Five abandoned wolf pups are in the care of the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage after being rescued from a den near the front lines of the massive Kenai Peninsula wildfire this week.
Around noon on Tuesday, firefighters on the northwest edge of the fire reported hearing a yipping sound coming from what they thought was a den, said Steve Miller, deputy manager of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The den was located along a bank where crews had built a firebreak two days earlier.
Miller then contacted the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and he escorted Jeff Selinger, the Kenai-area wildlife biologist, out to where the den was reported, about two miles north of Coal Creek Lake.
When the officials arrived, one pup walked out of the den, Miller said. It appeared very dehydrated, and had been injured by a single porcupine quill, he said.
Selinger, the biologist, looked to see if the wolves' parents were nearby. They weren't, and with the area razed by fire and firefighter activity nearby, it seemed unlikely they would appear, said Ken Marsh, information officer for the Department of Fish and Game.
"It was a pretty easy decision for (Selinger) to decide, 'Hey, these guys need some help,' " Marsh said.
At six feet in height, Selinger was too tall to fit into the narrow den, which stretched about 10 feet back into the hillside, Marsh said. A smaller firefighter volunteered to fetch the pups.
He pulled out four more pups. Each one was dehydrated and pierced with varying numbers of porcupine quills.
"They were starting to fester," Miller said of the quill wounds.
There was a sixth pup in the den, but it was dead, its snout and face covered with porcupine quills, Miller said.
Two medics assigned to the fire division gave the pups sugar water to try to hydrate them, Miller said. Later in the day, the Department of Fish and Game drove the pups to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, where the zoo's curator took them in.
By late Wednesday afternoon, after spending the day with the zoo veterinarian, the pups were quarantined in the zoo's infirmary, being fed puppy-milk replacer formula every few hours, said Jill Myer, the zoo's development director. At two weeks old, the pups weighed 2.5 pounds, about a half-pound less than normal.
All of the quills that could be felt or visibly seen were removed. Some of the pups had developed abscesses and were put on antibiotics, Myer said. Zoo staff are monitoring them closely. She said it was suspected the porcupine quill wounds came after a porcupine wandered into the den to get away from the fire.
Other than that, the animals appear to be doing well, she said.
"They're just sleeping and eating," Myer said. "They're doing normal puppy things."
After being handled by humans, the wolf pups will not be released back into the wild, Myer said. She also said the pups will most likely not be able to stay with the Alaska Zoo, which already has a wolf pack in its care.
The zoo plans to find them a good home, she said.
Reach Devin Kelly at email@example.com or 257-4314.
By DEVIN KELLY