A Tale of Two Wolves-
By © Kathie Lynch
This is the story of two Yellowstone wolves, Lamar Canyon alpha 832F (“The ’06 Female”) and Blacktail disperser 777M. One continues to live an amazing life and one has died a valiant death. Each epitomizes what it means to live life to the fullest, risking all for self and family—living by the laws of nature, fighting the good fight and living wild.
The words awesome and awe inspiring don’t even come close to adequately describing Yellowstone’s most amazing wolf, “The ’06 Female.” Leader of the Lamar Canyon pack, mastermind, protector and provider extraordinaire, “’06” does it all!
One early morning in Round Prairie, we witnessed an incredible spectacle as “’06” once again brought down an elk entirely by herself. We could hear their heavy breathing and see the steam rising as the two splashed through Soda Butte Creek right in front of us. The chase was especially astounding because “’06” was running on only three good legs, having injured a rear leg six days before.
The small crowd gasped as the wolf got in front and leaped at the elk’s nose. The cow twisted and lashed out at her attacker with her right front hoof, sending “’06” under water in a shower of spray.
The wolf resurfaced but fell behind, and we thought that the elk would get away. But “‘06” kept on, grabbing the elk’s throat as the two went out of sight into a small stand of trees. Minutes later, ‘”06” emerged and bedded nearby to rest, but the elk never made it out of the trees.
Earlier in the summer, “’06” had also demonstrated her prowess as a provider when the Lamar Canyon pack fed on a carcass at Lower Barronette. With a belly full of food to be regurgitated, “’06” made two round trips between the site and her four hungry pups back at the den. The first trip took her one-and-a-half hours, and the second took her one-and-three-fourths hours. Each round trip covered a total distance of at least 15 miles!
The Lamar Canyon pack’s four pups (two blacks, two grays) have been elusive, but they are sometimes seen romping around. They were born about April 20, and, at four months, all look happy and healthy. So far, we have only been able to determine that one of the black pups is a female (because we saw it do a squat urination, as opposed to a lean forward for a male).
The pack currently has nine adults, including gray alpha 832F (“The ’06 Female”), black alpha 755M, black beta 754M, gray 776F (no collar), Middle Gray (female), and four yearlings (gray 820F, gray female, black male, black female).
During July, the Lamar Canyon pack focused on finding food for the pups elsewhere and let down its guard in protecting its Lamar Valley territory. Sensing an opportunity, various subgroups of the Mollies pack, from the Pelican Valley, 25 miles to the south in Yellowstone’s interior, moved in.
The conflicts that ensued were hard to sort out, hard to watch, and, ultimately, hard to bear. We just had to remember that these are wild wolves doing what they must do to survive. That means protecting their territory and food supply in order to feed their family so that their genes will be passed on and the species will survive.
In December 2011, 19 Mollies wolves had appeared in Little America. Various members of the pack have been seen there and in Lamar Valley off and on ever since. The pack’s large size, oversupply of females, lack of leadership, and inability to find a new alpha male contributed to the pack splitting into several often-changing subgroups.
Two Blacktail pack dispersers, 2-year-old males 777M and “Puff,” had been attracted to the many Mollies eligible females during the breeding season last February. The younger Mollies have continued to pursue every opportunity to rendezvous with and flirt with 777M and “Puff,” much to the older Mollies’ dislike.
It seemed innocent and charming, as one by one, the female yearlings especially would steal away from the pack to meet and greet the males. Ritualized courting gestures included laying a head over a shoulder, play bowing, leaping over the other’s back, and touching noses with stiff posture and raised tails.
However, as each day passed, we couldn’t get over the feeling that a real life in the wild tragedy was unfolding before our eyes. While we hoped for a happy ending, this was no fairy tale.
On the morning of August 3, after a prolonged absence, eight Lamar Canyon wolves resurfaced in Lamar Valley. They surprised “777’s Group” of five (Blacktail brother “Puff” and presumably three Mollies females) at a bison carcass on Amethyst Bench in Lamar Valley.
With tails held high, the Lamar Canyons chased, caught, attacked and killed a Mollies 3-year-old female, 822F, who had been with 777M. (Wolves kill other wolves and coyotes as competitors, but do not feed on them.)
On the day of the attack, six other Mollies wolves were seen on a nearby ridge, including black 779F (822F’s 3-year-old sister), an adult jet black male with a heavy coat, a light black female with a slight right curve tail, adult gray “Left Tail,” and two gray yearlings, 823F and 824M.
Two days later, in the evening, the same eight Lamar Canyon adults (all except “Middle Gray,” who was probably at home with the pups) again advanced on the bison carcass with raised tails.
Those six other Mollies had luckily just left the carcass, blissfully unaware of the approaching danger. The Lamar Canyons got confused and chased a bear instead, before scent-trailing the Mollies, who had gotten clean away!
The next day, this same group of six Mollies turned their attention to Blacktail 777M, who was with two other Mollies females, a black and a gray.
With Mollies 779F and 823F in hot pursuit, 777M ran for his life. Then, he stopped abruptly, faced his pursuers, and a round of very enthusiastic flirting erupted! Yearling 823F was especially enamored and showed her delight with a hop, skip and a jump all around 777M.
We lost track of the two females who were originally with 777M, but 779F and 823F eventually rejoined the other four Mollies, and 777M departed in peace.
Two days later at dawn, things got even more confusing when we discovered the same group of six Mollies and another gray (presumably 777M) chasing a lone gray female, probably another Mollies, in Little America. She bedded on a nearby ridge and put on a beautiful howling display before passing quite close to us and disappearing, not to be seen again.
A lot of flirting ensued between 777M and the four Mollies females (from the group of six) in the flats below the Peregrine Hills. Each female came out by herself to greet 777M, stayed a few moments to touch noses or jump on him playfully, and then retreated back to the others.
Their brother, yearling male 824M, kept a watchful eye on the proceedings, stalking 777M with a lowered head, menacing glare and occasional charge. He made it very clear that he was not at all pleased with his sisters’ advances to 777M.
The next morning, 777M still attracted the females’ attentions and 824M’s glare. When the Mollies moved to the top of the western Peregrine Hill, 777M kept his distance on the rocks below. Howling in unison on the hilltop, silhouetted and backlit by the rising sun, the six Mollies created an unforgettably spectacular scene.
The wolves moved north to the Slough Creek flats, where the same interactions between 777M, the females and 824M continued. Little did we know that this would be the last time we would see 777M alive.
His fate was probably sealed that evening with the arrival in Lamar Valley of a different subgroup of six Mollies, including the gray dominant older female 686F and black 3-year-old male 758M. (Born a Mollies, 758M had returned to his natal pack this summer after serving as the alpha male of the Mary Mountain pack before it dissolved.)
By the next morning, the two groups of Mollies had united. We had six blacks and six grays to the south in Little America and one unseen howler to the north, who might have been 777M. He was not seen that day.
About 11 a.m. the next day, August 11, 777M’s lifeless body was discovered just north of the road at the Straightaway turnout in Little America. We had been looking for him in vain all morning, not knowing that he was dead and that we had been standing only 15 feet away from him.
With many wolf tracks in the mud nearby, 11 Mollies to the south and bite marks to his neck, it is likely that 777M was killed by the Mollies. Although he had captured the hearts of the younger females, perhaps the arrival of the older adults was the beginning of the end for him.
I will especially remember how happy and full of life 777M looked as the Mollies females flirted with him during his final days. We had such high hopes for his success and for the potential of a new pack forming in the Northern Range.
Seven seventy-seven lived and died a wolf in the wild, making the most of his chances and risking the consequences. For 777M, it was all about survival—his own and that of his species.
The good news is that there is a chance that 777M may have successfully left his legacy. Somewhere in Yellowstone are three Mollies pups who just might be his. Maybe those three sevens were lucky numbers after all!
“The ’06 Female” and 777M live and lived lives filled with adventure and daring, good times and bad, success and failure–lives well lived as nature intended; lives lived wild and free.