Last of the Sheep Mountain Pack Brothers Shot, but rejuvenated pack survives.

Said to be "aversively conditioned," the brother wolves in fact pretty much just lived in a pen for 6 months


The news media have recently run the story of how the last of members of "wolf experiment" was shot by the government for feeding on and perhaps killing a cow calf near Dome Mountain, north of Yellowstone Park.

The wolf, 195M, and his two litter mates, 189M and 196M, were captured in May 2000, along with their mother, plucky 16F, one of the original 1995 Rose Creek Pack litter. The wolves were from the Sheep Mountain Pack which had received a death sentence for killing some cow calves, and at an increasing frequency. 

The experiment was to aversively-condition the wolves by means of electric shock so they would not approach cattle. 

Number 16 soon died from liver and kidney failure that might may come from the stress of capture and the hard life she had led.

The 3 brothers were exposed to a cow hide, and one got shocked. After that they would not approach a cow calf put in their enclosure, nor a bison calf that authorities hoped they would kill and learn that killing bison was OK. Whether the single shock given to just one brother caused their aversion to the bison and the cow calf is not known. My personal opinion is that it is doubtful. While it is not know for sure, it may have been that the only shock was delivered during their capture, not very much conditioning.

After growing fat for 6 months, the wolves were released in the home range of the old Sheep Mountain Pack. Wolf chief Ed Bangs said these yearlings would no get a second change -- if they killed any more livestock, they would be shot.

At first the wolves did well, but 189M died when he broke through the ice over Tom Miner Creek, was swept under and drowned. 196M tried to join the Mill Creek Pack. He was basically an outlier to the pack, but got involved with a calf depredation and was shot by the government. 195M, however, found a mate, and last spring raised a litter of six pups in the territory of the old Sheep Mountain Pack. On September 10, the pack was seen eating a cow calf as its mother looked one. Therefore, Wildlife Services "put radios on a male pup and a young (pup or yearling) female and then wolf #195, the alpha male, was shot and killed." 

While the new Sheep Mountain Pack will not count as a breeding pair in 2001, the pack has in fact survived. My view is the experiment had not effect, but the effect of 6 months captivity was that the Sheep Mountain Pack was reborn, and 189M did mate with 155F, a disperser from the Rose Creek Pack. After has drowning, she moved far to the southwest and whelped pups in the Gravelly Range, where she was joined by her erstwhile brother to form the Freezeout Pack.

Meanwhile, many of the members of the Gravelly Pack were captured last May and put in an enclosure on Turner's Flying D Ranch, southwest of Bozeman. The pack was scheduled for another try at aversive conditioning (they had killed a number of sheep, and the members of the pack they didn't capture seem to have continued to kill sheep). The new attempt at conditioning has had some problems too. The USFWS recently reported

The cooperative WS aversive conditioning research on the 2 adult members (6 pups are also in the pen and have been growing rapidly) of the Gravelly pack are ongoing but efforts to find young calves to use in the experiments have been unsuccessful. Dog training collars were put on the 2 adults but when new items (a calf hide and then a scented post) were put into the pen to test if the collars were working, the wolves never went near them. This follows a pattern observed with the 3 Sheep Mountain wolves where they avoided any new items. This behavior pattern will make it difficult to test non-lethal or aversive conditioning techniques on temporarily held wild wolves being held in captivity.

This captive pack is scheduled for release after the 2001 elk hunting season -- late December.

My past stories on the matter:

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Copyright 2001 Ralph Maughan
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