All of the rare red wolf pups at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham are back in their enclosure and with their parents after an escape that was discovered Monday morning.
"We are ecstatic," said Leslie Pepple, the museum's communications manager. "It's the best possible outcome we could hope for."
Six pups were originally born in late April to the museum's six-year-old red wolf; two have died. Once common across the southeast, red wolves now are critically endangered. Only about 200 exist in captivity; another 40 or so live in the wild, at last count. The museum's pups are among one of only five red wolf litters born in captivity in the United States this year.
Two male pups were found at dusk, Monday. The third pup, a female, remained out on her own overnight. Museum staff were able to reunite her with her family around noon, Tuesday. Like her brothers, the female pup returned to the outside of the enclosure.
"She came right up to her enclosure and she was able to be reunited with her parents," Pepple said. "It was very seamless."
Once the third pup was back inside the enclosure, the parents put all of the pups in a den in the exhibit.
"I'm sure she wants to nurse," Pepple said. "I'm sure everybody is taking a nap after their big adventure."
Monday morning discovery
The puppies' departure was discovered Monday morning during a routine vet examination. The pups were slated to get their first round of vaccinations this week. Three of the museum's four seven-week-old red wolf pups were missing. The fourth pup and the pups' parents remained in the enclosure.
Staff didn't see the pups leave the exhibit, but museum officials believe they may have exited through a small space in the enclosure gate or an enlarged opening in the fence gate. Pepple said staff has reinforced the enclosure to hopefully prevent a future escape.
On Monday, museum staffers had seen the red wolf father actually feeding the escaped pups through the fence. The pups are still nursing, but also can eat some food, most of which has been regurgitated by their parents.
Parents still provided care
Pepple said the father wolf has been particularly attentive - even when three of the pups were outside the exhibit.
"He would come up to the fence and regurgitate to put food on the other side," Pepple said. "He was still providing care."
Pepple said he even was whining for them and leaving food outside the den, where they often hide out, even though they were gone.
"Our dad has been super attentive and has been since the pups were born," Pepple said.
The mom, Pepple said, also was attentive, but the pups have reached an age where fathers typically take over care, including feeding, playing with them and teaching them how to howl.
"The parents were pretty quick to bring them in that den area," Pepple said. "We never know how they were feeling, but I'm sure they were anxious for them to be back and relieved."
Pups get health checks
The two male pups received hands-on health check by the museum's animal care team to check for abrasions and dehydration before they were reunited with their parents. While no injuries or dehydration were noted, fluids were administered as a precautionary measure.
The female pup will get a similar check up after she's spent some time with her family.
"She will get a full health check later this afternoon," Pepple said. "For now, she looks healthy. We're just giving everybody time to settle down."
Much of Life and Science's outdoor campus remains closed
A large portion of the museum's outdoor campus will remain closed today, including the Dinosaur Trail, Explore the Wild, and Catch the Wind exhibits. The Ellerbe Creek Railway also is closed.
Part of it may be closed on Wednesday. Pepple said museum staff will reevaluate the pups' conditions before making a decision on how much of the museum's sprawling outdoor campus will reopen for visitors.