Complete Yellowstone wolf update
August 30, 2006, with some updates and photos
This is a complete Yellowstone wolf update at the end of August to complement that by Kathie Lynch on Park wolf watching over the late summer. See her "Yellowstone wolf watching update. End of summer. Sloughs and Agate Creek wolves kept the show going."
Druid Peak Pack- As indicated in earlier reports, it appears the entire pack, 4 adults and 11 pups, have survived. They spent the summer near the the head of Cache Creek and its tributaries near or on the Park's remote east boundary. The big question appears to be what will happen in the late fall when they come down and confront the Slough Creek Pack, which has regrouped with eight adults? The Sloughs lost their pups in the April siege with the Unknown pack. One wonders how much help eleven, 6 month old pups would be in a fight. The badly outnumbered Druids did well last June when all 4 of them attacked the sleeping "Unknowns." The Unknowns were not really seen together again after that and disappeared, although Doug Smith tells me that there are reports of wolves way up Slough Creek, north of the Park. That's where most people think the Unknowns came from. I have tended to believe the Unknowns were the old Rose Creek Pack or closely related to it.
Slough Creek Pack- As Kathie Lynch indicated, the Sloughs have reclaimed their territory from the east end of Lamar Valley all the way to Little America and lower Slough Creek.
The Agate Creek Pack- I have nothing to add to Kathie's report except that the 2 pups that were left behind for 2 weeks are still traveling with the pack and its 4 other pups. On August 29 they were on the east side of the Yellowstone River Canyon. They are not visible from Antelope Creek where summer wolf watchers had so much to see.
The Hellroaring Pack- This pack proved very hard to observe. It moved farther and farther down into the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone, and while they are thought to have pups, no count has been made. Today there were right on the north boundary of the Park and the Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness to the north, out of the canyon and up in summer elk country. This is the pattern the old Rose Creek Pack took as they gradually became a non-Park pack and contact with them was lost. Update 4 pups confirmed on Aug. 30.
The Leopold Pack and their split-of group "the 536 group"- The large Leopold Pack of about 12 wolves has done what it always does, spend the summer way back on the Blacktail Deer Plateau, out of sight. As in 2005, they had a large number of pups (double litter), but last year almost all the pups died of that unidentified disease. On the contrary, this year there is total survival. In the first visual sighting of the entire pack in a long time, there were 15 pups! It's going to be a huge pack again like 2 years ago. The break-away group of Leopolds, currently called the "536 group" with 4 or 5 adults, has 8-9 surviving pups. It looks like wolf biologists decided the alpha female was 536F. This group too seems to have had a double liter from females 536F and 470F. I think it is unlikely they will rejoin the Leopold Pack come winter. The two groups of Leopolds are too large to do that in my estimation.
The Swan Lake Pack- It has climbed back from almost extinction to a pack with 2 adults and its six pups doing well in the traditional Swan Lake Pack territory near Swan Lake Flat and the surrounding mountain slopes down to Mammoth Hot Springs.
The Gibbon Pack- It seems to have 7 adults, but no pups have been seen, although they might exist. The pack has traveled all over the place from the Gibbon Meadows area to the Park's Central Plateau. I have heard reports of them at the geysers too. Dr. Smith believes the Magpie Forest Fire might have been the cause of their wandering. They have to travel around it. The fire occupies a strategic backcountry location.
Folks will recall that last winter the Gibbon Pack dispatched the remnants of the long-standing Nez Perce pack and essentially occupied that pack's territory.
The Hayden Pack- The Hayden Pack continues to inhabit the area around Canyon, and is seen by many people, although as the summer progressed they were found more and more in the Hayden Valley. The pack has a very light gray alpha female, 540F. People called her "white." The alpha male (540M) is large and light gray, and the rest of the pack is fairly light colored too.
This Haydens are not only the pack most likely to be seen close up, it is the pack most subjected to human intrusion on its space. There have been many occasions when they were close to large numbers of people, such as when they kill an elk in the middle of Alum Creek, next to the Park highway. Individual and small groups have also run into them or approached them at close range even when they were some distance from the road. One couple walked right into their den site this year. Perhaps more than one did, but did not report it.
The pack has 3 adults, 2 yearlings, and they have pups this year, the fewest of any Park pack for which a pup count is certain. Biologists never counted the number of pups at the den site, so it is unknown whether the 2 pups are 2 surviving pups, or the size of the original litter. It is also unknown whether human disturbance of the den site and rendezvous site affected the number of pups. The pack has always produced just a couple pups, and it has always been subjected to human disturbance.
Mollies Pack- I guess Mollies Pack is the most interesting story to me in this report. This pack, which had no pups last year, but six this year, is having serious trouble with grizzly bears in its remote Pelican Valley territory, which has also always been a part of Yellowstone where grizzlies are at their thickest.
Grizzlies have always stolen the pack's elk carcasses, but grizzlies are incredible in the memory of where food is and how to get it. It seems that all the grizzlies know that the trick is to follow the Mollies Pack and steal their kill.
While in the past, grizzlies usually showed up after 4 or 5 hours to claim the kill, and it was usually 1 or 2 bears, Dr. Smith told me observations this summer show the the pack usually gets to feed but an hour or less before the grizzlies --multiple grizzlies -- come, and take the kill. This very likely is harmful to the pack because they have to kill many more elk than other packs, and with each chase a wolf expends a lot of calories and suffers risk of injury or death.
In the past Mollies Pack has made forays onto the northern range and other parts of the Park as though they might be seeking new territory. They also winter outside of the Park, usually in the area of the North Fork of the Shoshone River. Individual Mollies wolves have also left the pack to try the northern range with mixed success, meaning toleration or sometimes fights. These wolves tend to come back to the pack.
The availability of high protein elk meat also affects the grizzlies, probably increasing their reproduction success and allows them to abandon more difficult food like grasses, sedges, berries, etc. If the wolves leave, the grizzlies might have to scramble more for nutrition.
The Yellowstone Delta Pack finally lost all of its collars (or chewed them off ), and, as many times in the past, its location in the vast wilderness of SE Yellowstone was not known, but finally on August 29 they were located in part of their large territory. Eleven Deltas were seen from the air. I don't know if any seemed to be pups. The Delta Pack has produced two important splits in the last two years -- first the Buffalo Pack and next the Pacific Creek Pack. These now inhabit the country in the Teton Wilderness (Pacific Creek Pack) and further south in Jackson Hole and the mountain country east (The Buffalo Pack).
The Bechler Pack of SW Yellowstone was not located on Aug. 29, although that is especially meaningful. They have been doing well this year with good pup survival.
Finally there is the new Snake River Pack. Two or three adult wolves took up residence near the South Entrance of the Park, and they had 7 pups, 3 black and 4 gray.. They have no radio collars, but Mike Jimenez of the U.S. Fish and Wildlfe Service will try to trap some when they leave the Park, as they often do to hunt the John D. Rockefeller Parkway and the Teton Wilderness that adjoins the Yellowstone Park for many miles on its south boundary.
Daniel Stebbins hit the jackpot and got photos of the new pack. Below are five of the seven pups.
Copyright © 2006 Ralph Maughan
Not to be reprinted, archived, redistributed, etc., without permission.