The International Wolf Center in Ely will be working against a deadline when construction begins on its lab expansion. New wolf pups are expected to arrive in 2016.

The expanded lab will house a protective area for pups and elderly wolves with a fenced connection that will allow them to more easily move between the building and the pack holding area, said Lori Schmidt, the center's wolf curator.

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The center always looks for best practices for both its staff and animals, and improving the building is an ongoing project for the wolf center, Schmidt said.

Two 14-year-old wolves died last year, and before their deaths, the wolf center's staff didn't have an easy way to transport the elderly wolves between the lab and the enclosed area outside, she said.

The lab will house an area for wolf pups for the first few weeks of their lives. It will mimic a den in comfort and warmth, she said. After that, the pups are moved to a larger enclosure outside that allows staff access, but they're adjacent to the adult wolves and can see the wolves through a protective fence, she said.

The center has brought in wolf pups every four years since 2000, with the most recent set of pups arriving at the center in 2012. More pups are expected to arrive in May 2016.

The wolf center typically uses a U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed facility for its pups, but the wolf center is considering Canadian facilities for its 2016 pups, she said. The center's two wolves who died last year were Arctic wolves. With the loss of those Arctic wolves, the center only has two subspecies - Great Plains wolf and northwestern wolf.

The wolf center's pups are all captive-born so that the wolves can be socialized to be around noise and people. If they were to use wolves born in the wild, they'd be too skittish and unsuitable for the wolf management they do at the center, she explained. Socialization helps to keep the wolves from feeling stressed or intimidated when they're around people. Part of the lab expansion will include facilities for the staff who are caring for the wolf pups at the center 24 hours a day, she said.

The addition will need to be completed by the time the wolf pups arrive at the center. Construction is expected to begin in late summer and continue through the winter. The cost is estimated at $50,000 to $65,000.