Friesian Horse

Friesian horse

My wife, Julia, and I decided to begin breedng Friesian horses years ago. This breed is quite unique and rare in the United States.

A brief history:

The black Friesian breed of horse, over 2000 years old, is one of the oldest domesticated breeds in Europe. It is native to the province of Friesland in the northern Netherlands. During the 16th and 17th centuries, but probably earlier, Arabian and Andalusian blood was introduced to lighten the breed. This has given them the high knee action, the small head and the arching neck. The Friesian horse has been kept free from influence of the English Thoroughbred. During the last two centuries, the breed has been bred pure and is considered to be a warm blood. The Friesian has been used to form the basis of many breeds, such as the Shire, New Forest, Dale, Morgan, Swedish Warmblood, the Orlov Trotter, and was recently used to revive the Kladruber breed.

The Friesian horses are the only representative of the original native horse in Western Europe. The armored knights found the Friesians to be very desirable, having the strength to carry great weight and still maneuver very easily. The Hungarian King Louis II used a Friesian stallion on the battlefield on June 15, 1526. The Friesian was used as a war horse by Friesian soldiers fighting with the Roman armies, and they were later used by knights who traveled all the way to the Middle East with the Crusaders.

Their suppleness and agility made Friesians sought after in the riding schools of Paris and Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the Middle Ages it was mainly used as a knight’s horse but in the 18th and 19th century the Friesian was especially famous as a trotting horse for short distances. The Friesian was so well adapted as a fast trotting coach horse that it was, in fact, Friesians who invented trotting races over short distances (320 meters) during the 18th century.

With industrialization and the increase of mechanization on the farm and in transportation, the Friesian horse was very close to extinction. In fact, prior to World War I, the number of Friesian stallions was reduced to only three. At one time, the amount of registered Friesian horses became less than a thousand and the fate of the breed was uncertain. The Friesian has been saved from extinction by a group of dedicated breeders in Friesland, a northern province of Holland. Breeding is done under strict guidelines such as selection, performance testing, and classification to ensure that the quality of the breed remains very high. The offical Dutch studbook is one of the oldest breed registries in the world, having been established in 1879. Breeding of the Friesian horse is still done under strict guidelines such as selection, performance testing and classification to ensure that the quality of the breed remains very high.

New possibilities for the use of Friesian horses were sought. Today the Friesian horse is used for many purposes: carriage driving, pleasure riding, combined driving and for riding in many different disciplines.

Now the future of this ancient breed looks relatively favorable. There are only about 4000 Friesians in the United States, and they have not been well known here, but the excitement over this breed is catching on.

The Friesian has a very specific appearance. It is a noble animal, possessing a kind and gentle character with intelligence and strength. The horses are always completely black, with a very long and wavy mane and tail, with fetlocks (also called feathers) on the legs. They have a relatively small and noble head, often with an arched neck and very distinctive movement with accentuated leg action and powerful hindquarters. The average height is 15-17 hands with an average weight of 1300-1600 pounds. Generally the Friesian has a lively and pleasant disposition. The Friesian is, by nature, a talented show horse with its shiny black coat, flying mane and tail, and high knee action. Today, they are now gaining further respect in the dressage arena as some specimens of the breed are reaching Grand Prix level due to their natural carriage and elevated movement.

The Modern day Friesian has also enjoyed its share of publicity, regularly being seen on the big screen in movies such as The Mask of Zorro, Interview with a Vampire, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Disney’s-Tall Tales, Sleepy Hollow, and Bedazzled. There was the magnificent Othello, known as Goliath, a Friesian who caught many people’s eyes in the 1986 movie, LadyHawke. For those who have traveled to Harrod’s Department store in London, you may have seen the impressive Friesian stallions driving their carriages.

The Friesian’s beauty, size, rideability, and temperament make them a perfect choice for the whole family.

Our Friesian stallion, Ceimpe, was born and raised in Holland. He is a giant, but he has a loving and gentle nature. He is awesome in appearance, looking like a fantasy horse from some childhood storybook. Only a unicorn would be more breathtaking.

Ceimpe was approved by the German Registry for Friesians, the FPZV, as a breeding stallion, one of only 30 or so Friesian stallions in the US approved for breeding. He had to undergo a strenuous 50 day Performance Testing by several German riders and judges, as well as having to undergo a difficult conformance and personality testing, which was done two years ago.

Above is a photo of Ceimpe undergoing part of his performance testing.

He is a dream to ride, once you get used to the strength of an 1800 pound animal whose pounding feet on the ground seem to make the ground around you shake. His flowing mane waving in the breeze when running can transport your imagination to an era hundreds of years ago.

My wife’s gelding, Lancelot, is also extremely large and strong. He has a very playful and loving nature, and when my wife isn’t riding him she’s playing with him much as she plays with our dogs. He follows her everywhere and if she stops, he rests his head on her shoulder.

Our mares also possess the same loving and affectionate disposition, and they compete for our attention when we are with them. We are very much looking forward to the foals coming and the time we will spend training and caring for them.

Learn more about Friesian Horses at

Black Bear


Perhaps no other animal native to North America raises more interest and confusion than bears. Especially black bears, since they are so much more widely spread and located than are the grizzly bears of the Northwest and Alaska.

Because of increasing numbers of human/bear conflicts taking place in states across the country in which bears live, the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary made the decision in 2007 to take in both black bears and grizzly bears that needed homes.

At the International Exotic Animal Sanctuary, we had both black bears and grizzly bears. I worked with the black bear cubs, which were received by us when their mother was killed by a Game and Fish Department when found in a residential area in the Northwest.

We received these cubs when they were about 8 months old, and they were at first very fearful of humans, having seen their mother shot and then kept in a strange and noisy place for a month.

After working with them for long periods of time, I begun to earn their trust and confidence. They now are beginning to look upon me as a comfortable companion that shares their dinner table and is quite helpful in opening their peanuts for them, holding their carrots while they eat them, and holding their apples to make eating them much easier.

They are beginning to accept and enjoy affection, rubbing, and gentle stroking. They also play with my clothing in a very gentle but curious way, wanting to check each item out and see its texture and taste.

I do everything possible to be a calm influence, never reprimanding them beyond a gentle no when they get a bit exuberant, and lying in close proximity so that they realize I trust them. My trust in them creates trust in me on their part.

The bears have now grown older and are in their much larger 5 acre habitat. We take walks in the woods and share a more natural life much more like what they would have the opportunity to experience in the wild. They play in the thickets, in the many trees within their habitat, search for all kinds of interesting things in the meadows, and then jump in their pond for a refreshing swim. They enjoy walking with me throughout their large habitat, and I sit in the tall grass with them while they play together and show off. They truly don’t have a feeling of being within an enclosure, and they therefore can enjoy all the positive elements of the woods and meadows while having no enemies or worries about getting all the food they want. They prefer eating their apples, pears, and carrots from my hand rather than getting them from their bowl, and they particularly enjoy having me hold a clump of grapes in the air so they can pick off grapes as they wish. It’s really Bear Heaven!

Not being predators, I can be much more relaxed with bears than I can with the big cats. I have to keep the big cats in an emotional state, as their instinctual state is very unstable and dangerous. However, with the bears I can relax and just be sure I don’t do anything that might anger them. They can be incredibly gentle and caring. When I feed them half an apple, for instance, they will make several attempts at eating it before biting down, making sure my fingers do not get in their mouth and injure me. When I shell peanuts for them, they patiently wait until I have the peanut safely out of the shell before flicking their long tongue and picking up the nut.

Characteristics of black bears:

Ursus americanus

General Appearance:

They are approximately 4 to 7 feet from nose to tail, and two to three feet high at the withers. They have small eyes, rounded ears, a long snout, a large body, a short tail, and shaggy hair. They differ from a grizzly in being smaller with a smaller shoulder hump, a furred rear instep, smaller claws that art more tightly curved, and longer, smoother, and more tapered ears.

There are 16 subspecies based on minor differences in appearance and DNA.


The population of black bears in North America is estimated at 750,000. They live in forests as far south as Florida and northern Mexico and as far north as forests grow in Alaska and Canada.


Body fur is usually black or brown but occasionally blonde, or rarely white as in the Kermode subspecies of coastal British Columbia. Brown muzzle. Eyes brown (blue at birth). Skin light gray.

Adult weights:

Wild male black bears of breeding age weigh between 125 and 500 pounds, depending upon age, season, and food. Wild females usually weigh between 90 and 300 pounds. Black bears in captivity may exceed these weights.

Mating season:

Usually from late May to early July. The implantation is delayed until November.


January or early February

The number of cubs in a litter is usually 2 in the western United States and 3 in the Eastern United States.

Cubs usually stay with their mother for 17 months (rarely 29 months). One to six days before the mothers are ready to mate in late May or June they force their yearlings to stop traveling with them.

Typically, the mother is 3 to 7 years old at the production of first cubs, depending upon food supply.


Bears see in color and have good vision close up.


Exceeds human frequency ranges and probably twice the sensitivity


Their smelling ability is extremely good. The limits are untested, but their nasal mucosa area is about 100 times larger than in humans.


Large brain compared to body size. One of the more intelligent animals. Navigation ability superior to humans. Excellent long-term memory. Can generalize to the simple concept level.


Usually silent. A variety of grunts in amiable situations. Loud blowing noises when frightened. Clack teeth when frightened. They use a resonant, humanlike �voice� to express a range of emotions from pleasure to fear.

Swimming Ability:

Good. Can swim at least a mile and a half in fresh water.

Running speed:

Lean bears can exceed 30 mph.

Preferred foods:

Nuts, acorns, fruit, insects, succulent greens. Meat and less succulent greens are eaten when preferred foods are scarce.

Potential lifespan:

Black bears can live 21-33 years or more if they are not killed.

Greatest misconception:

The greatest misconception about black bears is that they are likely to attack people in defense of cubs. They are highly unlikely to do this. Black bear researchers often capture screaming cubs in the presence of bluff-charging mothers with no attacks. Defense of cubs is a grizzly bear trait. Black bears have not been known to kill anyone in defense of cubs.



Lions are the only social big cat. Lions live in social units called prides. All other big cats are solitary, although some species are more so than others. In part due to their social nature, lions are very possessive. This comes into play when another animal, including a human, come close to one of their possessions, including their toys. I have learned that I can gauge my bond with a lion by how much it allows me to come near its toys and personal objects. There are lions with which I work that will think nothing of me rolling around their ball or tire and even enjoy doing so with me. I feel rather comfortable around these lions.

Lions also possess a trait that can be very dangerous to the unaware or the unfocused human. When lions greet each other in their natural environment, one of the playful activities they engage in involves mouthing the other lion’s legs. So, they will frequently choose to do so with their human friends. Unfortunately what seems affectionate to the lion might mean a fang going through the skin all the way to the bone on a human. Many of the videos one sees of supposed lion attacks are often this mouthing activity taken to extreme or an unexpected reaction from the human trainer that then turns to aggression on the part of the lion. A number of big cat trainers hate working with lions because they aren?t quite in tune with some of the instinctual play activities normal to lions. Male lions are also inherently very pushy, and they enjoy pushing a human friend around or moving him/her around at will. Therefore, if one is to work with a lion, boundaries must be established, and the lion better respect the human and desire to modify its behavior in order to please its human friend. Otherwise, it will be a rather unpleasant interaction.

Nevertheless, I have a number of very loving and happy relationships with lions. Samson, pictured here, is one of the most beautiful male lions I have seen. His huge black mane makes him truly appear to be “king of the jungle.”  He truly loves affection, and he will lie beside me for hours if I’ll just stroke my fingers through his mane. I’ve never seen an animal, wild or domestic, that likes affection for long periods of time to the extent that Samson does. Hakeem, also pictured here, is a male lion that is inherently very pushy. He will put his head against my body and attempt to push me around his habitat. When he tires of this game, however, he will lie down and contentedly enjoy me stroking his mane in the same manner as Samson. He often falls asleep while I’m stroking him.

There are a number of sub-species of lion, and the various sub-species are easily seen in the males due to differences in color and size of their manes.

Characteristics of lions:

Panthera leo


Possibly the best known of all the big cats, the lion is well known for its habit of living in prides or groups. Adult lions usually have a plain unspotted coat, light brown to dark ochre in color. Cubs are marked with spots, which sometimes persist on the legs and belly until they are fully grown. Male lions have a brown mane, which tends to grow darker and fuller as the animal ages. The tail has a black tuft at the end. “White” lions occasionally occur in the Transvaal region of southern Africa, but these are not true albinos. Males usually stand about 48 inches at the shoulder and measure 67-99 inches head and body, with a tail of about 35-41 inches. Male weights range from 330-550 pounds. Females are smaller, usually standing 43 inches at the shoulder, and 55-69 inches head and body, with a tail of about 27-39 inches. Females weigh about 265-400 pounds.


Lions are generally found in open habitats — grassy plains, savannas, arid woodlands, and semi desert. They are found across Africa south of the Sahara, south to Botswana. A small population consisting of a few hundred Asian lions still survives in the Gir forest of western India.


Lions have no fixed breeding season. Females in a pride will often come into estrus and give birth in synchrony. One to four cubs, each weighing about 3.25 pounds are born after a 110-day gestation period. Cubs can suckle from any female in the pride, and young usually remain with their mother for two years. Lions live in prides that range in size from 3 to 30 individuals. Pride size varies according to the area and prey availability. Groups of related lionesses and their cubs form the stable core of a pride. Daughters are usually recruited into the pride but males leave as they become mature. One to seven males associate with the group of females. Male tenure with a pride can be as brief as a few months or as long as six years, but eventually the pride males are driven off by another group of males.


Lions feed on a variety of large and medium-sized prey, including giraffe, buffalo, zebra, antelope, wildebeest, and warthog. Lions will also eat carrion and smaller prey.

North American River Otter

two otters swimming

At the end of September, 2003, a new angel came into our life! We received a three year old North American river otter named Lulu. She was sought to become a new companion for Petey, who lost his (and my) dearly beloved Penny a few months before. (see the “Memorial Section.”) Lulu became extremely attached and affectionate with Petey almost from the first day. And, she came to trust me and treat me with the same affection after several weeks in which I was on “probation” in her eyes, not fully trusting me but giving me the benefit of the doubt. She now curls up in my lap, rubs her whiskers on my hand or shoulder, and even falls asleep on occasion in my lap. Petey is ecstatic, showing his pleasure and appreciation for saving him from the melancholy and suffering of losing his beloved mate in many very obvious ways. Prior to Lulu’s arrival, Petey seemed to lose interest in everything, moping about during his waking hours and sleeping much more. Now, he acts like he’s shed ten years. He hops around playing with Lulu and constantly reaches for me to pick him up and carry him about while he rubs his cheeks against mine in the most graphic communication of his appreciation and happiness one could wish to receive. Then, when he is placed back on the ground, he runs to Lulu, who deferentially rolls on her back for Petey to groom her neck and chest. It is a beautiful and extremely satisfying sight to behold!

Probably the most fun-loving animal that exists is the North American river otter. They are often called the “clowns of the animal kingdom.” They can find endless ways to play and to have fun, and they express their joy with playful squeals of pleasure and almost seem to giggle as they roll, chase, and interact with each other or anyone or anything that happens to be nearby. I have lived with two of these bundles of joy for thirteen years. Petey and Penny, pictured here, have given me more pleasure and made me smile more that anything else I know other than my two children. At this point, I must caution the reader not to go out and acquire a river otter! As far as I know, or as far as anyone else I have found knows, no one else has had the positive experience I’ve had living in close contact with these inquisitive, yet potentially aggressive beings. In fact I haven’t heard of anyone else that has successfully kept river otters past their maturity. If any readers know of anyone that has successfully kept river otters in a home environment past the age of three, I’d love to hear from them. River otters are related to the wolverine, known as the most aggressive predator in North America. They are quick to become agitated and angered by anything to which they take exception, and they can strike like a cobra. Once they begin striking at anything, they will continue and would undoubtedly fight to the death before they would back off. I have seen documentaries of a single river otter fighting off three coyotes and keeping them from her babies until all the otters were safely in their den.

While I have heard many horror stories of peoples’ attempts at having river otters once they become mature, my experience has been quite the contrary. Petey and Penny live in my house, and I spend well over an hour a day with them. It is perhaps the most pleasant part of every day. Petey loves for me to carry him around in my arms and lies on his back like a baby fondling my fingers. Penny loves to roll over on her back and have me tickle her tummy while she playfully tries to nip at my fingers. They play endlessly on their slides and take stuffed animals to bed with them. They have a collection of about fifty stuffed animals that Penny carefully places in a corner of their room, selecting three or four of them to take to bed each night.

I spend countless hours lying outside with them, the three of us playing like children. They will rummage through my pockets and inside my shirt or jacket, then rub their whiskers against my cheek lovingly, chatter affectionately, then perhaps Petey will curl up in my lap on his back holding my hand in his paw before Penny gets jealous and jerks him out of my lap. The two of them then roll around on the ground nipping and play-fighting with each other. I will often join in, rubbing their bellies and tickling Penny while they play. Although they may be constantly nipping each other during this time, I will never feel a tooth.

Petey and Penny spend all their time awake trying to find interesting games to play and ways to get where they aren’t supposed to go. Their apartment has a bathroom. One day Petey decided to push a heavy metal chair over to the door of the bathroom. He then climbed the chair and worked with the doorknob until he learned how to open it. They then went into the bathroom and rearranged everything, putting all loose objects in the toilet. I put a hook and eye high up on the door with a sliding “child proof” bar that works with a spring. Petey pushed the chair back over to the door, climbed up on the back of the chair to get higher, then opened the hook and eye, the doorknob, and proceeded to trash the bath room again. When I went into the room for my nightly check before retiring, I noticed immediately, before even rounding a corner to the room, that Petey had his chest stuck out proudly and had a mischievous grin. I knew right away he had done something he was proud of, before even seeing the bathroom door.

I wish to acknowledge my appreciation to my dear friend, Chris Bellows, formerly Assistant Curator and Director of Animal Interaction at SeaWorld, San Antonio, Texas. Chris’ advice and consultation on river otters was extremely helpful in the early years with Petey and Penny. Even now, we often exchange ideas and experiences and come up with suggestions to improve the lives of animals under each other’s care. I wish that more people in the animal-related field would exchange ideas and experiences for the benefit of all animals.

I could write stories about Petey and Penny for pages and pages, but it would override the remainder of this website. If readers want to know more, let me know and I will perhaps write additional stories from time to time.

Characteristics of river otters:

Lontra canadesis

The North American river otter is part of the family called mustelids, which also includes weasels, minks, ferrets, badgers, skunks, and wolverines.

Historically otters were found over much of the North American continent. They occupied one of the largest geographic areas of any North American mammal. They were found in all major waterways of the U.S. and Canada until at least the 18th century.

Otters generally become secretive, if not actually nocturnal, where human disturbance makes daylight activity stressful. They seem to be more diurnal in the winter than during other seasons, and it has been thought this way because humans are relatively less active in the otters habitats during the winter months.

Their dens vary according to the habitat availability. Rather than excavate their own dens, otters often use natural formations, man-made structures, and dens built by other animals. Old beaver dams are common, as well as muskrat lodges, log jams, niches in river banks, hollow tree bases, and piles of rock, logs, or brush. They line their dens with moss, grass, and leaves. Their dens are commonly underground and near water.

Otters are more social than most other mustelids. Groups of as many as 30 otters have been seen playing or eating without any friction. However, males are generally solitary. Females live within group ranges, but with a core area where they spend more than half their time exclusively. Otters tend to avoid conflict with one another through mutual avoidance. There is a social hierarchy in an area. A subordinate animal will go to great lengths to avoid the dominant, which appears to ignore the presence of its inferior. Scent marking with feces, urine, and anal sac secretions helps accomplish mutual avoidance. This technique is known as sprainting. Otters become most territorial during breeding season and will fight if necessary. After giving birth, females temporarily become dominant to males. While the family unit generally consists of the mother and her cubs, but sometimes the father is also accepted into the family.

Otters are carnivores, and they eat fish primarily. However, they have also been known to eat blueberries and aquatic plants such and roots and pondweeds. While some fishermen suspect them of depleting game fish stocks, they actually prefer slower-moving “trash fish,” as catfish. They also eat freshwater mussels, frogs, and turtles. They also like crustaceans. They tend to stay close to shore when fishing so they can quickly take their food on land to be consumed.

They have a chestnut brown coat on their back, while their chin, throat, and belly region are somewhat lighter beige. They have two layers of fur: a dense inner layer of fine, soft hair fibers, and a longer, coarse outer layer of guard hairs, Several of the inner fibers combine and connect at each individual guard hair. They undergo a molt in spring and fall. Their tail is 1/3 their total length. It is used as a rudder when swimming, and for balance when standing on its hind legs. They have broad snouts, small ears, short legs with fully webbed feet, and a thick but tapering tail.

They can swim up to 8 mph. They swim by tucking their front paws in close to their flanks and propelling themselves with a powerful flexing of their hind legs. The hind legs can be kicked out for additional power, when necessary. They can stay underwater for up to five minutes. They do this by reducing their heart rate from 150 to 10 beats per minute, slowing circulation to their limbs and allowing the blood to retain more oxygen.

They maneuver through the winter snow by “tobogganing” on their bellies or backs along stream or river banks. They also have specially adapted lenses in their eyes to accommodate underwater distortions. They have a clear, third eyelid called a nictitating membrane that covers their eyes when swimming underwater. This gives protection to the eye but allows the otter to see clearly.

They have a metabolism about 20% above the standard for their body mass. This keeps them at a healthy temperature. The oils in their fur make it virtually waterproof. As they dive beneath the surface of the water, a trail of bubbles follow as air escapes from its insulating form between the fur layers. This also reduces buoyancy.

Otters breed from December through May. They reach sexual maturity at two. Males normally aren’t successful breeders until they reach four. Mating occurs most frequently in the water. They may mate several times in successive days. A male on the tract of a female in heat or in the act of mating may become very aggressive if disturbed or challenged. Some go berserk and will charge anyone near, whether man or animal. The gestation period lasts about a year. Females usually use the same nest for birthing only one time. They generally have two to four cubs. The cubs begin eating solid food at around two months of age. The cubs are born in the spring, blind and toothless and about the size of a chipmunk. They are completely helpless until they are five to six weeks old. They are usually weaned at three months. At three months, they develop their waterproof coat and prepare for their first swim. Sometimes, the mother must drag the babies by the loose skin of the neck in order to get it into the water. The mother will catch a fish, call to the cubs, and let the fish loose upon their arrival. The cubs are usually catching their own fish at four months. They are basically self-sufficient at five to six months. At this point, the mother may let the cubs interact with other animals, including the father, who is generally ostracized from the family until that time. The family may then stay together through the fall, but the cubs will leave by spring. The cubs will leave at about eight months.

Otters have various means of communication. Their expressions tell a lot about their mood: An intensely motionless stance communicates alertness, a motionless pose while lying on its back shows submission or desire for play, muzzle-touching and mutual grooming are socializing and affection, pulling the ears back and showing an open mouth is a “threat-face.”

They have various vocalizations: snarling growls indicates anger or being very disturbed, screams or screeches mean frightened or uneasy, low growls are a threat, bird-like chirps are calls or contact between family members, grunts such as un-huh, un-huh are signs of being startled, uneasy, or uncomfortable, low murmuring or chuckles are friendly or contact calls.

Otters have few natural predators. Those known to occasionally prey upon otters are bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and alligators. Few diseases seem to affect otters, due to their aquatic behavior. This all changed with the beginning of the fur trade in 1534, when French explorer Jacques Cartier traveled through the mid-west. River otters had nearly disappeared by the end of the nineteenth century. Otters are considered “keystone species” by researchers. This means that, due to their diets, sizes, and physical tolerances for environmental variability, they serve as an early detecting system for problems in the environment.

Otters live an average of 15-20 years, with 23 years being the documented record in captivity. Rabies has never been reported in N.A. river otters. In general, the more variety in a captive otter’s diet, the less chance of nutritional deficiency.

Adult river otters are three to four feet long, including a one to one-and-a-half foot tail, and they generally weigh 15 to 25 pounds.

It has been said that, if playfulness is a measure of intelligence, river otters must be among the smartest of all wild animals. They’ll chase after a pebble, a shell, or each other for hours. Their favorite activity is body-sledding down a slippery slope and landing with a belly flop in the water. They’ve been known to swim up to a beaver and mischievously tweak the beaver’s flat tail.

They are devoted parents. Unusual among mammals in that the father often rejoins the female when the young are weaned and old enough to leave the den. He helps in raising the babies. Young otters don’t take willingly to water at first, and the parents have to coax them. They can dive up to 60 feet deep and stay under for five minutes.

Otters sleep approximately half their lives. They travel up to 15 miles an hour on land, and about 8 miles an hour in water. They have well-developed senses of smell and hearing. They also use their whiskers to detect prey when hunting and obstructions when swimming.

Macaws & Cockatoos

two macaw birds

Macaws and cockatoos are the only animals I have put on this website that are properly considered as pets. While they are really wild animals, they can be tamed and raised as pets without any serious injuries to humans.

I have three macaws and two cockatoos, which I have had for between 15-35 years, depending on the individual bird. They are the most underrated of pets, since they have wonderful and complex personalities, great intelligence, live a long time, and are relatively easy to care for physically. I underline the physical part, because their emotional well-being is a bit more complex. They are extremely inquisitive, curious, affectionate, and playful animals that need a great deal of time and attention paid to them in order for them to be happy and well adjusted. I frankly feel a bit guilty that, due to the many other animals with which I spend time, I don’t give the birds the amount of time to which they are entitled.

All my birds are quite loveable and playful. Juliet, pictured here, is a Hyacinth macaw, a very rare and very sweet sub-species of macaw. They are the largest of the macaw family, and they frequently also have the best dispositions. Juliet is totally loveable, and she loves to kiss and rub her large beak against my cheek for long periods of time. She is also an escape artist, as are many of the parrot family. She can unlatch most latches, and she can untie most knots. One of my cockatoos, Tina, can untie any knot I have seen. Often she can do it in a few minutes.

Given the right care, hygiene, and food all the members of the parrot family are rather hardy. None of mine have ever needed to go to a veterinarian since I’ve had them, and I’ve had Zeus for 35 years. The youngest bird I have, Tina, I’ve had 15 years.

All of my birds enjoy playing with toys, watching television with me, and teasing the dogs that stay in my bedroom at night. My ex-wife used to raise Doberman pinschers, and Zeus would get down on the floor and chase the dogs all over the house. I have yet to see a dog stand up to a macaw.

Characteristics of macaws and cockatoos

The Psittaciformes (parrots, lories, cockatoos, parakeets) are a unique order within the birds of this world. In taxonomic systems they are normally filed between the Columbiformes (Pidgeons) and Cuculiformes (Cuckoos and Touracos). The psittacine birds exist in all shapes and sizes.

One of their typical characteristics is the big head with a bended strong beak. The upper part is curved downward, ending in a sharp tip and fits over an upward curved lower mandible with a broad front. The upper mandible of the beak is movable against the head with an extra angle and muscles, while in other birds this mandible is blocked to the skull and more or less unmovable. The special mechanism of muscles for the beak (crosswise up and down) gives great power.

The broad and fleshy tongue is strengthened by a horny layer under the tip. Beak and tongue together make an excellent tool for cracking seeds, wood carving, digging holes etc. or are used as “third hand” while climbing and to examine things.

The nostrils are placed in a naked or feathered fleshy area at the base of the upper mandible.

Also the zygodactyl feet (two toes forward, two back) are obvious and give them excellent ability in climbing and manipulating things. The outer toes are prolonged against the inner.

Compared to other orders of birds the Psittaciformes have less but stronger feathers. The parson’s nose is reduced and there are special powder dunes which produce a fine mealy dust to conserve the plumage. Generally a psittacine bird has 12 tail feathers. The shape of these feathers varies within the genera/species. The feathers of the Psittaciformes contain a specific group of pigments, called Psittacin which in combination with others lead to the beautiful colors that are found in these birds.


taming wild animals interacting with wild animals conservation

endangered species books on animals training macawsThese birds live in a great variety of environments from hot tropical rainforests to nearly antarctical climate. Many of their species are highly specialized in nutrition and biotope requirements. Others seem to be cosmopolites. There are more than 330 different species distributed from equatorial to near antarctical regions of the world. Some species like Myiopsitta (Quaker) or Psittacula sp. (Ringnecks), which escaped from captivity, have settled successfully in cities and parks, which do not form their native environment.

Social Behavior:

Outside the breeding season parrots in general are very social birds, which gather in flocks from small parties to thousands in number. This instinctive socialization soon made them pets in human history. Kept in captivity parrots are forced to take man as flock-social partner by instinct if there is no natural partner available.

Pair bonding is very strong. Young parrots may choose their lifetime partners before maturity. In some of the species it is even possible that a bird will die after the loss of its mate.

Natural History:

Fossil relics of birds are rare, so the development of the families/genera cannot be tracked back clearly. The great differences between the geographical groups and the lack of intermediates between most of the families leads to the conclusion that the “endemic development” of Parrots started in early history of the caves. The oldest fossil parrot has been found in Great Britain and is dated from the early Eocene – more than 60 million years ago. It could be identified as some sort of conure by the specific form of tibia-bones parrots have in their feet (zygodactylism). It is believed that under the existing psittacines Strigopidae (Kakapo) and Nestoridae (Kea, Kaka) show the oldest living forms of these birds.


Because of their instinctive social behavior parrots always have been famous as pets. Humans are accepted as flock-partners and it is possible to touch the bird because preening is an expression of partnership within the psittacines. They may learn to imitate human voices – and even use it to communicate with their human partners. Their great capability to learn certain tricks and behavior which is not typical for the wild bird is another reason


The broad skull of the Psittaciformes gives room for a more extended brain than in other birds. Well known is their great capability to learn. In captivity many parrots can learn to imitate human language and also may even use it to express their needs. Researchers have shown that is possible for a parrot to identify “same” and “different” attributes of known and unknown items and to express this in human language. But as in all “intelligent” beings the individual’s character varies very much. – One African Grey Parrot will learn to speak easily while the other refuses to learn a single word.


Left aside human influences it is estimates that the loss under young psittacines is as high as in other birds. Only in Australia wild parrots are banded or receive wing-tags for field observations, so no secure data about the life spans of parrots in general is available.

Well known is the longevity in captive parrots. There are proved records of larger birds like Cockatoos and Amazons, which reached an age of more than 100 years.


Leopards are considered by many to be the most treacherous and dangerous of the big cats. They are undoubtedly very cunning. It is said that there are leopards living in downtown Nairobi, Kenya. They are definitely adaptable and intelligent cats. Leopards are the only big cat that usually doesn’t chase down their prey to any extent, usually hiding in trees over water holes or some such hunting trick. They are said to be the strongest big cat, pound for pound. In the wild leopards take their prey up into a tree frequently, to keep it from other predators. I have heard of a leopard taking a full-grown zebra or a half-grown giraffe up a tree.

taming wild animals interacting with wild animals conservation. However, my experience with leopards has been, for the most part, very positive and affectionate. They are always observing me, no matter how affectionate they appear, and seem to always weighing whether or not I deserve their respect. I have had a relationship with a black leopard named Onyx for seven years. He is pictured here. In that time, he has only been very affectionate and friendly, often grooming me for long periods of time. But, his eyes are always watching, and you can almost see his mind analyzing every aspect while appearing relaxed and nonchalant.

The relationship I enjoyed with two leopard sisters, Mia and Tali, was quite unique. They came to the International Exotic Feline Sanctuary some years ago. They very much disliked human contact or having humans anywhere near their habitat when they arrived. They had been used quite extensively in an outreach program prior to their arrival, and they seemed to be resentful and assumed that any time humans were around they were going to be put in a position they disliked, perhaps due to the amount of traveling they had endured. In any case, I developed a bond with them over a relatively short period of time, approximately two months, that became very close and intense. Soon it was necessary to move them from their temporary quarters to their permanent habitat, about a quarter of a mile away. I was concerned about putting them in a small traveling cage to move them and breaking the bond and trust we had built. I therefore decided to ride with them inside the travel cage to assure them that it was all right and that since I wouldn’t show any discomfort, hopefully they would take a cue from me and accept that it was not something to become upset about. I felt they looked to me for security and support. The downside was I would be locked inside this travel cage with them for quite a while. Fortunately, it worked out far better than I had hoped. The wilder of the two, Tali, relaxed as soon as I put my arm around her shoulder and assured her it was okay. She never snarled or showed any irritation or agitation. Mia, the more secure of the two, laid across my lap munching on a turkey neck the entire trip. Once we arrived at their new habitat, I spent the day inside it with them. Ever since then, almost three years ago, they have considered that I live with them, and in fact I believe I could. Prior to our relationship flourishing, the two sisters often fought and it was believed they would soon have to be separated. Since we developed this close bond, they also have developed a close bond with each other, frequently playing together and grooming one another. There was absolutely no jealousy between them towards me, except during periods when one or the other of them is in heat. Even then, there is only an occasional snarl or hiss towards the other sister.

Characteristics of Leopards:

Panthera pardus


The leopard is quite similar in appearance to the jaguar, but it lacks the jaguar’s massive head and robust physique. The background color of the leopard’s fur varies from the gray to rusty brown. Leopards living in desert or savanna areas are usually paler, while those living in tropical forest are darker. The coat is covered with small black spots and rosettes, but unlike the jaguar, the open rosettes do not usually have smaller pots inside. All-black leopards are common, especially in tropical forest.


Leopards measure 36-73 inches head and body length, with a tail of 23-43 inches. Males weigh 82-99 pounds, whereas females usually weigh about a third less.


Leopards are great generalists in terms of habitat use. They seem to be able to live in almost any area that has sufficient food and cover. They are found in lowland rainforests, wooded savanna, scrub, and rocky mountains, deserts, and agricultural grazing land. They have one of the widest distributions of any of the felids. It is found throughout much of Africa, except the Sahara, and in parts of Israel, the Middle East, Pakistan, India, Southeast Asia, as well as part of China and Siberia.


In the northern part of its range the leopard mates in January and February, and elsewhere breeding occurs throughout the year. After a gestation period of 90-105 days, 2 or 3 young are born in a secluded den. The cubs weigh about 1 pound at birth, and open their eyes when they are 10 days old. The young remain with their mother until they are 15-24 months old. The leopard is a solitary cat. Males and females usually maintain territories, which may be 3-25 square miles in size. A male’s territory often overlaps the territory of more than one female.


Leopards feed on a wide variety of prey. They will eat almost anything from insects and rodents to large ungulates, and are known to kill prey weighing several times their own weight. Commonly they prey on animals such as gazelle, deer, pig, and monkey.


white tiger face

Tigers are perhaps the most fascinating of the big cats. Perhaps it’s because of their size, or their vivid colors, intense eyes, large teeth, or perhaps a combination of all of these. Tigers elicit awe, admiration, fascination, and fear. Beneath all the color and physical appeal, however, there is a truly interesting and admirable being.

Again, understanding that generalizations about any species may not completely apply to a specific individual, tigers are perhaps the most emotional of the big cats. They react to stimulation of any type to a greater degree than do other species. Many things can affect a tiger that wouldn’t necessarily affect another species, such as changes in barometric pressure, particular noises, wind, and many more too numerous to list.

Because tigers are so emotional, they are capable of unbelievable affection. The white tiger, Sabrina, was probably the most affectionate animal I know. She’s was also extremely dangerous because of her intense emotional makeup. I belonged to Sabrina since 1994 until her death in 2011. To say I owned her would be trivialize our relationship. If anything, she owned me. She acted like the princess she is. We get along wonderfully because I defer to her every whim, and the reason we get along so well is everything is truly her way. She returns the favor by treating me with great love, gentleness, and consideration, and she does often do things to please me, because it pleases her to do so. After all these years, I still don’t get used to how beautiful she truly was. Her ice blue eyes can pierce through you or be as soft as a marshmallow. There are only between 200-300 white tigers in the world.

By the way, when I talk about wild animals’ affectionate nature or other endearing qualities, I want to caution the reader not to be motivated to go out and obtain such an animal. Understand that some very potentially dangerous qualities also offset the good and sensitive features of these animals’ nature. (See my article on why exotic cats don’t make good pets.) Only those humans that the tigers trust and respect will be able to see the sensitive and affectionate side of them. One often hears someone say, “they’ll like me because they’ll know I really care for them.” Wrong! They could care less whether you care for them initially. They initially judge you as either prey, dangerous, a source of irritation, or perhaps someone they want to get to know better and perhaps share time and space with. Only in the latter instance will you survive the initial encounter with a grown tiger. And, if they ultimately decide you’re not worthy of their respect, you won’t survive for long.

The message I’m articulating at first seems contradictory, I know. But, the reader should understand we are talking about a wild predator. They have a complex and deep emotional makeup and many facets to their personality. I have spent many, many years working with and studying wild predators and developing the ability to communicate with them in a nonverbal, but complex, manner that makes us both comfortable with each other’s presence. Absent that communication, I wouldn’t be safe or able to see the loveable and sensitive qualities they possess. The big cats, even those with whom I’ve had a long and wonderful relationship, would kill me as quickly as anyone else if I did the wrong thing at the wrong time. My safety does not lie in my relationship; rather it lies in my knowledge of what they’re feeling and thinking at a given time and how to respond to that feeling.

That said I have spent countless hours in the company of some really unbelievable tigers. Caesar was a large male Siberian tiger that is extremely aggressive. Yet, he would lie beside me on his perch and can be as loving as the most gentle house cat. Sabrina and I can nap together lying in the hay of her house on a cold winter’s day with her paw wrapped around my body, and it can be like meditation for me. Probably the most purely beautiful moments of my life. However, on other occasions when she is agitated by external stimuli or perhaps in heat, if I so much as wiped the sweat off my brow, she would attack me. They have no inhibitions.

Tigers have one characteristic that can be very disconcerting. If one has ever seen two tigers playing with one another–perhaps on a documentary–one will see that they frequently rise up on their hind legs and paw at each other playfully or lean on each other. Tigers can do that on occasion with their human friends, without regard to the size difference that they don’t take into account. It can be a bit of a problem. Sabrina is a consummate jumper. She loves to jump up and rest her upper body on my shoulders, despite the fact she outweighs me by over 300 pounds. I have to be well braced, and pushing her off is like pushing against a giant marshmallow. Needless to say, I have developed several techniques to avert this playful, if unwelcome, game.

Phoebe, was a sweet, gentle tiger. She is a twelve-year-old tigress that resideed at the International Exotic Feline Sanctuary. Phoebe was raised by her mother and then put into a breeding program in which she had several litters of cubs. She ended up at the Sanctuary after being confiscated. Most animal experts will say that one must take a baby cub off her mother and feed her a bottle at a very young age in order to ever be in the unprotected company of humans. However, I began spending time with Phoebe when she was nine years old, and a casual observer would not be able to tell that I didn’t raise her. She is a unique tiger, however, and I probably wouldn’t be able to have nearly so positive a relationship with another tiger in like circumstances. She loves having her back scratched and just having me in her company talking to her in an affectionate manner.

Characteristics of Tigers


Being the only felid animal with stripes, the tiger is most certainly the most easily recognizable big cat. Its coat varies from dark orange to reddish ochre, and the belly, neck and insides of the limbs are creamy white. The Siberian tiger generally has the palest coat while the tiger in Indochina is much darker. A series of dark brown or black stripes run vertically across the body.


Tigers can live in a variety of habitat types and climatic conditions, but they require sufficient cover, year-round access to water, and a steady supply of large prey. They live in snow-covered mountain regions, tropical evergreen forest, mangrove swamps, and dry deciduous forest. They are found in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, USSR, and perhaps China.


Tigers mate at any time of the year, but most frequently from November to April. Two to three young are born after a gestation period of 104-106 days. The young nurse until they are about 6 months old, and male cubs grow faster than female. The young leave their natal range when their mother has a new litter, or usually when they are about two years old. They are solitary animals. Females may have overlapping or exclusive territories. Home range size is strongly influenced by prey density, and female ranges from 6.2 sq. miles to 368 sq. miles have been recorded. Male ranges are much larger, and may overlap several female ranges. Despite the fact that these cats usually hunt by themselves, tigers are not totally asocial. Female tigers spend a large portion of their lives accompanied by dependent young, and several tigers may come together to share a kill.


Tigers feed on whatever large prey they can catch. Their diet includes deer, pigs, and buffalo. They readily kill domestic livestock, and have been known to include man in their diets.


The tiger is the largest of the big cats. The Siberian Tiger may weigh as much as 705 lbs (320 kg). In India, males more commonly weigh 440-595 lbs., while females weigh 275-355 lbs. Head and body length varies from 55-110 inches, and tail length is 23.5-37.5 inches.


cougar laying down

Cougars are also known as Pumas and Mountain Lions. It is the same animal, but many people are confused by the common use of all the different names. There are a number of sub-species, depending upon the area of the country in which they live. This is true of all species of big cats to some degree.

Cougars are rather volatile cats. They can become excited very easily. They are quick and alert. One of the traits I find peculiar to cougars is something I call the “cougar hug.” When very excited, a cougar will jump up and grab you and squeeze very tight. You can feel the tremendous strength they possess. It’s not necessarily an aggressive move, but it can be rather disconcerting. It can also be difficult to extricate yourself from. A cougar is more likely to develop this habit if they were “rough-housed” and wrestled with as a cub. However, certain cougars develop this trait in any case.

I have found particular cougars to be quite stable and quite affectionate. A favorite of mine is Turbo. I have had a relationship with Turbo for approximately seven years, and he has never once shown the slightest aggression or done anything other than be a loveable and sensitive being. I lie in his house in the winter with him on occasion. When he is lying on his perch or on the ground, he loves for me to lie beside him and put my arm out for him to rest his head upon as he goes to sleep. He is quite special. He loves playing with objects such as pumpkins that he can roll around and push with his front paws. He is very affectionate, and often grooms me with is tongue before falling asleep.

Indito, is a rather small cougar that is very volatile. But, by carefully diverting her attention when she becomes excited, I have been able to have a very affectionate relationship with her that has only been positive and friendly. She is very instinctual, however, and would spring upon anything or anyone that was a source of agitation or irritation.

Here are some of the characteristics of cougars:

Felis concolor


The cougar and the African lion are the only two plain-colored big cats. However, the cougar is generally much lighter in build, has a smaller head, and males do not have a mane. The cougar?s coat can be red-brown to blue-gray, and almost any color in between. They have a long neck, slim, elongated body, long tail and small ears. They are generally about the size of a leopard but weights and measurements vary greatly across the cat’s broad geographical range. Males weigh 148-227 pounds, measure 42-77 inches head and body length, and have a tail of about 26-31 inches. Females measure about 38-60 inches head and body length, weigh about 80-133 pounds, and have a tail between 21-32 inches long.


Cougars can live in coniferous forest, tropical forest, swamp, grassland, and brush country. They are found at elevations that range from sea level to 14.700+feet. They are the most widely distributed of any of the American cats. Its current range includes Canada, North America – west of the Great Plains, southern Florida, Mexico, Central America and South America.


2 to 3 cubs are born after a 90-95 day gestation period. Cubs are born with a spotted coat that disappears as they become adults. The cubs nurse for about 3 or more months, but begin to eat meat as early as six weeks of age. Young cougars become independent when they are about 2 years old, and littermates may stay together for a few months after leaving their mother. They are solitary animals. Females may share overlapping ranges, but there is usually little overlapping between resident males. One male range may overlap that of several females.


In general, deer are the most important part of the cougar diet, but they also feed on beaver, porcupine, hare, raccoon, opossum, and feral hog. They usually drag their kill to a secluded spot after eating its fill, and then cover the carcass with vegetation. They may feed off of the same carcass for up to a week, depending on the size of the kill.

Arctic Fox


One of the most adorable and loveable animals in the animal kingdom is the arctic fox. I was blessed to live with Felix and Angel for many years. They were two bundles of joy and fun. In the winter when they had their full white coat, they looked like huge powder puffs with black raisin eyes. They are truly one of the most beautiful of animals. In the summer they shed the heavy winter coat and have a thin gunmetal blue-gray coat.

Arctic foxes love to play, and Felix and Angel would play for hours with cat toys and anything else that seemed fun. They have a wide range of sounds, and their greeting is something like a loud giggle joined together with a laugh. It is a delightful and endearing sound. They are very affectionate with those with whom they feel comfortable. However, like all wild animals, they can play a bit rougher than most people would like. Felix would lie in my lap for long periods of time, enjoying having me run my fingers through his long coat continuously. He and Angel loved to lick faces much like other canines.

They love to dig, and Felix and Angel had a huge pile of sand in the middle of their habitat that they dug into a deep tunnel complex. In the wild, arctic foxes build dens in deep tunnels that are used for many years.

If I were searching for any negative features of an arctic fox, I suppose it would be the very pungent smell of their urine. It is very strong and long lasting. I kept my arctic foxes primarily in my house for a number of years, and the smell took a long time to get out of the house.

Taming Wild Animals

Interacting with Wild Animals Conservation

My only experience with red foxes was when I was growing up in East Texas and spent a lot of time in the pine forests among foxes, squirrels, and raccoons. I spent a good bit of time in the company of foxes that had gotten used to my presence, and I found them to be delightful beings with personalities like the arctic foxes in many ways.

Characteristics of Arctic Foxes

The Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus), or white fox, as it is often called, is a member of the canid family and is related to other foxes, wolves, and dogs. It lives in all the lands of the circumpolar Arctic. In Canada, this small mammal is found from the northern tip of Ellesmere Island to the southern tip of James Bay. The wide distribution of this fox in the severe arctic environment is due to its excellent adaptation to cold and to a wide variety of foods.

Appearance and Adaptation

The arctic fox weighs from 2.5 to 9kg and measures between 75 and 115cm in length, making it the smallest wild canid in Canada about the size of a large domestic cat. The tail is long and bushy, making up between 30 and 35% of its total length.

Over the winter, the arctic fox has a heavy white coat, but during May, when early summer temperatures begin to melt the snow, the coat is shed for a thinner, two-tone brown pelage. A few weeks later the back, tail, and legs are dark brown and the remaining under parts are a buff color. A small proportion of this species has a heavy, pale bluish-grey coat in winter, which becomes thinner and darker bluish-grey in summer. The blue coloration (blue fox) occurs in almost all populations, although the proportion tends to be higher in those animals living in marine areas that remain mostly ice-free during winter. In Canada blue foxes seldom make up more than 5% of animals that are trapped, where as in Greenland, for example, the proportion of blue foxes may reach 50%.

The voice of the arctic fox is a sound rarely heard except during the breeding season. Courting foxes communicate with a barking yowl that may be heard over a great distance. Adults also yelp to warn their pups of danger and give a high-pitched undulating whine when disputing territorial claims with neighboring foxes.

Breeding and Denning

In March or April, two months before the end of winter, arctic foxes begin to form mating pairs. Mating follows a long and playful period of courtship involving much active chasing and play fighting. Throughout the females’ 51- to 57-day pregnancy, the pair remains together and finds a den for raising the whelps. Den sites are typically located on the tops or sides of eskers, or on the tops of banks of lakes or rivers where the soil is sandy, dry, and stable. The den sites are usually free from snow earlier than the surrounding landscape because of the good drainage. Dens may be up to 300 years old and may possess as many as 100 entrances. Before the birth of the whelps, or pups, both adults share the responsibility for cleaning out a portion of the den and digging one or more new entrances.

The Whelps

Litters of arctic foxes are born between late May and early June. The mean litter size is about 11 whelps. It is the largest litter recorded for any canid, double the mean value for the red fox and the highest of any wild mammal in the world. Litters of up to 22 whelps have been recorded in the U.S.S.R. At birth, the whelps are blind, helpless, covered with hair, and weigh about 57g.

Compared with other canids, the male fox is probably one of the most attentive and best providers of food during the denning period. Just before the birth of the whelps and while the female is spending her time nursing and caring for the litter, the male hunts for food for her. After 5 to 6 weeks, when the whelps are weaned, the female begins to share the hunting duties with her mate and gradually provides well over half of the food to the growing litter. Although the amount of food provided by the male gradually decreases, he continues to bring food to the den site until the whelps begin to leave the den about 14 – 15 weeks after birth.

The large litter size and rapid growth rate of the whelps keep the adults busy hunting for food. For an average litter of 11 whelps just starting to eat solid food, about 30 lemmings or the equivalent in other food are required per day. The demand increases to over 100 lemmings per day just before the whelps leave the den. The adults and young consume about 3,500 to 4,000 lemmings during the denning period.

Diet and Hunting

The diet of the arctic fox varies greatly from one part of its range to another. In the vast expanses of the continental tundra region, the arctic fox is almost entirely dependent on lemmings throughout the year. Only 5 – 10% of the summer diet is composed of birds, eggs, ground squirrels, and berries. In winter, the fox continues its search for lemmings, which are active under the snow. Other winter food items include the meat caches of Inuit trappers, wolf kills, and food cached by the fox during summer.

In these areas, in order to satisfy the food requirements of their whelps, the adults hunt lemmings all through the sunlit arctic night, from about 4:00 in the afternoon until 10:00 or 11:00 the following morning. Each adult usually conducts 10 – 15 hunts a night and brings back from three to eight lemmings a hunt. When lemmings are abundant the foxes hunt over an area of 2.5 – 5.0km2. However, when food is scarcer, the adults probably range much farther. Lemmings are captured by digging them from their nests located in soft peaty hummocks. Lemmings that are active in open tundra covered with low-lying or sparse vegetation are captured with a quick dash and a pounce; those detected in areas of low bush are pounced on as the fox slowly stalks through the bush.

In other areas, other rodents, such as ground squirrels and voles, are an important component of the diet, and during summer, adult birds, eggs, and flightless young also make up a large part of the diet. Those foxes inhabiting coastal regions also hunt for small marine animals, fish, and carrion along shorelines. During winter, these foxes venture onto the sea ice, where they frequently trail polar bears for the remains of seal kills and seek out seal dens in order to capture the pups. Some foxes live close to major seabird colonies; there they raid nests for eggs and capture hundreds of birds, which they cache for food in winter. Other foxes also search along lakeshores during June, hoping to flush a duck, goose, or shorebird from its nest and eat its eggs. Arctic foxes sometimes attack Sandhill Cranes and geese but are seldom successful against such large prey.

Population Cycles

The number of arctic foxes, especially in populations dependent upon lemmings for the major portion of their diet, fluctuates widely in relation to the abundance of lemmings. Although the fluctuations in lemming numbers, which occur every three to four years in North America, are not as well understood as those in Scandinavian countries, they are no less dramatic.

Population size may vary ten or twenty fold between years, and hundredfold increases are not uncommon at a peak in the lemming cycle. During years when lemmings are plentiful, many foxes survive the long winter, a large proportion of the population breeds the following spring, and the litters are raised successfully. Hence a peak in the arctic fox cycle is recorded the following winter.

A characteristic of the lemming cycle is the “crash,” the sudden decrease in population that maybe caused by poor weather, lack of food, stress, predation, or a combination of these factors. Faced with a rapidly dwindling food supply, the arctic fox may be forced to abandon customary hunting areas and to travel, often hundreds of kilometers, in a nomadic search for food. Often many foxes travel in the same direction, and their movements are termed “migrations.” In Canada little is known of the direction of the migrations or the number of animals that may be involved; however, the intensity and scope of fox migrations in the U.S.S.R. is well known. During a lemming crash, fatigue, intense cold, and especially lack of food take their toll on the population, and many young foxes succumb.

Native trap lines, hunters, and diseases, such as rabies and mange, also contribute to the population reduction. The following spring the remaining foxes are weak, a smaller proportion of the population breeds, and fewer breeding pairs raise all their whelps successfully. When the lemming population is low, the adult foxes often cannot meet the food demands of the growing litter. As a consequence, the adults may abandon the litter, leaving the whelps to starve to death, or the whelps may fight among themselves and kill each other, thereby reducing the food demands of the litter to a level that can be supplied by the adults.


Adult arctic foxes and their young have few enemies other than people. Wolves will eat foxes if they can catch one or find one caught in a trap. Where their ranges overlap, arctic foxes and red foxes Vulpes vulpes compete for den sites and hunting habitat along the sparsely treed southern fringes of the tundra. Golden Eagles may be a threat to young whelps at the den site, and barren ground grizzly bears and wolves are capable of digging whelps or adults from the den.



Wolves are among the most misunderstood of wild predators. They are not at all aggressive towards humans. There is not one substantiated case in North America of a wild wolf ever attacking a human. Wolves are very social, with tight bonds between members of their pack. Other females in a pack will often tend to cubs while the mother goes hunting. Members of a wolf pack will show great affection towards one another.

I was blessed for thirteen years to share time and space with a Canadian timber wolf named Cleo. She died September 28, 2002. She was a kind and gentle companion. I got her when she was 5 weeks old and raised her much as an adult wolf would raise a pup. She was never asked to do anything other than be a wolf. I never attempted to train her in any way in the normal meaning of the word. Yet, she would do so many things to please me and conform to my lifestyle that I was constantly amazed at her sensitivity and desire to accommodate me.

We would lie down watching television for hours, her body next to mine and her loving amber eyes watching me for assurance that she wasn’t doing anything to upset me. Although a wolf’s bite is a bone-crushing 1500 pounds per square inch, twice that of a German shepherd for instance, she was so gentle with me that I can’t recall her ever breaking my skin when she was playfully mouthing me.

While I would never allow young children to be in proximity to any wild animal, Cleo was quite safe to be in the company of friends of mine, under careful supervision. If she didn’t feel comfortable around a stranger–which happened about half the time–she would simply stay a reasonable distance from that person. Wolves are actually rather shy animals, always preferring to avoid a conflict.

A wolf’s intelligence level is quite a bit higher than that of a dog. Once Cleo met someone that she liked, that person could come to my house years later and Cleo would remember them immediately, rushing up and putting her paws on their shoulders and showering them with licks. While I frequently had to tell friends that mouth-licking is how members of a wolf pack greet one another, needless to say some of my friends never quite wanted to become that much like a wolf.

Cleo had a playmate when she first arrived; a very large male German shepherd named Caesar. Caesar became very ill about four years later and had to stay in my bedroom for several months until he ultimately died. Before taking him for burial, I brought Cleo up to see him one last time. She sniffed him, looked at him, then sat back and commenced to make long, soulful howls unlike anything I have heard from her before or since that day.

To read more about Cleo, see the Memorial Page

Characteristics of Wolves

There are three species of wolves in the world: the gray wolf (Canis lupus), the red wolf (Canis rufus) and the Ethiopian (or Abyssinian) wolf, (Canis simensis). Some researchers believe the Ethiopian wolf is not a wolf, but actually a jackal.

The gray wolf, Canis lupus, lives in the northern latitudes around the world. There are five subspecies of the gray wolf in North America and seven to 12 in Eurasia.

All living wolves are considered a single species, with the exception of the red wolf of southeastern Texas and southern Louisiana. The gray wolf is the largest of the wild dog family. There are 32 recognized subspecies of gray wolf. They get up to about 175 pounds, and the most common color is grizzled gray.

Subspecies are often difficult to distinguish from one another. This is because they interbreed where their ranges overlap so that their populations tend to blend together rather than form distinctive boundaries. The different traits we see in subspecies are likely the result of geographic range, available habitat, and prey base. Skull dimensions, overall size, fur color, and the length of appendages are some of the characteristics that differ between subspecies of gray wolf.

Members form strong social bonds that promote internal cohesion. Order is maintained by a dominance hierarchy. When two wolves meet, each shows its relationship to the other by indicating dominance or submission through facial expression and posture. Other modes of wolf communication that we know are howling, other vocalizations, and scent marking. One of the functions of howling is to communicate position or assemble the pack; advertisement of territory to neighboring wolves is another. Scent marking is done by depositing urine or feces on objects along travel routes, particularly at the edge of the packs’ territory. This appears to functions as territory boundary marking and intrapack communication. Usually only the highest ranking male and female within a pack will breed. Other female members of the pack act as aunts, frequently caring for the pups throughout their childhood.

Territory and Packs

Wolves usually live in packs which consist of the adult parents, referred to as the alpha pair, and their offspring of perhaps the last 2 or 3 years. The adult parents are usually unrelated and other unrelated wolves may sometimes join the pack.

Pack size is highly variable because of birth of pups, dispersal, and mortality. Generally, a gray wolf pack has from six to eight wolves, but in Alaska and northwestern Canada some packs have over 30 members.

Red wolf packs are generally smaller than gray wolf packs and usually have 2 to 8 members, but a pack of 12 is known in the wild.

Territory size is highly variable. Gray wolf territories in Minnesota range from about 25 to 150 square miles, while territories in Alaska and Canada can range from about 300 to 1,000 square miles.

Red wolf territories can be from 10 to 100 square miles, but the territories of red wolves reintroduced into North Carolina have been 38 to 87 square miles.

Wolves breed at slightly different times, depending on where they live. For example, gray wolves in the Great Lakes Region breed in February to March, while gray wolves in the Arctic may breed slightly later in March to April.


Red wolves usually breed in January or February.

The gestation period of gray and red wolves is usually around 63 days.

A pack normally has only one litter of pups each spring, but in areas of high prey abundance, more than one female will give birth in each pack. The average litter size for gray and red wolves is 4 to 6, but several may die if natural prey is not readily available.

Gray wolf pups weigh 1 pound at birth, while red wolf pups weigh less than a pound at birth.

Adult female gray wolves in northern Minnesota weigh between 50 and 85 pounds, and adult males between 70 and 110 pounds. Gray wolves are larger in the northwestern United States, Canada, and Alaska where adult males weigh 85 to 115 pounds and occasionally reach 130 pounds.

Adult female red wolves weigh 40 to 75 pounds, while males weigh from 50 to 85 pounds.

The average length (tip of nose to tip of tail) of an adult female gray wolf is 4.5 to 6 feet; adult males average 5 to 6.5 feet. The average height (at the shoulder) of a gray wolf is 26 to 32 inches.

The average length (tip of nose to tip of tail) of an adult red wolf is 4.5 to 5.5 feet. The average height (at the shoulder) of an adult red wolf is about 26 inches.

The size of a wolf’s track is dependent on the age and size of the wolf, as well as the substrate the track was made in. A good size estimate for a gray wolf’s track size is 4 1/2 inches long by 3 1/2 inches wide. In comparison, a coyote’s track will be closer to 2 1/2 inches long by 1 1/2 inches wide. Only a few breeds of dogs leave tracks longer than 4 inches (Great Danes, St. Bernards, and some bloodhounds).

Adult gray and red wolves have 42 teeth, while adult humans have 32.

The massive molars and powerful jaws of a wolf are used to crush the bones of its prey. The biting capacity of a wolf is 1,500 pounds of pressure per square inch. The strength of a wolf’s jaws makes it possible to bite through a moose femur in six to eight bites. In comparison, a German shepherd has a biting pressure of 750 pounds per square inch. A human has a much lower biting pressure of 300 pounds per square inch.

Diet and Hunting

Gray wolves prey primarily on large, hoofed mammals such as white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, elk, caribou, bison, Dall sheep, musk oxen, and mountain goat. Medium sized mammals, such as beaver and snowshoe hare, can be an important secondary food source. Occasional wolves will prey on birds or small mammals.

Red wolves primarily prey on white-tailed deer, raccoons, rabbits and rodents.

Gray wolves can survive on about 2 1/2 pounds of food per wolf per day, but they require about 5 pounds per wolf per day to reproduce successfully. The most a gray wolf can eat in one sitting is about 22.5 pounds.

Red wolves eat an average of 5 pounds of food per day, but have been known to eat up to 12 pounds in one sitting.

In Minnesota, wolves kill the average equivalent of 15 to 20 adult-sized deer per wolf per year. Given the 1997-98 estimate of 2,450 wolves in Minnesota, that would equal about 36,750 to 49,000 deer killed by wolves. In comparison, from 1995-1999 hunters killed between 32,300 to 78,200 deer each year in Minnesota’s wolf range. In addition, several thousand deer are killed during collisions with vehicles each year.

Gray wolves in the wild have an average life span of 6 to 8 years, but have been known to live up to 13 years in the wild and 16 years in captivity. Red wolves in the wild have an average life span of 8 to 9 years, but have been known to live up to 12 years in the wild and 16 years in captivity.

The natural causes of wolf mortality are primarily starvation, which kills mostly pups, and death from other wolves because of territory fights. While not usually a big problem, disease such as mange and canine parvovirus can be a concern in small and recovering populations. Injuries caused by prey results in some deaths. Human-caused mortality including legal, illegal, and accidental causes, can be high in some populations. Pup mortality rates are highly variable, but approximately 40 to 60% of wolf pups die each year.

Wolves will travel for long distances by trotting at about five miles per hour. They can run at speeds of 25 to 35 miles per hour for short bursts while chasing prey.

Wolves may travel 10 to 30 miles each day in search of food. Dispersing wolves, those leaving packs in search of their own mate, have been known to travel distances of 550 miles away form their home territory.