The Druids are doing well . . . the rest, not-
Kathie Lynch just wrote one of her detailed and descriptive wolf updates. It follows below.
Please note her plea for donations to the Park’s wolf program.
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Yellowstone wolf notes posted on Nov. 16, 2008. Copyright © Kathie Lynch
An early November trip to Yellowstone provided close up views of the Druid Peak pack and the Canyon group. I had the good fortune to be at Curve pullout (west end of Little America) when 20 of the 21 Druids crossed the road nearby. They all looked great, including, of course, our 8 ½ -year-old hero, the dashing 302M!
The Druids have been ranging far and wide, from their traditional rendezvous in Lamar Valley west past Slough Creek and well beyond, with some even venturing as far as the Elk Creek/Hellroaring area. While I was there, the entire Druid pack spent two days camped out right in the Slough Creek pack’s traditional den area at Slough Creek. The Slough alpha male, 590M, seemed to be around somewhere in the general area, but was not seen.
The Slough pack is keeping a very low profile these days. Only nine Slough wolves remain after the September/October deaths of three (alpha 380F, beta 526F, and 631F-all killed by other wolves), the July death of 629M due to unidentified illness, the dispersal/disappearance of “The Dark Female” and the black male yearling, and the disappearance of the two interloping males (one black, one gray) who had been trying to join the pack last August. Add to that the loss of all of what was probably three litters of pups, and you would have to say that 2008 has been another very rough year for the Sloughs.
The Druids, on the other hand, have asserted their regained dominance with a vengeance. They killed Slough 526F and possibly Slough 631F. They also clashed with the Agate Creek pack in late October and possibly injured Agate 644F; she was found dead two days later.
One group of Druid bachelors, led by Yellowstone’s most eligible Bachelor #1, the eternally optimistic 302M, has made several forays far to the west toward Elk Creek and Hellroaring to look over possibilities for the upcoming breeding season. All five Druid male yearlings have tagged along with their uncle so they can pick up a few pointers on wooing the ladies. A two-year-old silvery black beauty from the Agate Creek pack has attracted the group’s interest; she is one of venerable (now dead) Agate alpha 113M’s last three daughters. I am sure that the Druid boys will look for her again when the breeding season rolls around in February.
Another thing that has been going on with the Druids is four-year-old alpha 569F’s new attitude. She has come into her own this year and is starting to persecute and try to drive out other females in the pack. She has been ruthlessly pinning poor “Dull Bar” (who so valiantly and single-handedly got 13 Druid pups across Soda Butte Creek last July). The pinning involves holding bites to the neck and raised hackles while standing over “Dull Bar,” who lies motionless and completely submissive on the ground. It is the same behavior that the former Slough alpha 380F (now dead) used to drive out 527F, “The Dark Female,” and others. It is heartbreaking to watch.
It may be the alpha female’s way of driving other breeding females out of the pack so that her own pups will have the advantage. Last spring the Druids had seven pregnant females, including 569F and the six two-year-olds. From all of those pregnancies, only three litters are thought to have resulted. And, from those three litters, perhaps 17-18 pups were seen, of which only five still survive. Those five (four blacks and one gray) seem to have been the pups who were born to alpha 569F; she denned perhaps two to three weeks before the other females, so her pups were probably much larger and stronger. Last July, those pups looked gigantic, and we had a hard time telling them apart from the yearlings even then.
On my recent trip, I was lucky to get a good look at the four adults of the Canyon group when they made a surprise visit to the Blacktail Lakes area. Although the group had not been seen there before, their alpha female (the former Hayden Valley pack beta) had previously visited Mammoth with the Haydens, so she knew the area. Like the Haydens, the Canyon group has no fear of the road. Late one afternoon, they materialized right next to the Wraith Falls turnout, nosed around at something on the ground, and then crossed the road, continuing to travel near it. Sadly, their beautiful gray pup was not with them, which may mean that it has not survived.
This has been such a tough year for the Yellowstone Park wolves. The official count on December 31 will surely tell of a huge and significant decrease from the 2007 total of 171 wolves (107 adults and 64 pups, with good pup survival).
In 2008, many adults died, and pup survival was very poor. At least three Northern Range packs (Slough, Agate and Oxbow) have no surviving pups. The Druids only have five surviving pups, and the Leopolds may have at most three pups.
So many adult wolves have been lost this year by death due to intraspecific strife (death by other wolves) and disease. The following are just the collared wolf deaths I know about; there are most certainly other uncollared wolf deaths which have gone undetected: Leopold pack–five collared wolf deaths (alpha 534M, adult 592F, two-year-old 591F, two-year-old 593F, yearling 623M); Slough Creek pack-four (alpha 380F, beta 526F, two-year-old 629M, yearling 631F); Oxbow Creek pack–two, maybe three (two-year-old 628M, two-year-old 589F, and maybe alpha 627M); Agate Creek pack-two (yearling 643F and yearling 644F).
The situation is almost as desperate regarding working VHF radio collars. The Sloughs only have two working collars (alpha 590M and yearling 630F). The Agates only have one (yearling 642F), and she is showing signs of dispersing– which will leave the Agates with no working collars.
Agate 471F, whose collar does work, has already dispersed to the Blacktail area and is sometimes seen with several other wolves of unknown origin, perhaps Leopolds. Last February, she bred with the long-time Leopold patriarch, alpha 534M (now dead, killed by other wolves in September). She tried to return to the Agates, but they would not accept her. Obviously pregnant, she denned alone, and, if she had pups, they did not survive.
The Druids have four working collars (alpha 480M, alpha 569F, beta 302M, two year old 571F); the Leopolds may have two (588F and 625F). And, who knows if the Oxbows even exist anymore. Only alpha 536F has been located since the Oxbows were attacked and scattered by the Agates on 9/19/08. Without working collars, the Wolf Project’s ability to find and monitor the wolves is severely compromised.
Many challenges lie ahead for the Yellowstone wolves and those who care about, study and manage them. With the incredible losses of 2008 to intraspecific strife and as yet unidentified disease or diseases, along with poor pup survival for unknown reasons, the future of Yellowstone wolves is uncertain.
The only thing for sure is that any plan to remove endangered species protection for such an unstable, declining, and struggling population is most certainly scientifically unsound, just plain foolhardy and wrong.