It’s the hamster wheel — evolved.
Austria’s Wolf Science Center boasts the world’s longest treadmill, designed to study wolves, dogs, and humans as they run together in pairs.
There’re lots I could tell you about it, but you’re probably already anxious to watch the video:
OK, back to the science: First of all, how the heck do you train a wolf to run on a treadmill?
Ph.D. student Kim Kortekaas explains the process in a blog post. You start with target training — getting the wolf to touch a target with its nose in exchange for a reward. Then you do the same thing on the still treadmill. Eventually, you can put the treadmill onto its slowest moving setting and work the speed up from there.
“After a couple months of training, the animals did not need the target anymore and we had them reliably jumping on a moving treadmill,” she writes.
Kortekaas did the same thing with dogs, too.
But why, you ask? The idea is to study the relationship between humans and wolves, humans and dogs, and dogs and wolves, by simulating what it’s like to go on a hunt together.
The central question is if animals that run together are more likely to share food with each other, lead researcher Kurt Kotrschal told Scientific American. “Wolves are social hunters, and we expect a great willingness to cooperate in wolves, but less so in dogs.”
They will also be able to measure the animals’ heart rates, stress levels, and energy consumption.
The Wolf Science Center is home to four packs of wolves of two to five animals each. Each pack lives in a fenced enclosure of about two acres. The wolves are rescued pups that came to the center when they were just 10 days old and were raised by humans.
About a dozen dogs live at the center, too. They came from rescue shelters as young puppies and also live in packs. Comparing the behavior of the animals is interesting because they are so genetically similar. The major difference is that dogs, unlike wolves, have evolved to live side by side with humans.
This poses some very interesting scientific questions, although I suspect the researchers are quite pleased with themselves for figuring out a way to spend most of their time hanging out with the majestic beasts.
And yes, you can visit.