July 20, 2010

We got the Poop on the Pack!

Because it was important to see if Brutus was the father of the pups we were observing, and to see if the batch of pups had two mothers, our primary quest became to gather a large number of pup scats from the den. With enough scats, some should be from each of the five pups. Then DNA from the fine film of intestinal cells that cling to the outside of the scat should be able to answer these questions. 

But how to get the scats? Ideally, we had been hoping to find a time when the adults were all away, rush up and grab a batch of scats, and get away from the den before any adult returned. Fortunately, our grand opportunity arose the day before our last. At 8:30 p.m. on July 15 when we arrived at our latest observation post, which we later determined was 90 yards from the den, we found that the adults were gone. The pups were not up out of the den either, so this would be our chance. We hurried to the den, took a few quick photos, and began scooping up scats in small plastic bags.  Plenty of fresh pup scats littered the ground, so we were able to collect over 30. Dean took a GPS waypoint for a precise location on the den.

While I was picking a piece of pup poop a few feet from the main den hole, I noticed a pup staring tentatively at me from just below the entrance; then another. "Are  you my mom?" they seemed to be asking. Dean then managed to get a quick shot of one of the pups before they decided that we were not their mom and retreated to the safety of the burrow. Even this short close-up look at the pups felt like a real privilege. We completed our collection and hurried back to our observaton post, not wanting to disturb any returning adult that might have caught us there.

We were elated. The answers to our burning questions about this litter of pups now were literally in our hands. And we had managed to get them without disturbing the pack. A few hours later both adults returned individually. Female 1, with the short tail, sported a bloody mask just below her eyes, a sure sign she had stuck her muzzle into a fresh carcass not long before. She stopped briefly near the den, then went on over a ridge out of sight, and we presume she regurgitated a few loads into caches there for later use. Female 2 headed straight for the den, and the pups came boiling out and nursed. 

Here it was a day before our last, and we had finally gathered the crucial information and specimens we needed from the den.  One more day of watching would be the frosting on our cake.


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