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Wolves. Chapter 3. The Clacking Teeth.

The scariest moment of my Wolves expedition.
Hort and Mira the alpha-pair. Photo by Dmitry Chernov

It was November 11, the third day of my stay, or rather the second one, because I had to miss a day due to very bad weather with heavy wet snow. I came to the wolves in the afternoon and settled with my equipment in the central big empty volary, surrounded by volaries with wolves. The alpha pair Hort and Mira were rather excited. It wasn’t a mating season yet, it comes in January, but Hort was courting Mira and even making aggressive moves displaying that Mira is his wife and should abide by his rules. The three young wolves Sever, Veles and Rada in the neighbour volary were running up to watch the alpha-pair, but Hort was driving them away with short snarls. So, I set up all my mics at the volary of the alpha-pair.

Sever the young polar wolf. Photo by Dmitry Chernov

It was Sunday, so a lot of unfamiliar people walked outside the fence of the shelter, and the wolves were especially disturbed, their anxiety increasing rapidly. They were running faster and faster along the mesh fences separating them. Suddenly I heard a loud rattling of the mesh, the young polar wolf  Sever (his name means “North” in Russian) jumped and then climbed over a 3 meter mesh fence and appeared in the volary of the alpha-pair. Of course, no one welcomed him there. So, he escaped in an empty dog-house that Hort and Mira  used as an elevation to observe their territory. Sever hid in this small cabin, barking, yapping, whining and clacking his teeth, defending himself from the dominant male who was advancing with threatening very low growls.  As a matter of fact, Sever is physically bigger than Hort, but experience and strong confident character mean much more in the wolves’ community. I couldn’t leave Sever in these dire straits, it seemed to me that Hort was ready to kill the intruder. I forgot about recoding and rushed to phone the founders of the shelter, who were absent to Moscow, 150 km away. We decided to separate the males in different volaries, it meant that I had to lure the alpha-pair into the central volary where I stayed myself. I opened the small gate leading from the pair’s volary, hoping that the curious she-wolf will accept my invitation for a walk and her jealous husband will follow her. But at that moment Hort was obsessed by the task of punishing the intruder and Mira couldn’t leave him in such dangerous circumstances. Funnily, I tried to talk to the wolves and distract them from their quarrel, and this even worked to some extent.

Hort and Mira watching over Sever. Photo by Dmitry Chernov

After a series of very aggressive vocal collisions between the two males, all three wolves settled for some rest: Sever in the cabin, Hort and Mira in a pit in front of it. Hort even fell asleep but his cautious wife was awake keeping her eyes on both males. I remembered about my equipment, it was still recording, mics pointing exactly at the fight scene. I even felt uncomfortable for making a documentary recording of a real wolves’ quarrel. I used the break to pull my equipment out of the volary and again opened the gate. Wolves are very cautious, so it took Mira several attempts to get to my volary and soon Hort followed her, it was 4 hours since Sever has jumped over the fence. I silently closed the gate separating the pair from Sever, and holding my breath, keeping my eyes on wolves, walked backwards along fences, exited the volary and shut the last gate. Immediately Hort started to growl demonstrating that he is now the master of the big central volary, Sever came out of the cabin and walked happily around the alpha’s volary. So, all the 9 wolves burst in a short storm of growls and snarls, some of pride, some of envy. But no one wolf was injured during this incident. The next day listening through the recordings I was happy to discover that the recording of the quarrel was there, and I could give my kids a listen to the proof of the Russian fairy-tale phrase “wolf – the clacking teeth” . Interesting, that the clacking appeared to be not the sign of attack, but of defence and helplessness. It was an incident with a good outcome, I would never even think of provoking such a quarrel between wolves myself or with the help of the wolves’ keepers. The fact that no one was injured gave me the moral right to use the recording. Here’s the fragment of the recording of the quarrel of Sever and Hort with the accompanying spectrogram. The spectrogram illustrates the drastic contrast between the very low threatening rumble of attacking Hort and the high frequency yapping and teeth clacking of defending Sever.

By the way, I learnt that later there was another similar incident with Sever and as a result Yaroslav’s hand was injured and needed a serious medical treatment. Since that time the volaries’ safety was much improved, but any improvement costs money, so the founders of the shelter heavily depend on donations of their supporters.

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