WOLF SAFARI







Photo Jaakko Ruuska

WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE WILD? EXPERIENCE THE CITY AT NIGHT AS A MEMBER OF A WOLF PACK WITH THE OTHER SPACES COLLECTIVE!

In the nocturnal wandering performance Wolf Safari, the civilized urban space collides with the untamed nature. The participants encounter the city from the perspective of a wild, social predator. The protagonist, the wolf, embodies more than a metaphorical conflict. On one hand, we know that it is one of the most socially developed and organized creatures. On the other, it’s one of the most hated animals, on which humankind has projected all its undesirable traits. Only two real solutions exist for this dispute: either we rid ourselves of wolves for good, or we renegotiate our relationship with them.

Wolf Safari is an extended collective exercise in which the participants encounter each other as wolves at night in an urban environment. The transformation from human to wolf is based on a simple set of behavioral patterns borrowed from wolves and adapted for humans. The participants howl in the night, search each other, create a pack and go hunting for an animal of prey. After the hunt, the participants attend a final discussion, where they can share their experiences and discuss their findings.

Welcome to the Wild Side! Please bring comfortable shoes!

WRITINGS AND REVIEWS

Erica Cirino: The People Who Pretend to Be Wolves, Citylab 20.3.2018.

Maria Säkö: Susisafari-vaellusesityksessä katsotaan maailmaa suden näkökulmasta, Skenet 13.03.2014.

FOR PARTICIPANTS OF WOLF SAFARI

If you are participating in the Wolf Safari, we recommend getting acquainted with the Wolf Knowledge part of this page, where you can find information about wolves that we have collected. After this you can pass the Wolf Knowledge Quiz.

WOLF SAFARI HEADQUARTERS

You can enjoy the Wolf Safari either by participating in this nocturnal adventure as a member of the wolf pack itself, or by following the hunting of the wolves at the Wolf Safari Headquarters.

Remote camera by a path with wolves – Youtube video linked from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPYy9XbHu9g#t=18, user ahven88.

Photo Paula Tella
Photo Paula Tella
Photo Paula Tella
Photo Paula Tella
Photo Paula Tella
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WOLF KNOWLEDGE

The wolf or grey wolf (Canis lupus) is a carnivorous mammal and a member of the Canidae family. Biologically speaking it is of the same species as the domestic dog, which makes it possible for the domestic dog and the wolf to breed and to produce offspring capable of sexual reproduction. The wolf is a highly adaptive, intelligent and gregarious animal that mostly lives and hunts in packs.

Nowadays wolves are mainly found in North-America and Eurasia. For instance in Great Britain wolves are extinct, whereas in Spain there is approximately 2000 individuals. In Finland wolves have been declared critically endangered and they are a protected species. According to the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute there were 120 to 135 wolves in Finland in the beginning of February 2013.

The information found on this site has been collected by the Wolf Safari team by interviewing wolf specialists and from public sources. If you want to deepen your understanding of wolves and you are fluent in Finnish, we warmly invite you to also explore some of our main resources listed below.

  • Finnish and English Wikipedia
  • Laaksonen, Mervi. 2013. Susi. Maahenki.
  • Kauhala, Kaarina. 2000. Koiran villit sukulaiset. WSOY.
  • Tunturisuden susisivut, osoitteessa www.tunturisusi.com
  • Luonto-Liiton susiopas. 2013. Suden suusta. Linkki nettiversioon

The wolf (Canis lupus) is part of the Canidae family that includes approximately 35 species. Canids can be found all over the world.

The wolf has most likely evolved from the small, narrow-skulled Canis lepophagus that lived about two to ten million years ago. It is also the probable ancestral candidate of the coyote. Lepophagus fossils have been found in Texas, among other places.

The wolf has about forty subspecies. A familiar one to us is Canis lupus familiaris, a. k. a. the dog, that evolved through domestication during the last 20 or 30 000 years, although estimates on this vary.  On the other hand the Canis lupus dingo, native to Australia and South-East Asia, evolved through domesticated dogs going feral.

Photos: Wikipedia

The main habitat of the wolf is the northern forest with its pines, spruce, firs and larches. Wolves thrive where deer, its main prey thrive. But the wolf is highly adaptive and can live in a variety of habitats.

In the Northern Hemisphere the wolf can be found from the arctic tundra to the dry deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. The main factor limiting the distribution of wolves is human activity. The strongest wolf populations can be found in areas where unpleasant (from the wolves perspective) encounters with humans are least likely.

Susien levinneisyys Euroopassa

Wolves in Europe. Dark green – strong population, Green – occasional, Light Green – rare. Photo: tunturisusi.com

Anatomy

In the Fennoscandian area the adult wolf generally weighs 30-45 kg. The male is slightly larger than the female. The wolf closely resembles a large prick-eared dog, which is why it can be easily confused with several breeds of dogs, i.e. the Siberian husky.

The wolf is a slender, powerfully built animal. It has evolved to be an agile and enduring runner. Wolves are digitigrade, which means that they bare weight only on their toes and not the entire sole of the foot. They’re unable to rotate their forelimbs, which gives the superb stability while running. When moving in snow they spread out their toes, which prevents them from sinking. Their strong jaws are able to crush most bones. Their long canines offer a good hold on their prey. The wolf’s brain is significantly larger than that of the domestic dog.

The colour of the wolf’s fur varies greatly, from grey to grey-brown, to white, ochre and black. Its winter fur is extremely warm due to its thick under fur that is kept dry by the longer guard hairs. The wolf can comfortably rest in temperatures down to -40 c by curling up into a tight ball and covering its snout up with its tail so that the loss of body heat is minimal.

Senses

The wolf has extremely acute hearing. In the right circumstances it can hear the howl of other wolves from ten kilometers or up to 16 kilometers on open ground. It can also effectively locate the sound source.

The wolf has a keen sense of smell, which is probably the most crucial of its senses. From the scent of the tracks it can for instance tell which direction whatever left the tracks was heading. The wolf can catch scent of its prey from a couple of kilometers away. In addition to hunting, scent plays an important part in communication amongst wolves. We can only begin to imagine the dimensions a sense of smell can offer that is one million times stronger than that of a human.

The wolf’s eye can perceive movement very accurately. The wolf sees “faster” than a human. This has been proven by experiments that have revealed a wolf can see a light source flashing, when the human eye perceives it as constant. It’s likely that the wolf can’t see sharply very far, but they have extremely good night vision. There’s no research on the wolfs possible colour blindness, but we do know it can distinguish yellow and red the best.

A litter of wolves has normally four to six pups. The newborn pups are blind and deaf and totally dependent on their mother. While the mother concentrates on nursing the pups, the father and the rest of the pack provide food for the mother.

The pup’s eyes open when they’re about two weeks old. Their senses and coordination develope rapidly.  The pups learn to recognize the members of the pack and seek their attention. If the pups venture too far from the den, the mother carries them back by the scruff of their neck.

The mother weans the pups when they’re five to nine weeks old. When the pups are not dependent on the mother’s milk any longer, the mother returns to the hunt. After this the mother and the father care for the pups equally and also the rest of the pack carry them food. There is always an older member of the pack looking after the pups, a ‘baby sitter’ that’s often a young wolf from the last years litter, that has stayed with the pack.

The wolf pups are very playful. They wrestle, play tag and ‘king of the mountain’. Playing develops their motor skills and is practice for hunting. Play is also important in developing social skills.

At about four months age the pups start participating in the hunt with the pack. Wolves are mature when they reach about one year of age.

Wolf feed the puppies. Lupa ”rigurgita” (alimenta) i cuccioli. Fauna selvatica (Canis lupus). Youtube video linked from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7udgOVExzg4, user Masssimo Colombari.

The wolf is a social animal. The pack can be described as a family consisting of the breeding couple and their different aged offspring. The size of the pack is commonly from three to fifteen wolves, but larger packs are not unheard of. Lone wolves are commonly young migrant individuals.

Unlike with some other large predators, the wolves’ courting habits are quite gentle and considerate.  When the wolf couple locate a suitable area to establish as their territory, they start a family. The territory is normally about forty kilometers in diameter and it’s marked by scent every 200 meters or so. The territory and the members of the pack are defended from other wolves, and the family doesn’t normally accept outsiders as members of the pack.

It’s often said that wolves have a strict hierarchy inside the pack. The pack is lead by the so called alfa couple and the youngest members of the pack are the lowest in the pecking order. However, researchers following wolves have observed relatively little dominant behavior amongst individuals. There is also no constant struggle for dominance within the pack. Instead of hierarchy, we might want to speak of different social roles within the pack. Instead of alfa female and alfa male, we might refer to the breeding female and breeding male, or even mother wolf and father wolf.

Wolf communication is complex and diverse. It consists of gestures, sounds, smells and touches. Communication facilitates coordination within the pack and prevents unnecessary conflicts.

The pose and the stance of the wolf speak a great deal about its state of mind. A large array of bodily movements and gestures with ears and tail comprise its physical language. Also the expression in the eyes and mouth tell of the wolf’s thoughts and intents.  In the pack the wolves lead a mostly peaceful life, but every now and then there are conflicts. These are mainly resolved by appeasing and ritual behavior. Even when confrontation is unavoidable, the battle is conducted through a ritualistic pattern, so damage is often avoided.

Wolves vocalize by wailing, whining, squealing, yelping, growling, barking and howling. Barking is most often connected with puppy communication. A wolf greets another with a friendly whine. With low-pitched ‘woofs’ the wolf can warn others of approaching danger.

Howling is useful for long-distance communication. Wolves howl when they are trying to find their way back to the family pack. Howling is also a way of strengthening fellowship within the pack. For instance when awakening wolves might enjoy a ‘good morning’ howl together. When howling, wolves use different pitches, so the pack might appear larger than it actually is. When humans are near, wolves a more reserved in their howling, so that they may not give away the whereabouts of the pack.

The wolf’s motivation for journeying is mainly hunting and territorial maintenance. The wolves wander around their territory renewing their scent markings and searching for prey. The size of the territory is determined by the density of the wolf population and the frequency of prey.  In Finland the average size of a wolf pack’s territory is approximately 800 square kilometers.

The typical way of journeying for a wolf is a loose and easy trot. As they move the wolves observe their surroundings attentively. The wolf can jog along at about eight kilometers an hour for long distances at a time. At its fastest it can reach up to 70 kilometers an hour. It is quick and nimble in its movements and can leap up to seven meters in one bound.

Weather conditions hardly effect the wolf’s movements. Wolves sometimes travel during the day, but mainly at dusk and nighttime.  On average the wolf journeys about 20 kilometers a day, but it’s possible for a day’s journey to reach 70 kilometers.  Young wolves can wander over a thousand kilometers when they’re searching for a new territory to set up home in.

The wolf’s diet depends greatly on what type of deer and other prey live on its territory. The Finnish wolf mainly dines on eurasian elk (Alces alces), but it also preys on white-tailed deer, reindeer, Finnish forest reindeer and smaller mammals like beavers, voles, hares and birds. It can also supplement its diet with berries and grasses.

The daily amount of food eaten varies greatly. The wolf can go without eating for a week, but it can also devour ten kilograms of meat at one meal.  On average the wolf eats three to five kilograms of meat per day. When the prey is large the pack often stay for days by the kill. If food is left over, the wolf might also hoard it away for later.

Frank_Vassen_hirvi

Elk (Alces alces)
Photo: Frank.Vassen (Flickr CC 2.0)

The wolves prepare for the hunt with a game of tag with the pack. One of the wolves plays the prey and the others ‘hunt’ it with complex group maneuvers. The pack might also howl together before they set out on the hunt, possibly to arouse the prey and set it in motion.

It seems possible that wolves have varying learned traditions of the hunt that affect their manner of hunting. The experienced wolves guide the younger ones. As they hunt the wolves communicate by looks and gestures, working in a controlled and coordinated manner. When the pack has detected an elk, it approaches it with care, trying to stay unnoticed as long as possible. The wolves weigh up the preys capacity for defence and act accordingly. When the pray flees the wolves follow in persistent pursuit. The wolves commonly attack the hindquarters, weakening the prey with bites. When they manage to force the prey to stop, it is killed by bites to the head and neck.

When the kill is large enough the whole pack eats together. If the prey is smaller, the breeding couple start the meal. The last ones to get fed are the young adult wolves that have been left to babysit. When this is the case they try to approach the kill by displaying appeasing ritual behaviour, for example moving very low and ears laid back.

WORKING GROUP

The working group of the premiere and the preceding demo performance: Eeva Kemppi, Esa Kirkkopelto, Lauri Kontula, Minja Mertanen, Outi Condit, Antti Halonen, Timo Jokitalo, Anton Krylov, Jaakko Ruuska, Daniel Boy (Invisible Playground) and Christiane Hütter (Invisible Playground).

Planning of the Wolf Safari in 2014 was participated also by: Kati Korosuo, Pyry Kääriä, Sanni Priha, Paula Tella and Miikka Tuominen.

PERFORMED

Wolf Safari premiered 16.-18.10.2014 at Hamburg as part of the NordWind Festival (Kampnagel), preceded by a demo performance in Helsinki 15.3.2014.

Wolf Safari has also been performed in Italy at the Il Giardino delle Esperidi festival 16.7.2016, Theatre ILMI Ö in Helsinki 28.10.2016, Lahti Adult Education Centre 4.-5.11.2016, Cultural Centre Vernissa in Vantaa 11.11.2016, Baltic Circle Festival in Helsinki 18.11.2016, The Access Point Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia, 4.-5.8.2017, Little Rebellions Festival in Aarhus, Denmark 25.-26.8.2017, Dansehallerne in Copenhagen, Denmark 1.-2.9.2017 and at the Brighton Fringe Festival, UK, 4.-10.5.2018.