One dark and snowy winter’s morn we traversed Yellowstone in the wee early hours to search for our elusive, cryptic canids….driving around winding, icy roads, up and over hills, and rivers – pulling over at various intervals to scope for any signs of movement, or anything that looks remotely like a wolf – a rock or a tree stump with ears!! Watching it for a while to see if it moves…..but alas, no movement….The unforgiving wind biting at your face and hands as you try to see across the landscape in front of you – searching and searching, for what seems like forever…..dark slowly turns to light as the sun begins to rise – yet, we continue to look – where are they? Where are the wolves?
Checking for radio collar signals, and faint blips keep hope alive for finding them – and just as it seems like all is lost – there, off in the distance, one, two…five….11….wait….14!!?? 10 black and four grey wolves walking across the snow right in front of us! They made their way up and over a river and off towards the horizon where they ‘bedded’ (essentially REST)….The whole 8 Mile Pack, incredible!! As they moved in single-file they would stop at times to rally, a social behaviour where pack members come together to greet each other, and reinforce social bonds – and they would also stop every-so-often to allow their limping pack member at the back of the pack to catch-up – as the pack is everything to a wolf – the pack is their family and each member is precious, thus no wolf is left behind! (Just like no soldier is ever left behind!).
Watching them lope across the landscape in first light is mesmerising – during my previous fieldwork I have had the pleasure of being up-close and personal with some of the most gorgeous captive wolves I have ever seen, getting to know each wolf as an individual – but out here, having the privilege of observing the behaviour of these magnificent wild wolves is just mind-blowing! And yes, each wolf is its own individual out here too!
It might have took a lot of time and energy to find these wolves, and they went ‘out of sight’ moments later, but again, it was well worth it – I guess you could say we went the whole 8 mile, to find the whole 8 mile!
UPDATE: There are in fact, 17 (!!) members of the 8 mile pack, BUT, they do migrate and integrate with other packs such as the Prospect Peak pack!!……The complex and fluid dynamics of Yellowstone wolf packs – fascinating!