Out-of-town campers picked up a 5-week-old wolf pup last weekend thinking it was a lost dog, state officials reported.
Regan Berkley, regional wildlife biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said a couple picked up the pup on the afternoon of Friday, May 25, in the Sawtooth National Forest near Ketchum. After calling the Ketchum Police Department, the couple was advised to take the pup to a local veterinarian's office.
"At the time, everyone thought it was a domestic dog pup," Berkley said.
But while examining the animal, a veterinary technician suspected the "lost puppy" was nothing of the sort and called a friend with wolf advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife—who agreed the pup was likely a wolf.
Suzanne Stone, spokeswoman for Defenders of Wildlife, said the male pup was likely between 5 and 6 weeks old and under 20 pounds. Due to its young age, Stone said the pup would likely still have been nursing if he had not been separated from his pack.
Berkley said the pup appeared to be undergoing some stress, which was taking a toll on his physical condition.
"He's adjusting to a big change in life, basically," she said. "He's had some diarrhea, probably due to a pretty abrupt change in diet. He definitely has some issues and needs veterinary care."
The pup was transferred to Boise on Wednesday morning.
Randy Smith, big game manager for the Magic Valley Region of the Department of Fish and Game, said that Zoo Boise, an accredited American Zoological Association facility, is providing care. Berkley said the zoo would likely not be the pup's permanent home, though no decisions have been made.
"Our contact with Zoo Boise has been under the premise that it's a short-term holding facility," she said. "At the moment, that doesn't look like the long-term solution."
Meanwhile, field technicians with the Wood River Wolf Project and Fish and Game have been scouring the area near where the pup was found since Sunday, searching for any signs of the pack the pup might have come from.
"The consensus is that if we can get the puppy back to its pack within a week or so, they would definitely accept it back," Stone said. "Wolves are very bonded to their young. If they are alive, they will be trying to find him."
Stone and her organization have been working with LightHawk, a group of conservation-minded volunteer pilots, to comb the area where they believe the pack might be staying. As of Wednesday evening, Stone said no fresh sign of the pack had been spotted.
"They are in an area that is pretty thickly timbered," she said.
Berkley said the pup might have become lost when the pack moved from a natal den to what is known as a "rendezvous" site. Wolf packs stay near a natal den where pups are born until the pups are between 6 and 8 weeks old.
The pack then moves to a series of rendezvous sites where the wolves will stay for several weeks at a time. Usually these areas are forested, providing security for the pups that must be left behind while other pack members are hunting.
For the moment, Fish and Game officials say they are limiting the pup's human exposure to increase the chance that it could be reassimilated into its pack. The longer it takes to find the pack, Berkley said, the more remote the chances are of reuniting the pup with its original family.
"It becomes less and less likely that we will be able to reunite him with his birth pack," she said. "At some point soon, we need to make a decision for his welfare and find a longer-term facility for him."
Unfortunately, Berkley said, the agency still hasn't confirmed that it's a wild wolf. The pup's blood has been collected for DNA testing to determine whether the pup is a full wolf or a wolf-dog hybrid.
"I wouldn't even hazard a guess," Berkley said. "It certainly has wolf-like characteristics, but so do hybrids, especially at that age. Another thing that might have happened is that this was someone's pup and it came out of the back of his truck."
Berkley said the DNA results should be received within the next week.
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com
Leave wild babies alone
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game issued a news release this week stating that campers and recreationists who stumble on baby animals that appear to be abandoned should be left alone. The release states that wild mothers often leave their young hidden while they forage or hunt on their own.
"With very, very few exceptions, it's almost always best to leave it alone," said Fish and Game Regional Wildlife Biologist Regan Berkley in an interview. She said that deer fawns often get left for hours, but are well-hidden and generally safe until the mother returns.
"The defense is that it's hidden well, but if a hiker stumbles on it, it can look like it's been abandoned," she said.
The release states that baby animals found in early summer are often too young to survive on their own. In addition, it's illegal for people to possess wild animals without a permit, and wild animals raised in confinement are often destroyed due to possibility of disease and lack of ability to survive on their own.
Suzanne Stone, spokeswoman for Defenders of Wildlife, said that the campers probably didn't realize their mistake.
"It might turn out that the campers did the best thing possible for this guy," she said. "[But] under normal conditions ... usually Mom's close by. It's almost always best to leave wildlife babies in the woods."
Berkley recommends leaving any questionable animal and calling Fish and Game to report the animal and its location.