Kathie Lynch: Druid wolf pack likely to fade away
Only one Druid is known to remain-
Down to one wolf. I guess that means the end of the wolf pack. The Druid Peak wolf pack was formed in the release enclosure back in 1996. Most of the wolves came from the same pack in British Columbia, but not all. For example the big alpha male came from another pack. The Druids immediately set about trying, and then finally succeeding to dominate the Lamar Valley. It was a good 14 years with hundreds of thousands of people seeing them.
Kathie has all the details.
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By © Kathie Lynch. “And then there was one.”
And then there was one… From the Druid Peak pack’s beginning in 1996 and through its glory years as Yellowstone National Park’s most famous wolf pack (with an incredible 37 members in 2001), it has come to this: yearling black Druid 690F may be the sole survivor. Mange-ridden and alone, her situation is grim.
In the last few weeks, three others (691F, the “Thin Female,” and “White Line”) have been killed by other wolves, often as they scavenged on other packs’ kills.
Six other Druids are missing, including alpha 480M, “Dull Bar,” 571F, the “Female Yearling,” “Black Bar,” and “Triangle Blaze.” We can only hope that they are somehow surviving on their own, but they are ravaged by mange, and scavenging is a dangerous business.
Leaderless after the death of alpha female 569F last fall and the subsequent dispersal of alpha 480M, the once mighty Druid Peak pack may soon be just a memory.
But, the Druid bloodlines will, hopefully, carry on in other packs. The Blacktail alpha and beta males, “Big Brown” and “Medium Gray,” were both born Druids. They are the sons of the late Druid alpha 569F (and, therefore, the grandsons of legendary Druid alpha 21M, who died in 2004).
“Big Brown” and “Medium Gray” both have bred this year with former Agate females in the Blacktail pack who are granddaughters or great-granddaughters of Druids 21M and 42F. With Druid genes on both sides of the family tree, this year’s Blacktail pups will have strong ties to the Druids of old.
Another Druid disperser, Agate alpha male “Big Blaze,” is currently missing after a dramatic fight with interloping Mollies wolf 641M, right next to the road in Little America on February 14.
Both 641M and “Big Blaze” repeatedly applied biting holds to the other’s muzzle. Although “Big Blaze” initially put up a good fight, it appeared that the larger 641M prevailed. “Big Blaze” was only seen once again, shortly after the fight, so our hopes have dimmed that he survived.
Mollies 641M and another Mollies, 586M, have since taken over the two Agate females, the almost 10-year-old alpha 472F (herself the daughter of Druids 21M and 42F; she is also the mother or grandmother of the Blacktail pack females) and 715F. Chances may be slim for more Druid genes to be passed on in the Agate pack, however, since 472F has not produced any surviving pups for the last two years.
Another Agate disperser, 471F (daughter of 472F and, therefore, also a granddaughter of Druids 21M and 42F), has spent the last year in the Lava Creek pack. However, that pack of three (471F, Montana 147M, and the former Agate “’06 Female”) seems to have fallen apart recently. 471F has been seen lately in the company of the Everts alpha 685M (whose own alpha female was killed last fall).
Black 147M (who originally came into YNP from the Eight Mile pack in Montana) has deposed the old gray alpha male of the (unofficially named) “Silver” pack, which hails from outside of the Park. So far, 147M has proved to be a most tolerant and benevolent new leader of the “Silvers.”
He has bred with both the silvery-white alpha female and the gray yearling female. Both the yearling female and the gray female pup absolutely love him and delight in clambering all over him and showering him with affection.
And, surprisingly, after days of being chased away by the former alpha male, 147M has allowed him to tag along and even lead the pack at times. It is a heart-warming sight to see as the old gray guy trundles along with the pack, head listing slightly to the right, perhaps due to an injury.
The other former member of the defunct Lava Creek pack is the infamous former Agate, the “’06 Female.” After spending most of January howling her heart out to attract suitors, she ended up luring away the two black males (of unknown origin, both since collared) who had been with the (then five) Druid females in December and January.
This new group of three, “755’s Group,” includes alpha 755M (the “First Male” to appear with the Druid females in December), beta 754M (“Wedge,” who joined the Druid females in January), and, finally with two males of her own (even if they are only yearlings), the “’06 Female.”
Approaching age four, she is a wolf in the absolute prime of her life. A great hunter, she thrilled watchers one day with a close encounter as she pursued a bull elk in Lamar Canyon. Like a speeding bullet, she left those two young males far behind. Loping this way and that, they really had no idea what they were doing–except that they didn’t want to lose their glamour girl!
It will be interesting to see if this group sticks together after the breeding season. They have been frequenting the Slough Creek area, which is an open territory. The “’06 Female” is not about to let her two males go and has even attacked and driven other females away. But, the two males could very well disappear back to wherever they came from.
With no pack to return to, the “’06 Female” would have to face her greatest challenge yet–raising pups on her own. Truly a blue blood, she is the daughter of the venerable, late Agate alpha 113M and Agate 472F. And, as the granddaughter of Druids 21M and 42F, she is the source of yet more Druid genes. She may need every ounce of her spunk and royal heritage to see her through.
Various males from the Hoodoo pack in Wyoming have come calling in YNP during the breeding season. While Wyoming 682M’s group of two black males has not been around recently, another Hoodoo black male, 681M, did show up.
He spent all of one day sitting half way up a hillside near Soda Butte, lusting after and serenading the “Silver” pack’s lovely alpha female across the valley. His GPS collar indicates that 681M has been a frequent visitor to YNP, so perhaps he may move in, if he can hook up with an available female and carve out a territory.
Lastly, the Canyon pack has dropped in to the Mammoth area several times recently. They are now down to three wolves, after the disappearance last fall of their black pup and the gray 587M.
Alpha male 712M has bred with the very light gray alpha female. She is the daughter of the late, great Hayden alphas 540F (“The White Wolf”) and 541M, so their genes too may still be passed on.
The probable demise of the Druid Peak pack wolves is terribly hard to bear for all who have watched them, learned from them and delighted in knowing them for so many years.
Through their fame and the unique opportunity to get to know and care about them as individuals, the Druids made people the world over want to save wolves and wilderness. The Druids will be greatly missed, but it is comforting to know that their legacy will live on.
Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.
31 Responses to Kathie Lynch: Druid wolf pack likely to fade away
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Great read as always, but i have to ask,
canyon pack had a pup? i thought the pregnancy did not work out for them this year when the den was situated at mammoth.
The six druids that are missing- is there info on when they were seen last? There was an animal planet special about Yellowstone that showed the druids hunting- it was facinating to watch. Is poaching suspected?
thank you Kathie for the info. on Druid pack. My wife and I enjoyed them so very much when they first were released. My wife is deceased now, I am 80 years old, stay in Cooke city and will again be there this year. 1000 miles from my Oklahoma home. Edmond, Okla.
A sad turn of events. I am grateful to have been able to spend some time watching them. They say nature abhors a vacuum so perhaps another pack will move in and rule the valley
As always, Kathy’s updates are heartwarming and heart wrenching. It is sad to hear of the demise or disappearance of those wolves you came to know by the names given them by wolf watchers. I am hoping we can all be watching the new packs for years to come and that the Druids live on in the other packs.
Last night (Friday), I watched the PBS program NOW which told the wolf wars story to people who probably are not as aware of it as those of us who live close by. David Brancacchio (sp) interviewed Doug Honnold from Earthjustice, Mike Clark from GYC, a game a fish person from each of the three states, a rancher from MT, and I got to see my first view of Ron Gillette, ranting about killing wolves any way possible. What a pathetic man he is! It was an unbiased story, but did make several of the best points about re-listing the wolves. They seemed to think something will be decided this spring or early summer. Mike Clark also spoke for the Buffalo and the Grizzly Bear. It was a chance for the advocates to state their case for the wildlife. I hope everyone had a chance to watch.
This is sad news, especially for folks who have been part of the Druids for so long as observers and supporters. But I agree…the Lamar is great wolf habitat and sooner or later, other packs will find it and populate it..IF LEFT ALONE. Perhaps the NPS can learn from the past several years of watching “fans” behave, and use better management of the traffic to keep the wolves from being loved to death.
Over the years my feelings about collaring have changed as well. For years I thought collaring was a necessity to research. Now I wonder. April/May 2009 we saw wolves in two pack with tail mange. I’ve found that I can rely on luck and intuition and see wolves, and bears, and even bull moose. The man in the yellow car brings with him many, many people. In the early years following the reintroduction, he and other watchers would gladly show visitors their first wolf. Not so much anymore. Now I get that pleasure.
Thanks to Kathie for her update.I’m sure the Druids will be missed by more than the wolf “in-crowd”.
I photographed the Druid pack last fall as they were trying to catch a cow elk in the Lamar River. It was obvious that they were suffering from mange at the time. I think that they were getting cold while swimming in the river without adequate insulation. They left the river frequently to warm up and looked pathetic with their hairless tails. They were unsuccessful in killing the elk.
I do think that the extra stress of annual helicopter chases and being handicapped with radio-collars and GPS collars, along with the constant disturbance by wolf-watching crowds, directed to the wolves by the guy in the yellow car with his antenna and radio, were contributing factors in their demise. At least four of them had collars.
I called the IDFG at their Jerome office yesterday to see if the Phantom Hill Pack was near Ketchum again. I was told that the Phantom Hill Pack no longer exists and that the two radio-collared wolves from the pack are not together. One of them is north of Glenn’s Ferry and the other is north of Fairfield.
Regarding Phantom Hill, that was a real slap in face for Defenders of Wildlife. It was deliberate, and I hope they will cooperate with the state in future not at all.
Just because the radiocollared wolves are no longer present doesn’t mean the pack no longer exists. I don’t know why you were told that.
Kathie thank you for the update on the druids and all the packs. You know all of them well and shows your true love for the wolves. I cannot say how much I appreciate your step by step account of all those beautiful wolves, especially the druids. Thanks again for all you do Kathie.The thing on pbs was aired before,I pray Judge Malloy makes a decision in the favor of the EDA and we could follow the wolves and all other wildlife in peace.
Larry, your fixation with Rick is really getting old. Is it jealousy? I really can’t figure you out. Without him you would not have been able to see or know anything about the Druid pack, it would have lived and died unknown, and none of us would be having this discussion.
I feel really fortunate to have seen 21 towards the end of his life and to have seen the Druids in Lamar valley. I am also very grateful to the work of the wolf researchers. What they have done to increase the public’s awareness of and understanding of wolves is invaluable and frankly there would not be half as much public support for protecting them as there is now without the Yellowstone studies.
The ‘demise” of the Druid pack is biology at work.
Hardly, their demise was started by man long ago with it’s introduction of mange.
It will be interesting to see which newcomers fill in the void. Lots of available prey in that area.
I think Kathie’s story shows that other wolves are already filling in the area. In fact the Druids were pushed over the brink by their sickness and stronger wolves attacking them.
Fourteen years is a long time for a wolf pack to stay intact.
What do you suppose the next one will be called?
Yes Ralph but when your heart leads it still hurts, as for collars they have their good side and to me a bad side. Enough is enough we know wolves travel hundreds of miles in a year’s time, now it’s time to let them alone and not follow them all over, isn’t that part of being wild. Just one man’s opinion,when we follow so does the states regulation body,and we all know what happens then.
I’m no fan of radio collars, although they do provide a lot of useful information inside Yellowstone Park. They could do so outside too, but outside the Park their primary use is simply to locate the pack so that Wildlife Services can easily find it and kill it if some powerful livestock interest gets irritated.
They do use the collars to help with their annual population court. Our organization, the Wolf Recovery Foundation, is providing money for research into alternative non-intrusive methods of gathering this data, e.g., collecting DNA from fur on scratch or rubpads and using howlboxes to elicit the replies of real wolves, which can then be analyzed.
Perhaps the problem is more with whom has access to the collar information as opposed to the collars themselves….
Thank you Kathie for the Druid update. We were in YNP in July 2008 and were privilaged to see at least 9 Druids – 3 adults(including Casanova), 2 young females and 4 pups. Supposedly the pack had 25 members that summer – adults & pups. We are returning to Yellowstone this summer and have been searching for updates on the Druids and other YNP packs. I had discovered earlier that most of the Druids are gone. Sad, but as a retired biology teacher – I realize that these cycles in nature happen all the time. Have we loved the wolf to death? I hope not. More likely it is just nature taking its course. The YNP wolf population is down, but in a few years it will cycle and be strong again.
For Nathan Hobbs and William Huard
I am not a wolf expert but I do follow the Yellowstone packs closely and keep notes. Please feel free to correct me if any of this is inaccurate.
For Nathan Hobbs
The Canyon pack was seen with a single black pup for several months on and off in the late spring/early summer in Hayden and nearby areas if I recall correctly. No one knows for sure if that pup was born in Mammoth or some other location, or if it ever had any littermates. Reports were that it seemed healthy, and the adults were seen interacting with it, on and off, for a while. However, sometime during the summer reports of the pup ceased, while the adults were still sometimes seen. It is simply unknown what happened, but death is most likely.
For William Huard
I last saw four of those now-missing Druids (480M, Female Yearling, Dull Bar and 571F) during Christmas week. I asked about Black Bar & Triangle Blaze at that time and there was no certain information at that time. All six had mange. If they travelled out of the Park who knows what might have happened, but to suspect poaching is probably a jump. I think it is far more likely that they are scavenging, which will increase the probability of injury and death. Why they did not continue to travel together is one of the mysteries I hope science might decipher someday. It is my opinion that 480 might have a chance as he is strong and brave and could hook up with a female who can hunt, but I am probably thinking more wishfully than I should.
For Michael Williams
“The man in the yellow car brings with him many, many people. In the early years following the reintroduction, he and other watchers would gladly show visitors their first wolf. Not so much anymore. Now I get that pleasure.”
Mr. Williams, I am glad you get that pleasure, as do I; it is very emotional to witness a visitor seeing his/her first wolf and more so when it is your scope or direction providing the opportunity. Perhaps I’m misreading your post but I have spent many hours within earshot of Rick while watching wolves in Yellowstone and I am constantly astonished at his enormous patience with the steady parade of first time wolf watchers. I know for a fact that he enjoys providing that moment in people’s lives; he offers his scope rather than waiting for them to ask. I’ve seen it happen hundreds, if not thousands of times over the years. The only time he does not do so is when there is some sort of action happening with the wolves which it is his responsibility to observe and record (such as a fight between packs).
And yes, he brings with him many people and it is quite comical to watch the parade behind him sometimes (myself included) but he knows the wolves are the best ambassadors for their oun future, so he makes it his business to help visitors see them and understand them as often and as best he can.
For Larry Thorngren
Larry, come on, you are making wild charges again. There is absolutely NO EVIDENCE at all that either collars or infrequent helicopter chases have contributed to the demise of the Druids. It was nature, plain and simple. Harsh, yes. Very harsh, just like it’s harsh on an elk calf to be caught and killed. There is certainly a worthwhile debate to be had on the value of collars to research, especially since they are used in such different ways outside the Park, but it’s clear your financially-motivated wish to photograph non-collared wolves leads you from the path of reason to make such unsubstantiated claims. I am always so disappointed when you do this, because you have such valuable experience and wisdom in so many other ways.
I also take exception to your equally wild claim that wolf watchers cause a “constant disturbance” to the Yellowstone wolves, including the afflicted Druids. Some visitors do sometimes disturb individual wolves for a limited time, like they do elk, or bison or even bears. Some visitors will thoughtlessly approach a carcass out of curiosity not realizing they are keeping the wolves from feeding; or a line of our cars, or even one stopped car might prevent a wolf from crossing the road when it wants to, for example, but these occasions are minimal and Rick is often the one who prevents such situations from getting out of hand. And you know, photographers have been known to invade a wolf’s space sometimes, too. But your claim is a ridiculous exaggeration by any stretch of the imagination.
But back to collars for a moment – 21, 302 and 113, to use three examples, were collared most of their adult lives and yet they each lived to the ripe old age of 9; I think 113 was 10 and you know that is a long life for a wild wolf. So much for the effect of collars.
It has been heartbreaking for all of us to watch the Druids get weaker, thinner, and to lose their beautiful coats as they did. Nature dealt them a harsh blow and to me, their demise arose from the following factors: they got mange going into winter, they lost their alpha female; their alpha male could not/would not breed with his daughters; in addition, the winter has been very cold but low on snow, both factors which temporarily favor elk over weakened wolves. This is what set up the long odds against their survival (in my opinion).
Who knows what might have happened if 569 had lived – would pack cohesion have made a difference in the long run? Who knows what might have happened if it had been a very snowy winter, with crusted over snow, which might have led to many more winter-killed elk? That might have worked in their favor. That didn’t happen so we will never know. When the Druids became unable to hunt on their own and began to scavenge, the writing was on the wall that they would be chased and likely caught. I feel a small portion of relief that 691, White Line and the Thin Female are now out of their misery.
One other factor that was against them (in my opinion) is that to my observation, they were weakened over the summer, by the lack of easy-to-kill elk in Lamar, which prompted them to go further afield to find food. It is my personal belief that this is why their pups failed to thrive (and this could have been exacerbated by mange); thus the adults were not in good condition when they caught mange, giving them less of an ability to fight it, setting up a deadly spiral.
My observations bear this out, although I admit, that’s all I am, an observer.
And finally, for Greg Capito
I am willing to bet that Kathie is well aware that the demise of the Druid Pack is, as you say, “biology at work”. Thank goodness for us, Kathie’s emotional investment in the Yellowstone Packs does not interfere with her excellent note-taking, her writing skill nor her willingness to share her observations with those of us who cannot get to the Park as often as she. Thanks Kathie!
Sorry Ralph. I’m done for the night. 8~)
When I entered the Lamar Valley last fall, I pulled off at the first turnoff. There was one other photographer and a woman in a government vehicle. The Druids had just chased an elk into the river about 300 yards away. The woman got on her radio and called Rick. He showed up with his radio and immediately started calling all of his wolf watchers and other tour groups. I heard him refer them as Unit this or unit that as he called them. The viewing area soon was three deep in wolf watcher vehicles and tour buses, along with a couple of rangers. Cars were parked for a hundred yards in both directions.
This is typical of the intrusive wolf viewing as conducted by Rick when viewing the Druids or any other pack. It ruins the wolf viewing experience for those of us that like to find the wolves ourselves and happens almost daily. His wolf watchers immediately start telling everyone to shut up(including children who are excitedly talking about seeing the wolves) and if they can, they save places for their friends to park, excluding those that are not members of their little club.
After seeing this year after year, I just got tired of it and decided to say something. Rick is running a wolf finding business disguised as a research project. Mumbling into a microphone about wolves peeing is not research.
Let me get this straight. You had a spot almost to yourself and you were upset that a crowd formed. Then you were upset that people were being told to be quiet around wildlife. If the crowd pissed you off in the first place, didn’t it make you happy that there was some crowd control going on?
Spending many weeks in the park, it is almost impossible to find wildlife and have it to yourself. Every time I have spotted a bear or anything else for that matter a large crowd quickly forms whether they are called or not (I have found griz jams to be much more chaotic than wolf jams).
I have seen Rick and the other regular wolf watchers spend hours telling new visitors including children about the wolves. The only people who I have ever seen Rick have a problem with are those trying to speed down the road to get a great shot of the wolves as they are trying to cross the street or those who want to hike in closer to get a good picture. (you don’t fall in this category, do you?)
You must have had some altercation with rick to be spreading these insinuations about his “business”. I know this accusation to be completely untrue. It seems very clear to me that you want uncollared wolves to photograph and sell for your own financial gain. You might as well be honest about that. It also seems that you have some contempt for others using or enjoying the park if they get into your space. Maybe if you had all of the best wildlife watching to yourself the only way people would ever get to see a wolf would be to buy a photo from you.
When you are not ranting about the yellowstone wolf study you usually make a lot of sense. I happen to completely agree with you about radio collars outside the park.
And you have no response that were it not for Rick and radio collars we would not have known much of anything about the Druid Peak pack and they would have lived and died in obscurity? You see no value in these few wolves being studied and being very public to better help the public know about and support the species?
Along the roadways in Yellowstone Park it is almost impossible to stop and take a photo without someone pulling up to see if you are photographing some wildlife.
I like to photograph wildlife, but also clouds, rock formations, grass, you name it. I’ve been doing that in Park. Someone pulls up, sees my attention is really on some “damn” rock and they squeal their tires as they leave in disgust.
Larry, that’s just the way it is in the crowded front country. Crowds form very quickly. It has been that way for years.
I saw, and heard, my first wolves in 2000, the Druids in Lamar near a dead Bison. It was an awesome experience, and I will never forget it. I had the whole pack,including their pups,lined up on the opposite side of the river, howling as the rising sun cut threw the morning fog. An experience I had been waiting for my whole life since some assholes decided to kill all the wolves were I live(Utah) before I was born. Since then I have returned to the Lamar many times, and I always have found wolves,usually the Druids. I am sad to see them go, but their genes will live on and a new pack will emerge to fill their niche. But it is a bit of a circus there, and the wolf “clubs”, with their radios, can be rather irritating. Although I think during the initial reintroduction the collars were necessary, its time to lay off the wolves and let them be truly wild animals again. We don’t need every pack collard anymore. And to think all the collars and tourist don’t have a significant impact on the wolves is pretty ignorant. That kind of invasive research is not longer justified,in my opinion.
I think that the wolf watchers aid by getting more people to support the cause.
Most of the discussion on this thread has been about the demise of the Druid wolf pack, but I want to call attention to all of the additional data Kathie provided on other packs of the Northern Range — those that will replace the Druids.
There is not any other source of this kind of detailed information on the Park’s wolf packs on-line. Eventually, a year or so later, some of it will appear in the Park’s annual report.