Archive for the ‘Wolf’ Tag
October 5, 2016 Source
October in Wyoming has the best weather. It can be raining, snowing, sunshine, or all of the above at once. Blustery one day, then in the 60s the next, Indian Summer seems to come and go until suddenly, one day, it’s winter.
I’m packing up for a work trip to California for several months, but before I leave I want to ‘say goodbye’ to my beloved valley and the mountains that envelope it. Today there are snow flurries off and on, low clouds obscuring the horizon. I’ve got a place in mind to hike to. It’s one of my special, or sacred, spots—an Indian Sheep Eater bighorn sheep trap. I especially like this place because not only is it high up above a cliff edge with a magnificent view of the Absarokas, but also the ‘trap’ is formed from two large boulders running into a ‘V’ shape. The acme of this formation is littered with ancient logs, hundreds of years old, preventing the sheep from squeezing out that end. Native peoples used a system of logs fanning out from the boulders to guide the sheep into the trap. Their dogs helped herd the animals, and possibly people were hidden along the trap line to scare the sheep in the proper direction. Medicine men assisted with the hunt, and I’ve read that male bighorn sheep horns and skulls have been found high up in trees, probably as part of their rituals.
The last two years, October was the first month of the gray wolf hunt in Wyoming. Wyoming wolves were delisted in 2012. A ‘trophy’ zone outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks allowed an October through December hunt, while in the rest of the state (85%) wolves were labeled as ‘predators’. Along with several other species like coyotes, raccoons, and feral domestic cats, predators can be shot or trapped year-round, without a second thought. Since my valley lies adjacent to the Park in the Trophy zone, we had lots of hunters looking to kill a wolf. Koda, my ninety-pound Golden Retriever, was forced to be humiliated into wearing an orange vest for those three months.
But this year the winds have changed for the wolf. The hunt was suspended just a week before the season was to begin. Environmental groups took Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to court over their flawed delisting plan. And on the 23rd of September, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Wyoming’s plan was not sufficient to support a hunt and the wolves were back on the Endangered Species list again. Money for wolf tags was refunded (at $15 a wolf tag, hunters paid a pittance), and the wolves have a stay for at least another year.
So on this blustery day, I drove down the valley to a trailhead. This fall, Koda doesn’t have to dress up. I’m on an outing with a purpose—to say ‘goodbye’ to my valley for the next few months. When I return, winter will have seriously set in and the deep snows will make it more difficult to get to this place. I prepare a small gift of some herbs and flowers held in a small deer hide bag—an offering that preserves my presence in this place while I’m gone, and honors the spirit of my beloved valley.
It’s a Saturday and the parking area is uncharacteristically full. I usually avoid the weekends, but since I’m leaving in a few days, this is my opportunity. The cars belong to hunters, yet on all my hiking in the valley, and even up this trail, I have never seen another person. People just don’t hike in grizzly bear country; so I still have the trail all to myself.
The first mile follows the stream, and then opens to a large confluence where two drainages meet in an open meadow. The narrow right-hand arroyo is what I want. I move up the dry canyon. To my left, the topography is a gentle slope that divides the two drainages. Yet to my right are the steep rocky cliffs that house a mesa high above. I look for an arch formed of broken slabs of limestone near the top of the bluff.
That’s my sign to start climbing the steep sides up near the escarpment edge. Once I get to its flanks, I feel my way like a blind woman along the outcroppings. Then, suddenly, a narrow gap appears, barely wide enough to slip sideways through. I crawl upwards about thirty feet, where I emerge onto an unexpected plateau. It’s a trail known only to wildlife. And in front of me are the two house-size boulders, funneling down into the trap. There’s a strange, numinous beauty to this spot that I love so much. I place my offering on the ground, silently intoning my intentions, and then settle onto the rims to enjoy the view. The gully below ascends into a large meadow, eventually bordering wooded hillsides. I can clearly see the ridge that separates this ravine from the one beyond, colored in the gold and reds of the turning aspens.
Time is standing still for me. I have nowhere to go. I snap a few photos and enjoy these last moments before leaving for California. Two figures appear on the ridge. They are dressed in bright orange, and although their origin is not in my view, I know they are coming from an area the locals call ‘Dry Lake’. I look at my watch. They’re deer hunters. I know this because October is open deer season in my valley. That’s the busiest time in this area, with hunters from in and out-of-state looking for a buck to fill their freezer. It’s 2:30 p.m., and a strange time to be hunting. From my vantage point, I haven’t seen any wildlife, and wouldn’t expect to at mid-day. They come over the ridge and appear to be leaving, walking down the drainage. There is no way they can see me, as I’m high up on a rib of rock obscured by trees.
They sit down for a break and I pull out my binoculars. Yes, they are definitely hunters because I see their rifles. They rest for about ten minutes, and then continue on their route towards the parking area.
After they leave, I scramble down the terrace and take an alternate route back to my car. When I arrive back at the parking lot, I see the two hunters are already back too, and they are parked next to me. And I notice two other things: first they are unusually silent. They are not speaking to each other, nor do they look at me. Wyomingites are friendly folks, and hunters and outdoors people enjoy exchanging information and small talk. Yet these two fellows clearly do not want to engage me.
I also observe they are a father/son pair. I rarely see a father hunting with his son, so their mannerisms and facial features imprint in my mind more than they normally would. The young man appears to be about thirteen, yet he is tall and gangly for his age. The father is balding, about fiftyish. It’s three p.m. They silently load up their gear, then drive off.
In fifteen minutes I’m back at my house, packing to leave for California in a few days. By mid-January, I return home to a landscape blanketed with snow. Attached to my door is a business card. It’s from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Senior Special Agent, Office of Law Enforcement.
“Please give me a call—hoping you can help with some information”
When I call Officer Rippeto, he tells me there was a wolf poaching the day that I was parked at the trailhead.
“The Warden rode up on horseback on Sunday morning. He found the dead wolf by Dry Lake. He figured it was shot on Saturday.”
I asked how he knew I was there that day.
“A Forest Service ranger drove up on Saturday and took down descriptions of all the vehicles parked in the lot. That’s routine. The warden recognized your car and told me where you lived. I’d like to come up and take a statement from you.”
I ask if the wolf was collared. Apparently, the wolf was a yearling and had no collar. I tell Office Rippeto that I’d snapped some photos from my view spot. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of those hunters. But I do have a time stamp on my pictures, which were taken immediately before they came into view. And I relay my description of them.
Yet the one thing I did not notice was what their vehicle looked like (people in Wyoming always identify others by their vehicle) nor did I check to see if their license plate indicated they were locals. Being that it was general deer hunting season, these two people could have been from anywhere. And deer hunting up here is not a limited tag quota. It’s statewide.
Last I spoke with Officer David Rippeto, he still hadn’t found the wolf poachers. I cannot be certain that this father and son were the culprits, but I suspect they were. Rippeto too was suspicious of their conduct, and the fact that they quit their hunt at an hour when they should be about to begin hunting.
I think about what kind of example that father taught his son. He taught him that poaching was acceptable behavior. And he also gave him the clear message that wolves are not welcome here in Wyoming.
Update: October 2016. Wolves are still on the Endangered Species list in Wyoming. Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife recently brought the case to court. We have not yet heard the decision of the Federal Appeals court.
Wyoming continues to refuse to acknowledge that listing wolves as predators in 85% of the state is an antiquated and egregious view of wolves, a relic of the 19th century, when predators were exterminated for the benefit of the livestock industry.
November 16, 2015
Territorial species, like gray wolves living in Yellowstone National Park, will often fight if they encounter a neighboring group. Observational research over the course of 20 years has allowed scientists in Yellowstone to examine the roles of each individual in a wolf pack during these fights over territory and resources. They have discovered that old wolves are the most important in pack versus pack fights as the experience and leadership provided by an old wolf often allows a pack to win even if they are outnumbered.
River Valley Pack,
“All the wolves trotted to the stranger and practically surrounded it, and for a few moments I thought that they would be friendly toward it for there was just the suggestion of tail wagging by some of them. But something tipped the scales the other way for the wolves began to bite at the stranger. It rolled over on its back, begging quarter. The attack continued, however, so it scrambled to its feet and with difficulty emerged from the snapping wolves. Twice it was knocked over as it ran down the slope with five wolves in hot pursuit. They chased after it about 200 yards to the river bar, and the mantled male crossed the bar after it. The two ran out of my sight under the ridge from which I was watching.”
– Murie, Adolph. 1944. The Wolves of Mount McKinley. University of Washington Press.
It was 1940 and Adolph Murie was hired to record data on wolves and Dall sheep in Denali National Park (then called Mount McKinley). Murie followed one pack closely for several years, watching them raise pups, hunt prey, and even chase and attack intruding wolves. His field notes may have been the first time in history these territorial, aggressive accounts were written down. I like to imagine this consummate observer and naturalist would be happy to hear the work he began nearly 80 years ago has continued with the return of the wolf to Yellowstone National Park.
Since the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone 20 years ago scientists have been gathering data on survival and reproduction, mortality and hunting. But one thing biologists didn’t really expect when wolves were brought back to Yellowstone following a 70-year absence was their consistent visibility. Wide open valleys with abundant elk and plowed roads, combined with a decent scope or pair of binoculars, now provides visitors and scientists views of wolf behavior rarely seen elsewhere.
Biologists have long known wolves are territorial and have noted the difference between the amiable way wolves treat pack mates, usually their close family members, and the aggression they show neighboring, rival packs. When a wolf was found dead researchers pieced together clues from tracks, often concluding that a pack-vs-pack fight had occurred. In Yellowstone those interactions have been observed and recorded for two decades and play a decidedly influential role in the lives of gray wolves, accounting for two-thirds of natural mortality.
Besides the effects these territorial fights have on individual survival, they likely have long-term effects on reproduction, pack persistence, and the redistribution of resources based on which packs are able to consistently defeat their opponents. But what allows one pack to win over a rival? Is it just a numbers game with larger packs always winning out over smaller ones? Do resident packs enjoy a home field advantage? Or is there some compositional factor? Are packs with more of a certain type of wolf, say a large male wolf in his prime, more likely to win? Observational research, like Murie’s, was the only way to find out.
It was 10 a.m. but the mid-morning sun was just barely cresting the eastern ridge. I’d been alternately huddling for warmth in my layers of down and stomping around the small dirt trailhead trying to keep feeling in my toes for over two hours. Watching as the western slopes lit and warmed, I beheld nature’s visual timepiece, anticipating the blanket of sunlight edging temperatures into positive degrees.
I was tracking the Slough Creek wolf pack by listening for pings on the radio receiver, indicating one of the collared wolves was nearby. Finally I saw them travelling up out of the Yellowstone River corridor, their thick winter coats shedding river ice, keeping them a lot warmer than me and definitely not worrying themselves over the speed of the sunrise that morning.
The seven figures followed in each other’s footsteps, noses to the ground. They gathered around one area, and judging by their quickly rising tails and hackles, it was the fresh scent of rival wolves. The alpha male took off running to the north, the five pack females and a yearling male following quickly. Intrigued by the wolves’ behavior, I tuned the receiver to test the signals for other packs. Sure enough, loud beeps from a Druid Peak pack wolf rang out—they must be close by, too. I looked back in the scope and watched the Slough Creek pack running hard now, the dark black alpha male in the lead. Scanning ahead of them about 400 meters I saw five members of the Druid Peak pack. They glanced at each other and began their own charge, tails like flags, straight at their opponents.
The distance closed rapidly and all of a sudden it was chaos. The Slough alpha male slammed his body into a Druid wolf but when another grabbed his neck and shook violently he broke loose and ran out of the fray. The Slough females followed the male’s wake but finding themselves in the midsts of four huge male Druid wolves, tucked tails and ran. Two of the Sloughs turned around and hopped briefly onto their hind legs, trying to figure out who was a pack mate and who was not. The Druid wolves stayed in a solitary unit, chasing and spreading out the Slough wolves for several minutes, keeping them from joining together. As the commotion died down, the Slough wolves started to bark-howl from all angles. They were lost and separated, not sure where to go for fear of running into the Druids again. Eventually the tension dissipated and the Druids relaxed. The Sloughs wandered in several small groups, separated by miles of mountainside.
Even though the Sloughs outnumbered the Druids, they had lost; completely displaced from the fight location—firmly in Slough Creek pack territory. And as it turned out, this encounter would be the prime example of what characteristics are important to a pack during successful inter-pack interactions.
The first important factor, the only one in the Slough’s favor, was pack size. Having one more wolf than an opponent increases a pack’s odds of winning by 140%. Numerical assessment studies have found this same pattern in many social species from chimpanzees to African lions to mongooses. But for wolves, pack composition is also important. A pack with one more adult male enjoys a 65% increase in win odds. Adult male wolves are 20% larger and more muscular than females; they are built for fighting and protecting territory and resources. The Druids had the advantage here with two adult males more than the Sloughs (4 to 2). A home-field advantage doesn’t exist for wolves. Even intruders can compete with residents if they have the numbers or those valuable individuals present.
But the most influential factor was the presence of old wolves (>6 years old). A pack with one old wolf more than an opponent had 150% greater odds of winning—making it more important than pack size. As the Druids exemplified (they had one more old adult than the Sloughs), they won despite being outnumbered. Old adults are nowhere near the fastest or the strongest but what they do have is experience. They’ve encountered competitors many times. They’ve seen pack mates killed, and likely participated in killing a rival themselves. They may avoid a conflict they figure they can’t win—upping their success percentage. Leadership and experience make old wolves the most valuable individuals in the pack during aggressive encounters.
These pack vs pack battles have gone on for thousands of years, contributing to the evolution of territoriality, aggression, and sociality in gray wolves. There have surely been occasional human witnesses to these episodes of truly wild nature: Homo sapiens during the Pleistocene, Lewis and Clark on the Corps of Discovery, and, of course, biologist Adolph Murie in 1940s Alaska. And now, in Yellowstone, we can all observe this instinctive yet advanced behavior exhibited by a complex, social species—a species with intelligence and a division of labor amongst group members, the goal to protect themselves, their resources, and each other.
Despite their incredible beauty and obvious similarities to our domestic companions, just about everyone knows that wolves are not to be messed with in any way.
But in 2003, Alaskan wildlife photographer Nick Jans and his labrador encountered a wolf in their backyard – and began a relationship that would defy logic and transform an entire community.
Jans was on the back porch of his Juneau home with his dog when a wild wolf appeared. With all the excitement, his dog slipped away, racing out to meet the stranger.
Nick was stunned to see the two start to play together. He managed to capture this photo of them during the encounter.
The wolf stayed in the area, and in the years since, Nick has devoted much of his time to documenting him, naming him Romeo.
Romeo became a Juneau fixture, known for playing with local dogs at nearby Mendenhall Glacier Park.
Residents were unsure at first, but they soon realized that Romeo just wanted to play.
Romeo didn’t just play with other dogs. He played with humans, too. “The wolf would bring out toys that he’d stashed,” Nick said in an interview. “One was a Styrofoam float. Romeo would pick it up and bring it to [my friend] Harry to throw. He clearly understood the same sort of behaviors that we see in dogs.”
“The amazing thing was Romeo’s understanding. It wasn’t just our understanding and tolerance. It was the combination of his and ours and the dogs’. We were these three species working out how to get along harmoniously. And we did.”
Romeo remained around the outskirts of Juneau for six years, becoming an ambassador to the wild and a powerful symbol in the community.
After Romeo’s passing in 2010, the residents of Juneau held a memorial for the wolf and had this special plaque made in his honor.
Klas Stolpe/Juneau Empire
It’s so inspiring to see three different species learn to live peacefully together in harmony. It just goes to show how wonderful the world can be.
Share this amazing story with your friends, and check out Nick’s account of this unbelievable tale, A Wolf Named Romeo.
October 12, 2015 Source
National Wolf Awareness Week (Video)
October 14-20th is National Wolf Awareness Week in the U.S. It was set up as a national event in 1996, a year after wolves were reintroduced to the state of Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. Since that time, Governors from 26 states have proclaimed the third week of October as Wolf Awareness Week.
The purpose of this week is to celebrate the importance and beauty of the wolf in our world today.
The goals set for Wolf Awareness Week are to create an awareness of the role that a predator such as the wolf plays in maintaining a healthy ecosystem and ultimately a healthy planet. Tragically the wolf was all but exterminated from most of its historic range by the early 1900’s. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, the reintroduction of the wolf in 1995 into parts of the United States has been successful.
There are very important reasons to celebrate wolves in the U.S. They are known as an apex predator that has been proven to keep ecosystems in balance which also has an effect on the climate. They are also a beautiful animal that shares many of the same family values as humans do. Devoted as parents and the whole pack takes part in the raising of the pups. They also mate for life.
Unfortunately for the wolves there are two small special interest groups in the U.S. who have used their political clout to delist the wolves and allow the slaughter of them in yearly wolf hunts. We are now in a crucial time in the process to protect wolves because of this. Currently in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin the wolves have been delisted from federal protection and are now subject to wolf hunts. Michigan is also considering having a wolf hunt.
It is once again not an easy time for the wolves in the U.S. with hundreds of them being slaughtered by trophy hunters. In addition to celebrating the wolves as we have done in the past, we must now also fight for their existence and right to live along side of humans. After all the wolves were here long before mankind decided to intrude on their land and their lives.
October 11, 2015 Source
Wolves are a common feature of Ahousaht life, and I am so lucky to encounter them regularly along our shoreline. They are a special creature to meet and I feel blessed every time I encounter one. This year there was a litter of 4 pups born to one of the females in the pack. While they have not been seen in the village, they were seen on the mudflats of Sunshine Bay in the early mornings. Perhaps next year I will see some pups.
September 14, 2015 Source
A walk along a trail in the early morning woods on a fine fall like day deep in the Tennessee Mountains. With some amazing companions.
Snoozing in the sunshine seemed to be the rule of the day. For both the wolves and the bobcat by an old fence line.
Scenes from along the trail.
September 9, 2015
Last week I was in Kathmandu setting up genetic analysis methods for the Himalayan Wolf Project.
The project, which aims to provide a scientific basis for national and international conservation of the Himalayan wolf, is led by Geraldine Werhahn who is a researcher with the University of Oxford’s WildCru. RZSS Wildgenes is partnering with the project by providing design of genetic protocols and training to the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal, a laboratory in the capital Kathmandu.
Geraldine has just returned from a two month expedition to the remote Humla Valley where she surveyed the wolves and collected their scats for analysis. In future, surveys will be expanded across the region where wolves are now predominantly confined to remote high valleys. Wolves are threatened by hunting both for protection against livestock loss and for the wildlife trade as their paws are popular talismans.
The survey team on the move through wolf habitat.
Helen and the CMDN team at work testing the new protocols designed by the RZSS WildGenes lab team in the Kathmandu lab.
Discussing some initial results.
Masala chai break with Kathmandu sky line.
Whilst Geraldine has been spending long days at altitude (over 4000m) looking for samples, the WildGenes team has been busy at the lab at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo developing genetic protocols for analysis of the samples. We did this with the help of the keepers from RZSS Highland Wildlife Park who collected scats from our very own grey wolves so that we could test-run the methods.
Once we had the protocols up and running, I could travel to Kathmandu to transfer them to the team at the Center for Molecular Dynamics Nepal who will conduct the bulk of the analysis. We are aiming to use genetic profiling to understand how many wolves there are, what sex they are and how evolutionarily different they are from Eurasian grey wolf.
Dr Helen Senn
RZSS Research Scientist
What it’s all about: The elusive Himalayan wolf.