Sounds and scenery: The regretful howls of closing time at Asahiyama Zoo

It’s 3:15 p.m. ‘The glow of the firefly’ is played through the speakers to signal closing time at Asahiyama Zoo, and the wolves begin to howl in deep, sharp tones, as the breath they exhale turns white in the cold. The howls and barks come from the timber wolves.
Of the zoo’s five wolves, only three – siblings Rera, Wakka, and Nochiu – are on view to the public. After the death of their father and leader of the pack, Ken, in October 2020, the youngest sibling Nochiu, who was a spoiled cub, gradually grew into a leader, and is currently leading the pack while getting along with its two sisters.
Harada, the keeper in charge of the wolves, said, “The howling is a behavior that symbolizes wolves living in packs, and many visitors come to the park to enjoy it. If they are distracted, they may not do it, so we try not to go near the enclosure when the park’s broadcasting system is in operation.”
The wolves’ howls have a variety of meanings, including communication within the pack and assertion of the pack’s territory with regard to other packs. There are long howls that sound as if the wolves are exhaling all their breath, and short, wave-like sounds. The somewhat lonely melody of the wolves’ chorus seems to be calling out to visitors on their way out of the zoo.

Nochiu (foreground) and Wakka exhaling white breath as they howl


Asahiyama Zoo