Being a wolf mom is hard. At birth, her pups weigh only one pound and their eyes are closed, and it’s her job to allow them to become the intelligent, brave members of the ecosystem they are destined to be.
So naturally, after the pups get big and strong enough to step out of the den, the mom wants to take a break and relax. Which is exactly what Belle tried to do when the darn kids came back and interrupted her!
In 2017, the Wolf Conservation Center, a not-for-profit environmental education organization working to protect and preserve wolves in North America, uploaded a video to YouTube titled When Wolf Mama’s “Me Time” Gets Interrupted By Needy Pups.
“Although Belle has all the qualities of a great mother, raising six youngsters isn’t always easy and this [footage] captures that,” Maggie Howell, a spokesperson for the organization, told Bored Panda. “Beyond her irritability, however, Belle was fulfilling her parental obligations by setting some rules in the cozy den.”
However, don’t mistake Belle’s grimaces for aggression. Howell highlighted that wolves mainly use body language to convey rules to the family. “Wolf families usually consist of the breeding pair (mom and dad) and their offspring of varying ages. Sometimes unrelated wolves will join a family too. To maintain order, wolves will rely on their posture, tail position, facial expression, and ear position to articulate their status and role within the family. Wolves will also use body language to communicate intentions or to initiate some fun.” In this case, the mom was simply telling her kids to behave!
“The parents, sometimes referred to as the ‘alpha pair’, are the leaders of the pack, and they express their status with an erect posture and tails carried high,” Howell added. “The less dominant family members (usually the offspring in the family) exhibit their position through submissive behavior. With lowered tails and posture, less dominant wolves acknowledge their role and rank in the family hierarchy. Pawing, tail tucking, and muzzle-licking are among the submissive gestures expressed by less dominant wolves.”
In October of 2015, Mexican Gray Wolf F1226, affectionately nicknamed “Belle” by the Wolf Conservation Center’s community of webcam watchers, joined the WCC family in order to meet her potential mate – Mexican gray wolf M1133, a.k.a. Rhett.
“The Species Survival Plan (SSP) management group for the Mexican gray wolf determines which wolves should breed each year by using software developed for the population management of endangered species. This is necessary because all Mexican wolves descended from just seven founders rescued from extinction,” Howell explained. “Genetic diversity is the primary consideration in the selection of Mexican wolf breeding pairs and Belle and Rhett were a great match on paper with an extremely low inbreeding coefficient.”
Even though sometimes saving a species doesn’t sound very romantic, this time, the science-supported love connection worked out perfectly! To this day, Belle and Rhett remain a vibrant, loving, and playful pair that has welcomed two litters, and they’re making saving a species look like a lot of fun.
This den is located in one of the enclosures within the Wolf Conservation Center’s Endangered Species Facility. “The Mexican gray wolf and the red wolf are among the rarest mammals in North America; both species were at one time extinct in the wild. The WCC is currently home to eighteen red wolves and twenty-one Mexican gray wolves that, unbeknownst to them, are the future of their critically endangered species,” Howell said.
These wolves live off-exhibit at the WCC in vast wooded enclosures and are never exposed to the general public. “This level of seclusion safeguards their wild, elusive behaviors and ensures they are best prepared for the wild. All the WCC enclosures offer at least one man-made den, most of them (like the one belonging to Mexican gray wolf Belle and her family) are made from culverts. The culverts offer shelter and allow wolves to stay dry in stormy weather, avoid insects during ‘buggy’ seasons, and sneak away from pesky family members when some ‘me time’ becomes a priority. They also serve as great playgrounds when wolves are feeling frisky!” the spokesperson added.
Unbeknownst to the wolves, all forty-two of them have been creeping into the hearts and homes of a global audience thanks to the WCC’s remote webcams, streaming live video 24/7.
The fact that two of Belle’s offspring, K.B. and Duffy, were recently transferred to other facilities so they too could start families of their own, really exemplifies her devotion to being a mother.
“Today, the nine-year-old mother of six is also a grandma,” Howell revealed. “And she’s never looked more beautiful.”