Monday, January 12, 2015

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today ...

That wolves returned to Yellowstone National Park. On this date in 1995 fourteen wolves were released into the park. Wolves that had been born in Canada, because those wolves new how to hunt elk. And there were elk in Yellowstone.

And on December 26th this past year I was privileged to see their descendants.

Five Wolf Pups

There are five wolves in the above image (as always click to bigafy any image). This was the first view I had of them.

These wolves are of the Lamar Valley Pack. And these five, plus one other, are pups, all born this year.

Two Wolves Approaching Two Bison

The pups were all on the north side of the road while mom and dad were on the south side. Left to themselves the pups wandered about. Above they are approaching a pair of bison, which don't think much of the pups, barely noticing them.

Four Wolves Head Off, But One, on the Right, Stays

The pups are not yet accomplished hunters, and even if they were are no real threat to a healthy adult bison, let alone two. And it didn't take much for the bison to send them on their way.

Curiously, the bison followed the wolves up the hill.

Even though wolves were rather far away, their howling came through loud and clear. The pups would call and mom and dad would respond. It was below zero that morning, but none of us minded. It was magical.

After a while the pups settled down, a morning nap perhaps? And we continued on our way through the park. We had signed up for the Winter Wildlife Expedition, run by the Yellowstone Association, and were on our second of three days exploring the park.

We passed by again on the way back, there's only one road open in winter, and we got the chance to see mom and dad.

Mom (note the radio collar)
We learned from the Wolf Watchers, an informal group of hobbyists who provide day to day surveillance of the packs, that mom and dad had gone after an elk. Unsuccessfully as it turned out. But the chase took them across the road. And the pups were reluctant to cross.

Mom was looking for a place to cross the road, wandering along the river. Eventually we saw her cross and head up the hill to gather the pups. It was very cool to see the pups run out of the woods to greet mom.

Dad was busy investigating an old kill, chasing off the ravens. But whatever it was didn't hold his interest for long, and it was back to the forest edge for him.


Twenty years ago there were no wolves in Yellowstone. And very few anywhere in the lower forty-eight US states. Now gray wolves live in ten states, and one was recently spotted in California. And wolves are no longer on the endangered species list.

That last bit is both encouraging and troubling. Encouraging as a success story in bringing back a species. Troubling as it is now permissible to hunt wolves. As long as the wolves are within the boundaries of the park they are safe. But the wolves know nothing of human political boundaries. And once they leave they are targets.

Sadly, the same fear and ignorance that almost led to their demise is still prevalent throughout the western US. Thus the future for wolves is far from certain. But there are a number of ways you can help. One way is to pressure our political leaders to protect these creatures. Another is to adopt a wolf. And while you don't actually get to keep the wolf (I know, right?) you will be able to see them when you visit. And if you're lucky hear them howl their thanks. And that's pretty cool.

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