For about a week now, I have been getting email that the numerous wolf watchers in Yellowstone Park's Lamar Valley and the members of the Druid Peak Pack are getting too close together.
Yesterday I called Ed Bangs, the head of the Northern Rockies wolf project. He told me there was concern, and that he had issued a less-than-lethal permit to Yellowstone wolf team leader, Doug Smith, to harass wolves that approach people too closely. This would probably involve use of rubber bullets or cracker shells. Smith will be training other park personnel how to use them.
The Druids recently made an elk kill just 40 yards from the road. Four Druids hungrily ate while a large crowd of people gathered. The rest of the pack stayed away.
A number of people have had Druids pass by very close them, apparently without incident.
These wolves are clearly conditioned to accept the presence of people. It couldn't be any other way because the wolves have seen many people daily since they came down off Druid Peak as pups. Having people in the Lamar, is what the wolves have experienced since they were pups. What worries biologists the most is that some of the wolves might be getting food rewards from some people. The most publicized incident, which I received email about and is reproduced in Scott McMillion's story below, is that some snowmobilers on their way to Cooke City were feeding some of the Druids.
Getting wolves to associate people with food, rather than people as just "things" that stand around and vocalize, is the worst thing that can happen. If people are known to be the source of foods, wolves may seek people out for food. It would be nice if someone got a license number so the snowmobilers could be prosecuted.
Bangs told me he was concerned that when a number of these Druids disperse outside of Yellowstone, as many surely will, they will have no fear of people or vehicles. They will get run over, or a wolf might pass right by a person in the same way they pass by a tree or a rock, but the person will decide it is a wolf attack.
I asked him about the danger of people encircling wolves at a kill. He said that if people get too close it is possible that a wolf could administer a "disciplinary bite" in the same way wolves do to subordinate members of a pack who don't respect their place in the pack. If this happened, of course, it would be the answer to the wolf hater's prayers. Word would go out that a wolf tried to "eat" a tourist. The few attacks by wild wolves in North America Bang's said, seem to have been either disciplinary bites or from wolves that had come to expect food from or where humans congregated.
Are the Druids dangerous to people? I doubt it, but letting the wolves know that lingering by the roadside can mean a stinging hit or a loud pop might help keep them away from the roadside near people where things could go awry.
If anyone sees a person feed a wolf, please get all the details, take their picture, their license plate, and let's make sure they get a disciplinary legal bite.
The fact that these wolves are habituated to people is not an entirely bad thing. If they were not, the wolves would be little seen, and the human joy of Yellowstone wolves would an experience only for backcountry travelers.
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