How does a wolf pack work?

The wolf is often illustrated in children’s stories with an image of the big bad guy, and its presence in our countryside is much debated between pros and anti-wolves. However, many professionals are inspired by his social model – or at least, presumed one – to demonstrate what managerial leadership in the workplace should be.

However, a lot of misinformation about wolf packs is circulating!

The wolf pack, between illusion and reality

The alpha, beta, gamma wolf … a sham
A wolf pack is a group of several canids of the same species living together. As a social animal, the wolf lives in a pack. The idea that there would be a strict linear hierarchy of dominance between the members of the group: an alpha male wolf would have the upper hand over the beta wolf, which would dominate another individual called gamma, until the last omega individual who would be the “whipping boy” of all the others, is a more or less erroneous idea. This pretense appeared, among other things, following a publication by biologist David Mech in 1970, in a book on the wolf, which emphasized that a single male dominated the rest of the group: the “alpha male”.

This concept was developed and later supported by studies of wolf packs in captivity and cannot be applied to canids living in the wild. Indeed, many parameters differ between life in captivity and in the wild: access to food, reproduction, space, contact with unfamiliar individuals, etc., which have a strong impact on social relationships!

A family history
A few years after publishing his book on the social life of wolves, David Mech confessed to putting the cart before the horse. It was after 13 summers of studying wild wolves on Ellesmere Island, Canada, that he made a correction: the alpha male is in fact the one that mates and reproduces. The alpha male is in fact the one who mates and reproduces. Thus, we would rather speak of a breeding pair, whose offspring would become the pack. This pack is then made up of the parents, who are the only ones who can reproduce, their young from the last litter and their brothers and sisters who, in some cases, can be at least 3 years old.

How the wolf pack works

Knowing how to leave one’s family to create a new one
It is generally around the age of one or one and a half years that young people leave the family nucleus. Then, when they are old enough to reproduce, they can in turn meet a partner to create their own pack. Some also join neighboring groups. For the luckiest, integration into a new pack will go smoothly. For the others, they may emerge victorious from a fight and integrate a new pack, or unlucky, defeated, and die…

A division of labour
Within the pack, the breeding pair does not have as only goal to make young, it is also necessary to ensure the survival of the group! Thus, the male will be the one who will initiate the hunting activities and the movements of the whole pack on their territory, which can extend from 200 to 600 km2 (in Europe). The female will take care of the young that she will have given birth to in a den. Little by little, these youngsters will be able to evolve in the “rendezvous sites”, which are safe places chosen by the pack, where brothers and sisters will help their mother to provide the slightest care and protection.

A common defense of the territory
All the carnivores of the group defend their territory against neighboring packs, passively, by urinating and defecating to delimit their territory or with howls that can be heard over very long distances. During intrusions on the territory and encounters between different packs, fights take place, which can lead to the death of some individuals!