By Kathy Lynch, copyright. June 27, 2012
Summer’s arrival in Yellowstone National Park brought blue skies and hot, windy days, bucking bison calves, prancing pronghorn fawns, and the promise of wolf pups to be seen.
The Lamar Canyon Pack, led by famous 6-year-old gray alpha female 832F (formerly “The ’06 Female”) and 4-year-old black alpha 755M, denned for the second year in a row in the Lamar Valley. Once again, they provided excellent viewing opportunities for the summer crowds of eager wildlife watchers.
The pack has at least four pups, two black and two gray, which were probably born about April 20. They make a great addition to the pack of nine, which also includes black 754M (brother of 755M), the gray 2-year-old females 776F and “Middle Gray,” and four yearlings (gray 820F, gray female, black male and black female). Unfortunately, the pack apparently lost a second black female yearling, who has not been seen since April.
Very early mornings, before the heat of the day, are usually the best for catching sight of the Lamar Canyon wolves as they travel to and from the den forest in search of food for the hungry pups. All pack members love pups and help to feed and raise them.
The adults like to bring toys back to the den area for the pups to play with. Alpha 832F managed to carry a very long stick toward the den and another gray even lugged home an orange plastic traffic cone!
The yearlings are especially playful and make great puppy-sitters. But, maybe it gets boring just hanging out around the den or they just want to take a break, so they may sneak off on their own to mouse or play. Sometimes they even have the opportunity to interact with young wolves from other packs.
One evening, Lamar Canyon yearling 820F frolicked and play-bowed with a visiting Mollie’s Pack black male yearling! It may be that these two members of rival packs were just getting to know each other now, but they will surely remember their encounter when next February’s breeding season rolls around.
Last February, the unexpected arrival of 19 Mollie’s Pack wolves from the Pelican Valley in Yellowstone’s interior threw the breeding season into turmoil. With six females in estrus and no alpha male, they attracted a lot of attention, especially from dispersing Blacktail Pack males.
Considering the odds that somebody would get pregnant, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when we recently learned that the Mollie’s pack might have at least two black pups, out of view and way out to the east in the Antelope Valley.
Of the 19 Mollie’s who visited the Northern Range in December 2011, it is hard to figure out exactly how many still remain in the main pack and whether or not the pack may have splintered into several smaller groups.
After the loss last fall of long-time alphas 495M and 486F, the senior female is now the very light gray 686F. Some of the other pack members may include adult gray 759F (no collar), 3-year-old black 822F, 2-year-old black 779F, a 2-year-old black male, two other adult gray females, yearling gray 823F, yearling gray 824M, and five other yearlings.
The Mollie’s are one of the few Yellowstone packs that know how to kill bison, a very difficult proposition. The same Mollie’s black male yearling who cavorted with Lamar Canyon 820F has been making a shopping trip through Lamar Valley’s bison herds every few days.
One morning, as he passed by a bison cow and calf, he suddenly grabbed the calf by the neck, and the race was on. Together they galloped, side by side, with the wolf clamped on the calf’s neck, for about 45 seconds.
Just as the wolf brought the calf down and it appeared to be all over (and I was wondering where the heck the calf’s mother was), a thundering herd of bison bulls rushed in to save the day! Unbelievably, the cow had actually run off to get help!
The bulls chased off that wolf and swarmed around the calf, literally scooping it back into the vortex of the roiling group of bulls. The calf, apparently unharmed (thanks to incredibly thick neck skin, a quick-witted mom and her pals), helped lead the group back to the main herd, with quite a story to tell. The whole thing was simply amazing.
The Blacktail pack has been pretty much a no show so far this summer. They apparently spend most of their time out of sight in their vast territory on the Blacktail Plateau.
The pack currently numbers nine or ten, including gray alphas 778M (“Big Brown”) and 693F, plus the adult gray female “Cut Tail,” adult “Tawny Male” (formerly “Mangy Gray”), and five yearlings (black 829F, one black male, two gray males, and one gray female). The gray adult female “Light Tail” has been missing for some time.
The Blacktail pack has undergone change with the departure of several of their males during the breeding season. Four Blacktail males (838M “Big Blaze,” 777M, “Puff,” and “Tawny Gray”) dispersed to join three Agate females (alpha 471F, a black yearling and a gray yearling).
We had high hopes that this was to be the reincarnation of the famous Agate Creek Pack, which had suffered mightily since last fall with the deaths of at least four adults (alpha 641M, alpha 715F, 775M, and 586M). Other wolves killed each one, likely in inter-pack aggression over territory. At about the same time, five Agate pups and one yearling also disappeared.
And so, the hoped for Agate Pack resurrection was not to be. Replacement Agate alphas 838M (“Big Blaze”) and 471F were subsequently also killed by other wolves, and the remaining two yearling Agate females simply disappeared. Sadly, after a 10-year reign, the Agate Creek Pack likely no longer exists, unless those last two Agate females are still around somewhere.
After the dust settled, what we currently have is something new, “777M’s Group.” Its members include the Blacktail 2-year-old gray males 777M and his brother “Puff” and a gray female, probably a Mollie’s. The rest of the group’s make up is fluid and seems to change every time we see them. Most recently, the group also included Mollie’s 759F and what appeared to be two additional gray Mollie’s.
Despite the season of abundance and hope for the future, wolves continue to face great challenges and need our help, now more than ever. People who understand and value this keystone predator must fight on their behalf so that wolves can continue to reclaim their rightful place on the landscape and their important role in maintaining the vitality and diversity of wild ecosystems.