Wolf Recovery Foundation Board member Kathie Lynch has another set of high interesting notes of recent events on the Northern Range of Yellowstone Park. These wrap up the aftermath of the death of the Slough Creek Pack’s only male member, alpha male 490M. She details what may have been an acceptance ritual by the Sloughs of a new alpha male from the Agate Creek Pack . . . Ralph Maughan
Yellowstone Park Field Notes for Dec. 30, 2006 to January 1, 2007. By Kathie Lynch
The end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007 brought big changes for the Slough Creek and Agate Creek wolf packs. The Sloughs lost their old alpha male, and it didn’t take the seven Slough females long to attract a potential new one–from the Agates!
Our worst fears were realized on Dec. 30 when we heard the news we had been dreading—the body of Slough alpha male 490M had been spotted from the air by the tracking flight as it flew north along Slough Creek. He had been missing from the pack and was thought to have been dead for several days. We don’t know how he died. He may have been kicked by a prey animal while hunting or been killed by other wolves. His death came as a sad finale to the Sloughs’ struggles since the attack of the Unknown group of wolves last April. Alpha 490M, beta 377M, and third ranking male 489M are now all dead, leaving only seven females.
The seven Slough females did not have to wait long to attract suitors, however! On Dec. 31, all three adult Agate Creek pack males (alpha 113M, beta 383M and the uncollared gray yearling) were missing from the Agates. The rest of the Agate pack was in Little America, just south of the road. Beautiful black-turning-silver alpha female 472F stood on a low hill facing north and howled her heart out for what seemed like hours. I will never forget her desperate cries as she watched and waited for an answering howl from her missing mate.
Little did she know that 113M was probably too far away to hear her; for the next two days he was localized near the ranger cabin in the first Slough Creek meadow. We were worried. Had he left his own pack (which he founded in 2002) in search of the Slough females? Had he gotten into a fight for them, possibly with one of his own two sons? Was he injured and unable to return to the Agates? Would he die there alone?
Also missing was Agate 383M, a striking gray, strapping, almost four-year-old, who had always been a faithful beta to his father, 113M. Finally, on January 2, we had some good news when 383M materialized along the road in Little America carrying a leg of something! His face was smeared with blood, and he had obviously made a kill or found something to eat. He bedded quietly in the sage just south of the road and stayed there for hours, often rising into a sitting position to peer intently and howl northeast toward Slough Creek. I got the distinct impression that he was watching and waiting for something or someone, and I hoped that someone was 113M.
Our prayers were answered the next day when 113M was spotted in the same area, looking a little stiff, but otherwise OK. He has since traveled south to the Tower Store area and east toward Tower Junction, but, as far as we know, he has not been reunited with 472F and the rest of the Agates (as of Jan. 6). Beta 383M has made it back to the Agate pack, which leaves only the uncollared gray male yearling still AWOL…
But, it wasn’t hard to figure out where he was! On the morning of Jan. 2, we watched from Dorothy’s Knoll in Lamar Valley as the seven Slough females considered accepting him as their new alpha male. In scenes reminiscent of cinematographer Bob Landis’s incredible footage of Rose Creek 21M being accepted into the Druids in 1997, we saw many of the same behaviors, including the ritualized stiff postures, high tails, and females putting a paw over his back. At least three females (former/still? alpha 380F, 526F and “Sharp Right”) did double urinations with him, indicating their interest in being his new alpha. It was obvious, however, that things were still a little tense and that the process was not complete. Although the whole group was dining on a bison carcass (cause of death unknown), he bedded a short distance from the group of females. I’ve told stories before about what an independent, fun-loving fellow this guy is, so he may have just been thinking about those bygone bachelor days!
One other highlight was the opportunity to observe a capture (collaring) operation. And, even better, it was the Druids! On Dec. 31, we gathered at the Footbridge turnout in Soda Butte Valley to watch as the yellow spotter plane and the helicopter, with Doug Smith strapped into the open doorway, flew over the flanks of Mount Norris. The Druids stayed in the trees, so we weren’t able to see the actual darting. But, later we could see the crew of four people in the open snow on the flank of Norris as they processed one of the tranquilized wolves. We watched as two big men struggled to lift a wolf into the ‘copter so that all three Druids that had been darted could be moved to one place deep in the pack’s own territory to safely recover together. The newly collared wolves included the gray alpha female and two gray pups, a male (who got a GPS collar) and a female. All three were later observed doing just fine.
I think that the value of collaring is immense. Without radio collars we would know only a fraction of all that we have learned by watching the wolves in Yellowstone. Here we have a unique opportunity to identify and to get to know individuals and to observe the often surprising or never before observed details of the wolf world. The Yellowstone wolves have so many lessons to teach us. We need only watch and listen so that we may be their voice to share their story with our world.
– – – – –
(Link back to Kathie Lynch’s earlier notes). Yellowstone National Park wolf field notes Dec. 20-29, 2006 (with my update Jan. 1)