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Axel, along with his littermate Grayson, are arctic subspecies of the gray wolf species (Canis lupus) born in captivity at a facility in Canada. Axel may be distinguished by his lighter facial coloration, almond shaped eyes and somewhat slimmer face. As young adults, it may be difficult to distinguish specific characteristics until they reach maturity at 18 – 24 months of age. Arctic wolves’ native habitat is found in the northern regions of North America as well as along the eastern and northern shores of Greenland. There are several large islands that occupy this region including Ellsemere and Axel Hieberg islands. Axel’s name was selected in honor of the wolves that range on Axel Hieberg island.  This region is typically snow covered for most of the year, but a mid-June to mid-August thaw supports enough plant material to feed the arctic wolf’s prey: musk-ox, caribou and arctic hares.  


For more information on our ambassador wolves, watch extended wolf videos on the International Wolf Center’s YouTube Channel or enjoy a close-up of wolf behavior on our Wolf Watch Cams.

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Recent Logs for Axel:

Axel – T1 Tail

July 2nd, 2018

Axel sure keeps Denali young.  In this week’s photo, Axel is doing a ride-up behavior to Denali.  This is a great example of the difference between a T-1 tail posture over the back and a T-2 posture, forming a straight line from the back.  Both,  T-1 and T-2 postures may indicate arousal or excitement; It could be dominance, it could be social or it could be antagonistic threat, it is important to watch other indicators.  But, the T-2 or straight back tail is often a more focused posture associated with a predatory drive, meaning a bit less social response.  The wag of the tail may also indicate the intent of the interaction; the speed and tightness of the wag should be noted as well.  Some of the most social (and submissive) greetings are when the tail makes a full circle.  In Axel’s case, the T-1 tail is as rigid as a stick and with little movement, likely expressing an aggressive arousal.  As a 2-year old, he appears to have stabilized his weight at about 103 pounds.

Weight: 103

If you only saw their face, could you tell them apart?

Axel – Facial Characteristics

June 7th, 2018

This photo was taken in April and shows Axel and Grayson in full winter pelage, when identification of these brothers is relatively easy.  Grayson has a darker saddle that is prominently distinguished across his back.  But, shed out the undercoat that makes those darker guard hairs more prominent and add a little sun bleaching of the white hair and identification can become more challenging.  Once you spend some time observing pack dynamics, behaviors can be a method for identification.  But, for wolf care staff that deliver morning medications to 5 wolves, often inches apart from each other, they need to be keyed into the facial characteristics of each wolf.   Can you ID the different facial patterns of these two?  We have spoke of this past logs, but it’s always fun to test ourselves when we get a photo like this.  Thanks to Kelly Godfrey for capturing this photo at the Exhibit Pack greeting rock.  Showing a longer and more slender muzzle is Axel who is standing in front of the rock.  Showing a broader and more classic shaped muzzle is Grayson, lying on the the rock.  

Weight: 103.5

Axel squashing Denali while Grayson approaches with a T-1 tail

Axel – Active And Expressive

May 16th, 2018

This week’s photo displays a behavior easy to identify; we term it a “Squash” behavior.   One wolf literally sits on another wolf, squashing them to the ground.  This is typical of Axel; he is very expressive in his behaviors and very physical.  While this is likely a social interaction between Denali and Axel, you may notice Grayson is coming from behind with a high tail posture.  Axel and Denali seem to have a strong bond and are often observed wrestling, chasing and overall active behaviors.  This social bond may be paying off for Axel.  In the last few months, Denali has been favoring Axel at the Saturday evening carcass feedings, keeping Boltz and Grayson away from the carcass.  Grayson and Denali are a bit more contentious and certainly may impact future leadership roles. 

Staff monitor this closely by evaluating scat coloration and texture, which is influenced by the amount of meat in the digestive tract.  We also weigh the wolves, usually at the 2nd of the month that coincides with Axel and Grayson’s birthday.  

Tracking weights is an important part of pack management.  As noted in Axel’s chart, fluctuations in weight happens in winter, with some declines in weight likely due to more calorie output to keep warm.  Axel’s highest weight was in October 2017, when he weighed 110 pounds, now that winter is over, he is working his way back up to that weight. 


Date Wolf Weight in Pounds Weight change since last data Age 
10/2/2017 Axel 110.4 4.8 17 months
11/2/2017 Axel 106 -4.4 18 Months
12/2/2017 Axel  103.5 -2.5 19 months 
12/31/2018 Axel  101 -2.5 20 month 
2/2/2018 Axel  98 -3 21 Months
3/2/2018 Axel 98 0 22 Months
4/2/2018 Axel 100.5 2.5 23 Months 
4/30/2018 Axel 105.6 5.1 2 years

Weight: 105.6

Axel much more stressed about activities in the wolf yard.

Axel – Different Stresses

April 29th, 2018

While Axel is right in the mix and shows no stress of facing off with the other pack members for some status, he has a different response when it comes to other elements in the wolf yard.  A recent work crew in the Exhibit required a temporary holding arrangement for all Exhibit Pack members (except Aidan), to be moved to the East Side Retirement.  Grayson seemed to do quite well with the time in holding, while Axel seemed to Exhibit more stress.  We try to keep these moves off Exhibit to a minimum, they are an important part of facility maintenance and emergency protocol. Other noteworthy items in this week’s staff logs include a renewed focus on Denali for chase behavior.  Denali will usually instigate activity with Axel and Grayson, which results in back and forth activity hiding around the large white pine snag or lunging from the top of the pump housing.  

Can you ID by facial features?

Axel – Larger, But More Slender Facial Features

April 15th, 2018

As the arctics near 2 years of age, we see the skeletal growth come to an end and the features they now possess will be their characteristics throughout their life.  Similar to Malik, our last set of arctic wolves born on May 8, 2000, Axel has a narrower muzzle and appears more slended in facial features despite being nearly 14 pounds heavier than his sibling.  His eye formation appears more almond-shaped in appearance.  Can you ID Axel in the photo?  If you guessed the left side of the photo, you guessed right.  When you look at the pelage, Grayson continues to display a darker saddle across his shoulders.  Behaviorally, the staff have been noticing Axel is quick to bound up to individuals, do a quick ride-up and mount, then bound away to display the same behavior to another packmate.  He doesn’t seem to follow any patterns or even a train of thought some days.  in a recent staff behavioral log, staff noted “At 3:30 today, Axel walked over to Grayson, who was finding a spot to curl up and rest by the observation windows when Axel came over, did a hip slam, chin rest and play bow towards Grayson, which elicited no response from Grayson, causing Axel to move on to Denali.”

Weight: 100.5