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WOLF SOAP OPERA (A Yellowstone Saga)

Story ID:3441
Written by:Kathe M. Campbell (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Local Legend
Location:Yellowstone Park Montana USA
Year:2005
Person:The Druid Pack
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WOLF SOAP OPERA (A Yellowstone Saga)

WOLF SOAP OPERA (A Yellowstone Saga)

WOLF SOAP OPERA (A Yellowstone Saga)

WOLF SOAP OPERA
(A Yellowstone Saga)
by Kathe Campbell

Thanks to a controversial but successful reintroduction program, wolves are back in Yellowstone Park after an absence of almost 80 years. They had been massacred by trappers and trophy hunters until nary a one was left. Several dozen wolves were humanely captured in Canada and released in Yellowstone some years ago. Those canine have done remarkably well reproducing at a rapid rate. Numerous packs are now located in various parts of the park. They prey on a variety of species, notably elk, but will also pursue moose, deer, mountain sheep and other animals.

Although wolf packs have wandered outside Yellowstone, the best place to see them is in the Lamar Valley between Mammoth and Cooke City. I have traveled the road early in the morning before dawn along with dozens of photographers, writers, tourists and wolf experts. After parking my rig at a pullout, I pour my cappuccino and sit and wait for choruses of wavering and modulated howls as dawn's pink glow peeks over the ridge. Mournful wails reflect off trees, ridges and rocks, creating a complex mix to confuse any competing packs. It's the Druid pack alright, getting ready to hunt breakfast amid vast open sagebrush where unwary rabbits are plentiful.

But it seems there has been a peculiar drama unfolding among the wolves of this pack in the northeast corner of the park. This drama contains all the elements necessary for an emmy-winning soap opera. There's adultry, a tyrannical matriarch, revenge, a coup d'etat, child snatching, and even murder. Three hours from my mountain home, I find myself captivated over prospects of unraveling the mystery. Thankfully, my son, other Yellowstone rangers and buffalo hazers have helped me fill in gaps over gallons of coffee.

The park wolf biologists say they've never seen such events and believe the story could only be witnessed in a place like the park, never in the wilds of their native northern territories. Even experts familiar with a wolf's complex social structure and penchant for mate-swapping, say they are amazed. Their actions suggest that personalities and habits of individual wolves may influence a pack's fate as much as biological factors, such as prey and habitat.

Let me see if I can unfold the sequence of events for you . . .

The Druid pack was among the second group of wolves transplanted from Canada to Yellowstone Park. The pack got its name from the Druid Peak that towers over its home in the Lamar Valley.

Soon after this pack's release, the wolves earned a reputation as a kind of roving gang of thugs while killing outside wolves that strayed into their territory. They even made forays beyond their territory to make deadly strikes on other packs. The bunch grew popular amongst park visitors where they could easily watch the wolves enter and leave their dens, pursue elk and feed on kills.

It was a common sight to see No.40, the pack's domineering alpha female, snapping at and forcing others in the pack to the ground, reinforcing her control. She ruled with an iron fist, which was fine as long as she kept the upper hand. However, she may have been losing her clout.

Biologists first realized that not only No.40, but also two other females in the pack, No.42 and No.106, had bred with the pack's alpha male. Separated by a few miles, they had given birth to litters of pups in their own dens, an event not too uncommon where the food is plentiful. It is unusual, though, for an alpha female as tyrannical as No.40 to allow other wolves in her pack to raise pups that might ultimately compete with hers. Hell hath no fury like a woman's scorn, even amongst wild canines. She was about to embark on a killing frenzy.

No.40 was last seen one night headed in the direction of No.42's den now being tended by No.42 and two other females. Then, after being badly injured, apparently battered and beaten by other wolves, No.40 died from a ruptured jugular vein. Her killing frenzy boomeranged, for she was not just killed, but horribly mutilated. Tracking records showed that no radio-collared wolves from other packs were in the area.

Up-and-coming wolves often test the leadership of a pack's alphas and sometimes even overthrow the leader. They generally let the alphas remain as subordinate members to scrounge leftovers. An unseated alpha wolf may also simply leave the pack. Biologists know of no other recorded instance where a wolf pack has killed its own alpha female in the kind of fatal coup d'etat the Druids carried out against their leader.

This is only the beginning though. In the days following No.40's death, visitors saw an astonishing spectacle through their long lenses. No.42 and No.106 were seen carrying their pups, one-by-one, to join the pups of the alpha female just killed. Remember, the dens were miles apart so the trek was long and arduous. The wolves of the Druid pack were now apparently all caring for the three litters in No.40's original den.

No.40's carcass exam indicated she had ten placental scars suggesting she gave birth to ten pups that spring. If a typical five or six pups survived and No's.42 and 106 each carried five or six of their own pups to the den, there could have been as many as 18 pups. If the females adopted No.40's pups, as it appears they did, it would be a remarkable show of compassion for the offspring of a matriarch who had once made their lives so wretched.

As long as records have been kept through radio collars and air observations, a wolf pack killing its own alpha female and then raising her litter is unheard of. The pack is now dominated by strong females and despite their reputation, they've not had an easy time of it. They are strong and aggressive though, so now we'll find out if they remain together with the force that No.40 exerted on the rest of them.

As I glass my favorite canines from afar in days to come, I wonder if this wilderness stage of repertory players will favor us with encores. I will get together with those in the know to see what the Druids have been up to. I missed their antics last spring, but somehow feel this wolf saga will remain unrivaled, lest character and chaos flairs in the face of order. Will the barbarous genes of these three females incite even greater drama and treachery by the new pups? Probably!