Kathie Lynch just wrote another of her popular reports on Yellowstone wolves. Very few pups have been seen so far. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there, but in the case of the Slough Creek Pack, they aren’t there.

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Copyright © by Kathie Lynch. May 30, 2008

Every living thing awakened to the glory of springtime in Yellowstone over Memorial Day weekend. From the green, green grass and aspens just starting to sprout new leaves to a playful little wolf pup and the charm of frisky, newborn bison calves, spring has definitely sprung!

The Slough Creek pack provided the main entertainment as they happily tended what appears to be their only pup. Although a second pup had previously been seen, it has not appeared recently and may not have survived. The whole scenario is mysterious because three Slough females (alpha 380F, beta 526F, and “Hook”) had all appeared to have been pregnant and lactating. We will probably never know what happened to the rest of the pups, if there ever were more.

As it is, the little black pup is the apple of every Slough wolf’s eye, and all three mothers communally care for it. The nine yearlings particularly adore it. They stick their heads inside the den hole and eagerly escort the little tyke down the hillside to play by the bow log. Wolves love puppies, and each one wants to outdo the others just to be near it. The pup often gets lost in a maze of long wolf legs surrounding it.

It’s quite a domestic scene as the mothers and/or the babysitters lie in the sun with the pup or playfully tussle with it while they wait for hunting parties to return. One day we watched from Wrecker pullout as the hunters tried unsuccessfully to dislodge a grizzly from a carcass. Another time, a grizzly wandered close to the Slough den and incurred the wrath of alpha 380F. Her head shot up, and she led the charge as wolves poured off the hillside above the natal den (the same one used in 2005 and 2006, west of Slough Creek) and sent the poor griz packing.

As far as I know, nobody has seen Druid pups. Considering that they had seven females (alpha 569F and the yearlings 571F, “High Sides,” “Low Sides,” “Bright Bar,” “Dull Bar,” and “White Line”) who had all appeared to be pregnant, chances are they will have pups for us to watch eventually. Though 569F is thought to have denned in the Druids’ traditional area in northeast Lamar Valley, that den is in deep forest and even the wolf monitoring flights cannot see it. We will have to hope that the Druids use their traditional rendezvous in Lamar.

The Sloughs (currently 14-15 adults, depending on whether “The Dark Female” is with them) will be out-numbered if the Druids (currently 16 adults) have lots of pups. The Druids have already been exploring Slough territory to the west of Lamar. They went hunting in the Secret Passage area and ventured as far as just east of the Slough Creek campground road, which was the farthest west they have been observed recently.

The Slough disperser, 527F (who formed her own group last fall) has also denned in a place which can’t be observed, far away to the north of Little America. She is still in the company of the big, gray uncollared male and sometimes “The Dark Female,” a Slough disperser who was driven out of the pack by alpha 380F. The new group will have a tough time fitting in between the Sloughs, the Agates, and the Oxbows.

The Agate Creek pack’s denning situation has likewise not been clear. They did not den in the area visible from Dunraven Pass road where they have been the previous two years. The alpha female, 472F, and a two-year-old uncollared gray female had both been observed to be pregnant, as was beta 471F (who had bred with the Leopold alpha male, 534M). I have not heard any reports about Agate pup sightings. Some of the Agates have been seen in the Junction Butte area and in Yancey’s Hole, both of which are actually not far from their usual territory, but in close proximity to the Sloughs and Oxbows. The overlapping of so many packs’ territories could lead to a lot of inter-pack rivalry.

Unlike last year when the pups were visible from Hellroaring Overlook, the Oxbow Creek pack did not den in a great area for viewing, but they are believed to have 6-7 pups. And, the Leopold pack (Blacktail Plateau area) has been observed to have six gray and one black pup.

From what I have heard, two monitoring flights picked up signals (but no visuals) from the Hayden Valley pack near Hebgen Lake. Although this is outside of the Park (near West Yellowstone), it might be an OK place for them since it has good forest cover and a good prey base. Sadly, I doubt that they can ever return to Yellowstone to stay, what with the Mollies pack in control of Hayden Valley, the Cougar Creek pack in charge around West Yellowstone, and the Gibbon pack in the Norris area.

I did take a trip down through the Hayden Valley to Yellowstone Lake. It was like another world down there. Winter had not loosened its icy grip, and, except for handful of bison who somehow survived winter in the harshest climate in Yellowstone, the valley was almost devoid of life. As I passed the Otter Creek picnic area and drove south through the valley, I keenly felt the loss of the beautiful white wolf, 540F, and her mate, 541M (both killed by the Mollies last fall). They were the heart and soul of the Hayden Valley, and I know it will never be the same for anyone who was lucky enough to know them.

In other animal news, bears are everywhere! Grizzlies and black bears of various colors give visitors a thrill, and the famous “Rosie” delights everyone along the Tower Road with her two tiny cubs of the year, one black and one brown. Two moose have been spotted in the Petrified Tree area, a sandhill crane sits on its nest on the island as a trumpeter swan paddles around Floating Island Lake, ground squirrels make daring dashes across the roads, pronghorn streak across the green hills of Little America, a beaver with young has a lodge near the confluence in Lamar, and bighorn sheep lambs cling to the cliffs in the Gardiner River canyon. A badger  actually swam across Slough Creek, much to the dismay of the nesting Canada geese!

After my depressing trip to the Park in April (what with the wolf delisting, Druid 253M’s murder, and the bison slaughter), I really needed for something wonderful to happen, and the bison gave it to me in a big way. On my first morning in the Park, I got caught in a massive bison jam as about 40 cows and 10 calves, led by one big bull, covered the road from Blacktail Drive to Phantom Lake. I soon realized just how special they were. Most of the cows sported big, round white or yellow stickers with four digit numbers on their sides-these were the lucky survivors of the bison slaughter! They had been held in the capture facility in Gardiner and narrowly escaped death before finally being released to head back into the Park. As they stoically marched along, I wanted to shout for joy!

To top it all off, as I drove out of the Park on my last day, I ran into some of the same bison again. They rounded Junction Butte, heading east in single file, and then they kicked up their heels and galloped off into Little America, free and home at last!

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

16 Responses to Kathie Lynch: Numerous pregnant Slough females, but just one pup

  1. avatar jjordan says:

    After such a harsh winter filled with such depressing news your report has brought tears of joy to my eyes. Thanks

  2. avatar Keri Davis says:

    Ohhhhh Kathie….how profoundly wonderful it was to see your report there this morning, and to hear GOOD news after such a devastating winter of horrible news. You brought me right back to the wonder of Yellowstone and through you, I could hear, see and smell everything that is Yellowstone. I am glad to hear the Haydens are still around, although sadly, not in the park. I pray for their safety. See you in the park this summer !!

  3. avatar Monty says:

    Thanks Kathie! What you celebrate is all life!

  4. avatar vicki says:

    Kathie,
    Thanks for the report. I just got home last night from YNP. I watched 6 of the Sloughs much farther into Druid territory than they usually are. It was a treat to see. One female was limping though. No one seemd to know why.
    On Thursday I was thrilled to see a grey wolf near West Yellowstone. He was just feet away from me. It was awesome. People drove right by, never even noticed the wolf, it was so well comoflauged. I thought the fun was done, but on our way out I spotted a black wolf drinking out of the Madison right by Seven Mile . I am assuming the are Cougar Creek wolves, but am not certain. Neither was collared.
    I also saw a female badger and two youngsters on Thursday. Photographers abounded. But on our way back by we saw a coyote with a baby badger in it’s mouth. The mother badger was giving chase and another coyote was attempting to distract her. The kids were amazed, but a bit sad.
    We saw one elk calf, still wobbley legged. One antelope who had just been born. We ran into the bison jam too, one little guy was still gooey and mom just pushed him on. We were bummed to see so very few bison in the Hayden. One herd of cows moved into the valley on Wednesday, so I am hoping more calves were to come.
    We saw the crane too, it was awesome. The Bluebirds were gorgeous. We saw some small puff red birds, but I have no idea what they were. (Anyone?)
    We stayed at Fishing Bridge for four nights…burrrr. It snowed, often. There were several of bison carcasses. And several bison sported boney hips and ribs in that area. Lots of bear sightings…fun with Rosie, but hated the bear jams.
    I am always so glad to read your updates. Thank you!!!

  5. avatar Charlie says:

    This is my first time leaving a reply, but I have been a long time reader of Ralphs blog. I just wanted to thank Kathie for all of her great updates. I look forward to seeing these updates often as I do not get up to Yellowstone as much as I would like. I too was in Yellowstone over the Memorial Day weekend and was thrilled to see 6 adult Sloughs along with 2 pups (sad to hear that there is now only 1!) by the den site on Saturday and 3 druids down by the river by Soda Butte. Thanks again for your updates and I hope to run into you one day in the Park!

  6. Although this is premature, loss of so many pups could indicate another bout with canine distemper for the northern range wolf population.

    It could be that some hidden factor was present for the Sloughs. Folks will remember that several years ago they lost all of their pups when their den site was put under siege by what was named the “unknown pack.”

  7. avatar Nathan Hobbs says:

    Fantastic article really enjoyed reading it!
    if anyone is intrested I have several shots of rosies cubs, a link to one of the images is here
    http://iamidaho.deviantart.com/art/Cub-Combat-87404383

    Ill be posting photos of the wolves from last week soon as well…the park is alive and its so good to see spring there. I was also in the park in April, and on top of the horrible news even the animals seemed depressed at the harsh winter and cold…it was so great to see the enthusiasm in the animals again as the warm air and ample food gave them energy to spare in jovial movements and lazy moments.

  8. avatar Kathryn says:

    Thank you again for bringing Yellowstone alive to me! I am glad to hear about the Hayden pack, but worry about their safety.

    It is sad to think about the Hayden Valley without our beloved alphas. I had the privilege to watch them last year not too long before they were killed.

    Like all of you, I am optimistic that the spring will bring an end to the sadness from the winter. Yes there is much to celebrate, but there is much to grieve over.

    I know there was some discussion over the winter about making visitors to Yellowstone aware of what had been going on – with t-shirts, etc. Is there any efforts going on to educate the public on the ground there in Yellowstone?

  9. avatar vicki says:

    When we were there last week we handed out some of dbh’s cards. Several people said they’d link it to their personal web connections.
    We are trying to get a group together to hand out more, and to protest in July.
    My sons and neice, and a nephew approached numerous folks through out the park. They were given a few cruddy responses, and numerous good responses. Suprisingly there was more positive feed back from the over 50 population and the foreign visitors.

  10. avatar carolyn says:

    I spent most of Saturday (May 31) observing the Slough Creek den and saw 2 pups playing at the same time, so I’m led to believe that there are still 2 there. And it was wonderful to see pack members lovingly watching over them and even playing with them, and the pups pouncing on or around the babysitters/mothers. Made my day.

  11. avatar Hoosier says:

    Recently got home from YNP and thought that I would give an update on visuals for May 17th-25th. Arrived late in the park on 17th but was able to see 3 wolves (assumed Druids) at the base of Barronette they had crossed the road in front of me at 9:30 pm 2 grays and 1 black. Following this in the next few days I was able to see Sloughs daily as everyone else, but like Kathie during may stay of approx 20 hours watching the slough den area I only saw the 1 pup (black), and the collared limping female (black) spent a lot of time within site of the pullouts. She seems to remind me of 253m maybe natures ways of R.I.P. for the icon 253. Sloughs seemed to be the most visible as their den site allow for a guaranteed viewing. Druid’s were active as well mainly in the hills above the ranch, was able to see 12 different Druids one evening. Previously that day 6+ were at Secret Passage and a cow elk seemed very winded and concerned in the area of the wolves. I didn’t see a kill the road angle was not the best, but judging by the amount of fresh blood on the face of one gray, my estimation would be that a calf was taken. Days prior to this I witnessed 6 druids bust an elk herd above the Ranch and 1 black (302m) cased a single cow right across the road in front of the ranch and followed it into the valley approx 3.5 road miles. He gave up and the cow returned to the high hills above the ranch were at least 2 other wolves were see. Also saw a lone black yearling .1 miles south of Indian Creek on a carcus it was there for two days 19th & 20th, and then seen the same wolf 4 miles south of Norris on 25th when I was leaving the park (possible a loner or maybe a Gibbon). I had mentioned it to Rick, but it is hard to say. No sign of Oxbows 7 hours watching at Hellroaring overlook and nothing but elk, bison, and hikers. Agates where in Little America and on a kill at Y. picnic a couple of days. As for Bears saw at least 10 Black mostly in Tower but also saw 4 in Lamar. Grizzly totals around 18 mostly in Lamar don’t like to give a solid number because some of the bears may have just been in the area in adjacent days. (places i looked include-> Yellowstone picnic, specimen trail head, slough creek, dorthys’, fisherman’s,b. ranch, hitching post, and confluence) 5 yearling grizz cubs are included in this number. Floating Island Sandhill what a sight and of course the swan. Moose at the church on the way to Cooke City, bighorns at Y. picnic (baby at Calcite), 5 goats on Barronette, and the usual buffalo/elk herds. (including those with the yellow stickers) As usual it turned into a great trip I had my mother (her first time west of the Mississippi) and grandfather along for the excitement. The look on her face the first time she saw Lamar I will never forget (do you remember your face when that happen to you ?)… I DO. I won’t be returning until the middle of Sept., but I hope that the updates keep coming in I love to read about the park and its wildlife not to mention I LOVE being there.

    Thanks for the update, Hoosier.
    Ralph Maughan

  12. avatar Dave Collins says:

    Thanks for the update. Sounds to me like nature is regulating the amount of wolves. These pacs are getting very tight, there will be a higher kill rate this year of wolf vs wolf because of there close proximity. To bad Yellowstone isnt bigger. Thanks again Kathie!

  13. avatar RavenWatcher says:

    Thanks! I’ve been looking for info on the hayden pack in particular. I wish they had stayed here in Mammoth… oh well. But, they are a wide ranging pack, one never knows where they will stay.

    Poor bison. I was up at Canyon today and saw a few random bulls that looked healthy, but that was all. I didn’t make it into the valley, though. I do my best to be truthful when tourists ask me about bison migration in winter. Most have no idea they aren’t allowed out of the park… and most are appalled to hear the result. I still have a lump of ill feeling in my stomach about what happened this winter. National park service is supposed to preserve and protect the park, not the ranchers!

  14. avatar Peter says:

    Hi Thanks for the update Katie do you know if the alpha of the sloughs is still the former Agate and son of 113?

  15. avatar Kathie Lynch says:

    Peter: Yes, the Slough Creek alpha male, 590M (black), is a former Agate Creek wolf, born in 2006 to the then Agate alphas, 113M and 472F. He was collared on 1/30/07 as an Agate pup, weighing in at 101 pounds! He became the new Slough alpha in September, 2007, after the death of the former Slough alpha, who was also an Agate, born in 2005.

  16. avatar Beth says:

    I read that these wolves don’t get that large, if he was a pup, that would mean he was likely to get even larger as he was still growing… so do they get larger than 100 pounds?

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