One day in July 2017 visitors to the U.K.’s Cotswold Wildlife Park were told to stay indoors and remain vigilant for their own safety. That was because a female Eurasian wolf, called Ember, had escaped from the confines of her enclosure.
The Cotswold Wildlife Park was founded at Bradwell Grove, England, in 1970 by Reggie Hayworth’s father, who wanted to share his love and interest of nature with other people. It has since become one of the U.K.’s largest zoo collections, which includes Eurasian wolves such as the escapee, Ember.
In October 2016 a male and female Eurasian wolf, called Ember and Ash, arrived at the zoo, after being born in Sweden. They became part of the Cotswold zoo’s collection in order to start a breeding program.
Eurasian wolves, also known as Canis lupus lupus, are a subspecies of the gray wolf and are mostly found in parts of Europe and Asia. These include Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, where Ember and Ash were born.
The Eurasian wolf generally lives in smaller packs than North American wolves, but they are still very social creatures. They usually pair for life, and their mating season typically takes place during late winter and early spring.
Although the Cotswold Wildlife Park did not expect much early success in its breeding program, Ember and Ash bonded quickly. And early in 2017, three-year-old Ember gave birth to five cubs. This made them the first wolves ever to be born at the zoo.
When they are born, wolf cubs are blind and deaf and rely completely on their mother. They begin opening their eyes after around 13 days. When Ember’s cubs were just over a month old, they began to wean themselves off her milk and started eating naturally. But they nonetheless continued to need plenty of parental care and help acquiring food.
Ember’s cubs were ten weeks old when the mother wolf managed to escape the fence perimeter of their enclosure. Trained keepers carried out an instant response and all visitors and staff were notified of the situation to ensure their safety and vigilance.
During the investigation that ensued, the zoo concluded that no part of the enclosure had been left unlocked or open. There was, however, a fault in the electric fencing. To be precise, there were flaws in both the energizer and the voltage reader that was used for routine checks on the enclosure’s fence. The zoo believed that faults in these pieces of equipment contributed to the wolf’s escape.
This security problem has since been rectified with the installation of new equipment, as well as an improved testing regime. This should ensure the safety of not only visitors to the park, but also the wolves still living at the zoo.
The zoo made it clear that at no point during Ember’s escape were the public in any danger, since the wolf had not been in areas used by visitors. Keepers swiftly located the animal just outside the enclosure’s fence, heading towards a nearby freeway.
Upon finding Ember, the trained keepers tried to tranquilize her, but regrettably she was too far away. It was at this point that the staff had to make a very difficult decision about how to deal with the situation.
Due to that fact that wolves are deemed to be extremely dangerous animals, the zoo made the heartbreaking decision to shoot the escapee. “Under the Zoo Licensing Act, if a category one animal escapes, you have no option but to euthanize,” read a statement subsequently released by the zoo. “A decision which, as you can imagine, was devastating.”
As a result of the ensuing news reports about the incident, many people criticized the zoo’s decision to kill the wolf. These critics included animal geographer Dr. Daniel Allen, who wrote on Twitter, “Appears to be another example of a British zoo which doesn’t value the lives of those in their care.”
Wildlife presenter and film-maker Anneka Svenska was also among the many to voice their views on the matter. “Ember was a mum to pups, and you shot her instead of tranquilizing her?” Svenska said in an interview with The Guardian.
Statements from the Cotswold Wildlife Park have attempted to combat the criticism. They explained that staff did try to tranquilize the wolf and spare her life. The safety of people in the local area was their priority, however. And so the unfortunate decision to professionally euthanize the animal was taken.
The zoo’s focus is now on the well-being of the father, Ash, and his five cubs. Other than providing food supplies, the zoo maintains a hands-off approach in order to follow the guidelines of the European Captive Breeding Program.
The zoo staff were in fact optimistic about the development of the cubs. Although the young animals had lost their mother, the cubs were already near the point of being fully weaned. In addition, Ash’s attitude towards his offspring has been positive. And the cubs are eating pretty much as they would in the wild, with some help from their father.
Later reports about Ash and his cubs revealed that they were all thriving. After seeing media reports about the animals, members of the public wanted to know how the wolf family are doing. The Cotswold Wildlife Park answered, “All five cubs are doing well. Eating well and growing well. Thank you for your concern.”
Hopefully, more positive news about Ash and the cubs will surface in the months to come, and they can continue to thrive and carry on Ember’s genes. The zoo has also announced that it will soon be revealing the names of the five cubs on its Facebook and Twitter feeds.