omega. This is then reflected in some of the den notes and the audio documentary. One nice thing about the sanctuary is that, before a tour, the group is asked to sit in a special room and listen to a short audio recording about wolves. Unfortunately this alpha/omega distinction, perpetuated by films like Alpha and Omega, is no longer accepted as accurate.

There is a good article on io9 entitled Why everything you know about wolf packs is wrong which summarises the current view. In a nutshell, the alpha/omega dominance hierarchy only applies to some large packs and to captive packs which are made up of random wolves. In the majority of wild packs, however, the terms lose meaning as the pack is a family unit with the alpha/omega being the parents. Alpha and omega also are not set rankings and can change even amongst the same wolves in different situations. This doesn’t mean that dominance doesn’t exist, it certainly does, just that one needs to be more careful about using terms like alpha and omega. They probably are accurate in the case of the wolf sanctuary packs but it should not be implied that they are good general descriptors.

Lucky wolf pack with their own lake.

Lucky wolf pack with their own pond.

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3 thoughts on “Wolves in South Africa

  1. Pingback: E&R is three years old! | Evidence & Reason

  2. Regarding this being the only wolf sanctuary in SA is not true. I know of 2 more sanctuaries. Husky Romi and one in Hoedspruit

  3. Yes. I have subsequently learned of others. At the time of writing I thought it was the only one and I think I read something somewhere that said that too.

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