INTRO AND WOLF UPDATE
This year's annual visit to Yellowstone at Christmas time was a great success in terms of wolf watching. It was also extremely cold, but unlike last year's snow-filled days, visibility was generally excellent.
However, I believe I have witnessed the Last Days of the Druid Peak Pack. I am sorry to say that it wil be a miracle if any of the Druid wolves I saw during this visit will be left alive when I return in April. Mange has taken a horrible toll on them and it is hard for any person of feeling to see them in this condition. Their resilience amazes and humbles me. They are thin to begin with, and they cannot lie down to sleep in the snow so they either stand or lean on boulders, sleeping on all fours. The only time we see them bedded is when they manage to find bare dirt under trees. At least, with this less-than-usual snowpack, such bare spots are sometimes available. Yet, despite their deplorable condition, the wolves continue to show great affection for each other, licking their siblings wounds and sore spots.
After I left the Park, I heard reports that a second healthy black male began to accompany the Druid females, but the attention of the two males was eventually drawn by a member of the Lava Creek group - the 06 female - who aggressively pursued them, abandoning her own pack mates. There were several days of back and forth, with the Druid females sometimes driving her off, but in the end, the males were won over, leaving the Druid females to fend for themselves without a healthy set of legs among them.
They continued to scavenge the carcasses of other wolf packs, a survival behavior which, alas, brings them into regular risk of confrontation with other wolves, but they seem to not have the strength to hunt on their own.
When I left Yellowstone, 480M was still being seen, and the "regular" group of Druids included White Line (F), The Thin Female, 690F, 691F, the Female Yearling and sometimes Dull Bar (F). There had also been sporadic sightings of Triangle Blaze (M) and 571F.
But sightings of other Druid wolves besides the core females have become few and far between. As of today's writing, 691F, The Thin Female and White Line have now died from a lethal combination of wounds inflicted by other packs and exposure. Their utter desperation was made clear by an instance in mid- February. White Line and 690F were in Lamar, moving west, when an oblivious coyote accidentally crossed their path. The wolves killed it and White Line immediately began to eat it, even refusing to share the morsel with her hungry sister. Although it is common for wolves to kill coyotes if they catch them, it is very rare for them to eat one.
The 06 female has now successfully bonded with the two young black males that once accompanied the Druid females. They were both collared in February and are now known as 755M and 754M. The 06 is a superb huntress and has been observed bringing down adult elk by herself. She is now pregnant and they seem to be favoring Slough creek as a denning spot.
While the 06 female was pursuing the young males, the former Lava Creek alpha male, 147M, left his presumed mate, 471F, and pursued the Silver Pack's light-colored alpha female. Her former mate, a large gray, is suffering from mange and has now been deposed, although 147M tolerates his presence and he remains part of the Pack. There are two young females in this pack, and one has been collared as 753F. The light-colored alpha female is now pregnant, and they seem to be favoring the Lamar Valley as a denning spot.
Big Blaze (born a Druid, then the alpha male of the Agates) was run off from his females (715F and 472F) by two big Mollies, 641M and 587M; people saw 641 get the best of Big Blaze in a ferocious fight in mid-February, and although he was glimpsed two days later, he has probably died since. He was a gorgeous wolf, the son of 480, and will be greatly missed.
The Agate Pack now consists of 472F, the matriarch, 715F, her half-tailed daughter, and two former Mollies, 641M and 587M. They seem to be favoring regular Agate territory of Specimen Ridge/Antelope Creek.
In addition, three Wyoming wolves have been seen sporadically in the Lamar these last three months - 682M, his younger, uncollared black male pack mate and more recently 681M - thought to be the alpha of the pack they came from.
Former Lava Creek alpha female 471F is on her own again, as she has been several times in her life. It remains to be seen if she has found another mate.
This is life in the world of the wild wolf, and as painful as it is to see such hardship, it is nature in motion. I feel privileged to have seen these animals as often as I have, and I hope to see more events in the lives of the remaining players in the future.
Thanks to Chloe & Becky for their companionship and generosity, and to Laurie, Calvin, Lynnette, Kathie, Kara, Marlene, RichardB, RickM and Bob, and all the other Yellowstone vistors who made this trip so special. And, as always, thanks to John Uhler.