A new and rather large litter of gray wolves was born this spring at North Georgia Zoo. Now, the puppies are ready for socialization.
Born on April 14, the litter included 10 puppies, said Jessi Hamman, large carnivore keeper and visitor experience leader at the zoo.
"(The) average is probably in the three to six range, so that was a huge litter," she said.
Gray wolves reproduce once a year in the spring.
Hamman said that gives them the best chance of survival.
"They're still staying in the den while it's still kind of cool at the beginning of spring," she said. "And basically at about the same point where they start to wander out and adventure in their world, that's the same point where the weather is warm and mild. Then they have all summer to kind of grow up and be able to start keeping up with the pack."
And now that summer is here, the puppies are quickly growing and starting to venture out.
"They're getting very big," she said. "They spend a lot of time engaging with each other socially. They wrestle a lot and stuff like that."
While they share that playful characteristic with the puppies of domesticated dogs, Hamman said the rate at which they grow is different.
"Wolves appeal to so many of us because there are parts of their behavior and their appearance that remind us of dogs," she said. "(But) they grow much more quickly than dog's puppies do, and they also mature much more quickly. They're already displaying adult wolf behaviors, but in the context of play."
Even though they are growing fast, the wolves are still puppies and require a great deal of attention.
Hamman said the puppies' temperature requirements and feeding schedules are strict.
"They have to be bottle fed day and night," she said. "We are up to ... about every four to six hours now. At 4 weeks old ... you start to very slowly introduce ground, raw turkey into their diets..."
And along with diet changes, social changes are becoming necessary, too.
"Another big part of what they need right now is socialization with people so that they learn the right rules of engagement for when they're interacting with humans," she said. "And also very, very basic level of training."
To help with that, Hamman said visitors of North Georgia Zoo can sign up for "wolf puppy encounters."
"The age restriction on wolf puppy encounters is a minimum age of 8," she said. "For 8- to 12-year-olds, they would have to be accompanied by a parent. They get to pet them, play with them, interact with them, train with them. They (the puppies) love it."
Tom Bennett, educator at North Georgia Zoo, explained what a unique experience the encounters are.
"It's a great opportunity to connect people with some animals they would not usually see and help increase their exposure and people's understanding of wolves," he said. "They do get to see (their) behaviors and that kind of thing."
But visitors will only have this chance until the end of August, and there will only be a few of the puppies there.
Hamman said the zoo is already down to four puppies.
"They're going to other zoos, like zoological facilities and also other zoological education centers," she said. "Some of them have already left to start their lives as ambassadors. We'll have a least a couple of them left until the end of August."