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About Wolves

Story ID:3409
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Local Legend
Location:Yellowstone Park Montana USA
Year:1997
Person:No.9
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About Wolves

About Wolves

About Wolves
(A Yellowstone essay celebrating Yellowstone's tenth anniversary of wolf reintroduction.)
by Kathe Campbell


Intro: The following is a trilogy about wolves, two stories from the wilds of Yellowstone and a third from Broken Tree Ranch.

Occasionally I have an opportunity to interview the Yellowstone wolf biologists while visiting my son, Tim, a retired Montana Undersheriff. Today Tim lives at West Yellowstone dividing his time escorting visitors through the park on snowmobiles and working as the Endangered Species Specialist. He is the first ever nationally recognized ATV-snowmobile ranger protecting the endangereds in the greater Yellowstones. If he ever retires, it is my ambition to interview his socks off and write a book about his adventures. But first, let me enlighten you about one female wolf who stole the hearts of readers and wolf biologists as well.

Following years of emotional debate over wolf reintroduction, Yellowstone's wolf program could hardly have had a more dramatic first season, due in large part to No.9 and her Red Lodge litter.

Of the 31 wolves that arrived in Yellowstone Park from Canada, attention quickly focused on No.9 and her female pup, No.7. When a second bunch of wolves arrived a week later, biologists played matchmaker and put No.9 and her pup with a large male, known as No.10, in an acclimation pen. Upon their release Nos.9 and 10 took off together toward Red Lodge and No.7 joined another pack.

Shortly thereafter a resident of Red Lodge shot and killed No.10, a federal crime for which he was later convicted. Park biologists tracked No.9 by signals from her radio collar. She was in the woods west of town hovering over the first litter of eight pups born in the Yellowstone region since wolves were exterminated in the early 1900's. Those eight pups represented 40% of all the Yellowstone wolves. No.9 had become the matriarch, the queen.

Biologists gathered up the queen and her pups and transported them back to an acclimation pen for safety this time. Once again she and her pups were freed and joined with a young male known as No.8 to form the Rose Creek pack. No.9 was the leading, or alpha female, giving birth to litters fathered by No.8 in each of the next four years. This was a tremendous reproductive output spreading genes more widely throughout the park region more than any other wolf. No.9 is given credit for boosting the park's wolf population to around 120 wolves. She was the poster child of the wolf program.

No.9's life wasn't always easy. Often, none of her pups survived and she lost her position of dominance as the pack's alpha female to a daughter, No.18. No.9 then gave birth to another litter, but according to the park rangers, it's believed they succumbed.

After all her prolific years No.9 lived alone and was thought to probably die that way. Eventually the Rose Creek pack drove her off. In wolf society there's nothing unusual about No.9's fate. Wolf packs sometimes tolerate aging members allowing them to scrounge from pack kills. But more likely, as in this case, No.9's daughter assumed the pack ranking and it was time for the senior to go.

No.9 grayed with age and was at least eight years old, very old for a wolf. She had been wandering by herself ever since. According to her radio collar she occasionally made forays back into the park, however, if she were to intrude on her old pack, those wolves might drive her off. As it was, she could get kicked by an elk or starve to death. Biologists felt she would join with another male to form a new pack.

Even the wolf biologists, who tried not to judge wildlife in human terms, had great sympathy for a wolf they had admired since she first leapt from her transport kennel in Yellowstone Park. By all measures, Yellowstone's wolf No.9 had been a great success story. Wildlife management depends on populations, whereas restoration and recovery depends upon individuals. No.9 was a remarkable individual.

******************

Epilogue: Another year has passed and Yellowstone's park biologists announced that No.9 had surprised them by turning up with three other wolves to form the new Valentine pack east of the park. She and No.153, a younger female, had been observed in mating behavior with the males which leads one to believe she has again retained status as her pack's alpha female.

Even if No.9 should once again become unthroned as the dominant female to No.153, there is always the chance that her mate will care for her and her pups and once again form another new pack. I don't think we should count No.9 out at this point, despite her age. She's still a prolific matriarch and somebody is paying attention to her. What a girl!

KC

Note: A decade later, passions still run deep amongst ranchers who worry about their livestock. Hunters worry the wolfs will descimate elk herds. Conservationists acknowledge problems but say wolves haven't been the scourge some predicted. In fact they have helped the ecology of the greater Yellowstone area and within the park where wolves are a major attraction.

The foregoing research and writing has been a labor of love for me. I was never an advocate of uprooting Canadian wolves and introducing them to Yellowstone Park, or anywhere else for that matter. But since they're now among us, I love and respect them dearly. My dozen or so T's and sweats say so.