When Trumpet, a Mexican gray wolf, gave birth to her first litter, nobody was sure what kind of mom she’d be.
Trumpet was born at the Wolf Conservation Center in New York as part of a recovery plan for critically endangered Mexican gray wolves, or “Lobos.” But that wasn’t the only reason Trumpet was special.
“She was an only child, which is strange for a wolf,” Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center, told The Dodo. “The litters are usually four to six, so she was kind of a weirdo.”
“Growing up, the only wolves she knew were her mom and dad,” she added. “And because she had no siblings, they became her playthings, and she was a pretty exhausting pup to raise.”
Trumpet didn’t have the benefit of watching her mom raise subsequent litters and learning maternal techniques. Luckily, that didn’t deter the independent Trumpet from starting her own family.
In 2018, when Trumpet was 2 years old, she was introduced to a wild Mexican gray wolf from New Mexico named Lighthawk, and they immediately hit it off. It was getting close to breeding season, which comes every April and May, and Trumpet became pregnant.
“If you become a parent, then you become an alpha — so it really has nothing to do with personality or anything like that,” Howell said. “And, generally, just like in our families, the parents will be the ones calling the shots — as to where they’re going to live, when they’re going to hunt or who’s going to do what within the family.”
Trumpet as a pup with her dad, Diego. | WOLF CONSERVATION CENTER
Trumpet gave birth to three little pups and showed herself to be a loving, caring mom. A webcam set up in her den filmed Trumpet being extremely attentive to her pups — nursing, cleaning and snuggling them.
She seemed to have infinite patience, hugging her pups close and lulling them back to sleep when they were fussy.
These private moments caught on camera touched the hearts of everyone watching the Wolf Conservation Center’s webcams.
“It shows that the love between a mother and her children goes beyond our species,” Howell said. “Here’s this tender moment where this full-grown, fierce, beautiful Mexican gray wolf is totally hugging these cute little pups, and I think it’s just the most heartwarming thing.”
“These are the moments you don’t get to see, which makes them so special,” she added.
Trumpet and Lighthawk relax in the snow. | WOLF CONSERVATION CENTER
The next year, Trumpet and Lighthawk had another litter, but this time Trumpet found someone to help with childcare. She nominated her daughter, Babs, to act as a babysitter.
“It’s pretty common that wolves will find a yearling to help out if they do have older offspring,” Howell said. “Not only does it help the parent, but it’s passing down those skills and traditions that are unique to that family.”
“They’re very similar to people in that everything they do, whether it’s playing or growling or howling, they might have fun and some sort of purpose, but they’re also going to be reaffirming those family bonds,” Howell said. “Because for wolves, not only do they love each other, but they also need to work together, so that cooperation allows them to be successful in the wild.”
Mexican gray wolves were almost entirely wiped out by the 1980s, with only a handful in captivity. But now, thanks to loving parents like Trumpet and Lighthawk, there are 186 living in the wild, and the species has a chance to not only survive — but to thrive.