Yellowstone Diary 2020

July 11, 2020

Note: Please click “read more” for the whole article and video.

Having a bundle of puppies is a lot of work for the pack. We find wolves so interesting because they have social structures very like mankind. The alpha pack leaders rule the pack and the big boss is the alpha female. The alpha male is the chief warrior but the alpha female makes all the decisions.

The females make relationships with the males to get them to bring her and the pups food. The mother cannot leave the pups in the den because the little ones can not regulate their temperature. She must be there to keep them warm. She depends on the males to bring food. But the interesting thing about wolf society is that male pack members, other than the father, volunteer to bring food to pups that are not their own. They babysit and the yearlings seem to love to play with the pups.

After the pups are old enough to move to a bigger “child care” space, two-year-olds and yearlings may babysit while mom goes looking for food herself.

In this video, 907F a previous alpha female of the Junction Butte Pack, now retired, hunts for Elk. She has 11 or more mouths to feed just in the “child care” location up the hills.

There is a herd of 32 Elk this morning in the river valley. She and two black helpers split off and isolate a cow Elk and her two calves. The cow takes her two calves to the river where the wolves would have a much harder time attacking them in the deep water.

907 waits patiently on the bank. After a while, 907 goes up the bank and acts like she has given up but goes just far enough away that the Elk can’t see her from the water. 907 waits until the Elk finally move onto the river bank, thinking she is gone.

Then, the cow Elk sees 907. The cow decides to chase 907. An adult Elk can kick a wolf and seriously injure it. So 907 is after the Elk calves and she runs from the Elk cow as it chases her.

907 moves away and the Elk move up the hillside. Next, we see 907 and the two blacks running full speed down the slope chasing the Elk. The Elk head for the river again and jump full speed off the 5ft bank into the river. The yearling black is not experienced enough and jumps into the water after a calf. He gets the calf by the hind leg and drags it under the water. But the calf appears to have kicked the yearling in the head because it releases the calf and swims back to the bank and has a bit of a hard time getting out of the water.

That is the end of the story. The Elk wins and the wolf puppies go hungry. Wolves are only successful one in five attempts and the grizzly bears in Yellowstone have learned to steal kills from the wolves. In fact, the wolves have contributed to bringing the Grizzly bear back from the brink of extinction. The average lifespan for a wolf in Yellowstone is only 4-5 years. Unfortunately, many of the pups die of starvation.

Visitors to the park often see a wolf next to a bison or elk and think the wolf is going to attack the prey. But a single wolf has only a 2% chance of taking an Elk by itself.


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