Kathie Lynch: Yellowstone Park wolf news

About 40 wolves are on the Park’s northern range-

Yellowstone wolf news. June 2009.

Copyright by Kathie Lynch

The beautiful green hills of Lamar Valley brim with bison, and their cute little orange calves greet early summer wolf watchers in Yellowstone. However, the drop from 171 wolves in Yellowstone Park in December 2007, to only 124 as of December 2008, means that it is now much harder to find a wolf to watch.

By my calculations (and these are definitely not official counts), there are only about 41 wolves in the Northern Range. That number includes only adults, as follows: Druid Peak pack (14), Blacktail pack (7), Cottonwood pack (6), Everts Pack (6), Agate Creek pack (4), 471F’s Group (3) and miscellaneous–“Big Black” (1). The Quadrant Pack (4) may also still be in the area, but I have not heard of any sightings. The Slough Creek, Leopold and Oxbow packs essentially no longer exist, although a few individuals may still be around. Other packs in Yellowstone’s interior include the Canyon pack (4), Mollie’s, Gibbon, Bechler, and Yellowstone Delta.

Gone are the days of spending hours watching individual behaviors and interactions among pack members. Now we spend a lot of time trying to locate the wolves and then perhaps just watch them travel. The Druid Peak pack has provided the only somewhat reliable recent wolf watching as they go to and fro on hunting forays to feed their pups.

The 14 Druids (nine black and five gray), are still led by alphas 480M (black, seven years old) and 569F (gray, five years old). The pack also includes five three-year-old females (grays 571F and 691F, and blacks “Bright Bar,” “Dull Bar,” and “White Line”), two two-year-old females (gray 645F and black “The Thin Female”), and five yearlings (690F and three other blacks, plus one gray male).

Trying to get a long look at the Druid pups has been a challenge. Like last year, they only appear a few at a time and only for a few brief, fleeting glimpses through a narrow gap in the trees in the traditional den forest. The highest reliable pup count has been nine (five blacks and four grays), although there could be more.

The Druid pups may be from two different litters, those of the alphas and possibly some out of “Dull Bar,” who returned to the pack while pregnant. She had been away from the Druids during the winter with the ill-fated 694F’s Group, but had left by the time 694F was attacked and killed by the Cottonwood pack. The alpha male of that group, currently dubbed “Big Black,” (who was born a Slough in 2007) also survived.

The lonely “Big Black” has made many visits to Lamar Valley to visit the Druid females and may even be trying to visit his (and “Dull Bar’s”) pups when Druid alpha 480M is away on hunting trips. “Big Black’s” exploits remind me a lot of good old 302M when he wooed and won many of the Druid females (and even sired Druid pups) under the vigilant surveillance of the great Druid alphas 21M and 42F in 2002-04.

The Blacktail pack, led by the illustrious 302M (who was born a Leopold in 2000, then became a Druid, and then founded Blacktail), is sometimes seen on the Blacktail Plateau. They are thought to have six pups (four blacks and two grays), perhaps also from two litters. Alpha 693F (gray, Agate,’06) and 642F (black, Agate ’07) denned, but whether pups from both mothers survived is not known.

The other Blacktail pack wolves include three other Druid males (“Big Brown,” “Medium Gray,” and “Small Blaze”) and 692F (black turning silver, Agate ’06). Also called “The Old Lady,” 692F had bred with 302M, but then left the Blacktail pack to rejoin the Agates briefly before denning; if she had pups, they did not survive.

The Cottonwood pack, led by 527F (black, born Druid, but dispersed to Slough, and then founded Cottonwood) is seldom seen, but interesting. They dwell high on the slopes of Hellroaring Mountain and make occasional visits as far east as Slough Creek. The mysterious pack also contains 716F, formerly known as the Slough “Dark Female” ) and four others of unknown origin. They are thought to have five pups (three blacks, two grays).

The Everts pack can occasionally be seen on Mt. Everts or near the Blacktail Ponds. Founded in 2008 by Oxbow/former Leopold 470F and 685M (origin unknown), the pack may have three pups. The current alpha female (origin unknown) is not 470F, who had left the pack during the breeding season. She has since returned, but not as alpha. Other pack members include 684M and two other black yearlings. The most interesting pack member must surely be the graying black female who has surfaced in various packs throughout the years. Known as “The Everts Female,” “The Limping Black,” or simply “The Old Black Female,” she is a real survivor and seems to have been around forever.

Unfortunately, no pups of the nine-year-old Agate alpha female, 472F, survived. Without pups to provide a focus, the Agates have not put down roots this year. They roam far and wide, from Little America south to their traditional den area in the Antelope Valley below Mt. Washburn. The now small pack of four (a mere shadow of its might in the days of legendary alpha 113M) includes the gray 715F (472F’s niece or daughter) and two former Druid males (alpha “Big Blaze” and the “High Sided Male”–formerly the “High Sided Yearling,” but not the same as the Druid female “High Sides,” who became 694F!).

The only other pack which is seen with any frequency is the Canyon Pack. After spending much of the winter near Mammoth, they returned to the Canyon area. They are still often observed in the Hayden Valley, which was the original home of the very light colored alpha female (daughter of the white wolf 540F and 541M). The three other pack members, all male, include the black alpha 712M, gray 587M and one other gray. All three males are thought to have been born to the Mollie’s pack, which makes its home in the nearby Pelican Valley, but is seldom seen.

As the green hillsides fill with the abundance of summer, wolf watchers will be eagerly waiting for the pups to make their grand debut onto the world’s stage. Hopefully, there will be good pup survival and wolf numbers will rebound so that Yellowstone’s wolves can continue to inspire visitors and serve as ambassadors for wolves everywhere.




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Ralph Maughan