Yellowstone’s wolves are real life Game of Thrones’ characters. GOT’s fans know that falling in love with one of those characters is dangerous because pretty much all of them will have a tragic ending leaving the viewer mourning for their loss. — the wolves are no different.
I am happy to announce that our Women’s Yellowstone Winter Wolves Adventure is back. January 29-Feb 3, 2023.
Below are excerpts from my journal during my first visit to Yellowstone in January of 2021 to give you an idea of what you can learn and what you can expect during this unique wildlife eco tour in winter in Yellowstone. This adventure is more than looking at wolves in a park. This eco tour is led by wolf experts who will compliment your observations with stories of individuals and their legacies that include triumphs and defeats, love & hate, loyalty, and treachery.
Yellowstone Winter Wolves Update
January 26, 2021
Great first full day in the park. The days are long. We start before sunrise to be one of the first in to see the action. I am happy to report that we saw a pack of 18 wolves in the snow next to a herd of bison. The wolves were about 600 yards from where we were watching at Black Creek. To get to the best vantage point, our group climbed a hill, while our guides hauled up six spotting scopes for our group of 8! Between our binos and scopes, we were fully outfitted with optics provided by our guides. There were people in the park who saw us on the hill. They were excited to know we were looking at the Wapiti Lake Pack, but they didn’t have any optics. — Insider tip readers, if you travel to Yellowstone bring binoculars!! Most of the animals sightings are at a distance. You will be happy to have optics that allow you to see at least 600 yards.
The Wapiti Lake Pack has a legendary white Alpha female who is one of the oldest wolves. She will be 11 years old in the spring, she is practically immortal because the average wild wolf’s life span is only 3 to 4 years.
Wolf mortality is due to a few things. They can be mortally injured by their prey. The strong kick of a bison or elk can break a wolf’s leg, skull, or jaw leading to death from the trauma or from starvation of not being able to eat or catch prey. Wolves also suffer from mange. Mange is a highly contagious skin disease that was introduced to the wild coyote population by wildlife managers as a way to reduce the coyote population. Individuals were captured and then released to spread it to other coyotes they came in contact with. Consequently, other canines such as wild wolves and foxes also contracted mange. The intense itching leads to fur loss and then death due to exposure in the cold weather. Lastly, wolves are legally hunted all year without a permit once they leave the protection of Yellowstone National Park.
This Alpha female is the daughter of the legendary 755m. The White Alpha is not collard, and does not have a number, but she has a story. She has had three partners (2 canine divorces), with life drama more like a Soap Opera than wolf life. Since 2015 she has been producing a litter each year and leads a healthy pack. The Wapiti Lake Pack is from Hayden
We watched the Wapiti Lake Pack through our scopes. You can identify the yearlings because they have shaggy mohawks of fur down their backs. There were so many colors of wolves in this pack despite the species being called Grey Wolf. It is believed that the black gene might have been due to crossing with a domesticated wolf hybrid carried down with the original wolves captured from Canada used to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone.
The pack was six football fields away, but when they began to howl it felt like they were scattered among us. The soulful song bounced off of the canyon walls. It wasn’t the tune of one lone wolf, it was the chorus of the whole pack. The rally sounded like a battle cry, but the wolves didn’t move or chase after the bison. Instead, they bedded down in the deep snow and soaked in the bright sunshine on a crisp cold day. Watch and listen to the Wapiti Lake Pack howl on our Instagram Page.
The Wapitis are from the Hayden Valley. Technically, by being in this part of the park they run the risk of territorial disputes with the resident Junction Butte Pack. Such disputes are taken very seriously and could lead to wolves killing wolves over territory. The JBs are the largest wolf pack in the park with over 30 members!!! Later in the afternoon we spotted a few lone members of the JBs in another section of the park called Lamar Valley.
The Wapitis are from the Hayden Valley. Technically by being in this part of the park the run the risk of territorial disputes with the resident Junction Butte Pack. The JBs are the largest wolf pack in the park with over 30 members!!! Later in the afternoon we spotted a few lone members of the JBs.
January 27, 2021
Looking back at my photos from today, it is hard to believe we did so much in one day. I always tell my clients that you will need a vacation from your vacation on a Green Edventures trip. This Yellowstone Winter Wolves & Wildlife Safari is no exception. Our days start at 6:30am and end about 8pm.
We started off the morning watching the Wapiti Lake pack again. They were still in the same spot as yesterday. Seeing wolves about 600 yards away is hard with your naked eye. Against the white landscape, a large blob of brown drew my attention. I pulled my binoculars up to my eyes for a closer look, and the brown blob was a herd of bison circled close together like cowboys circling the wagons in Indian territory. — wolves had to be near.
By then the guides announce that wolves are in the scopes and we hurry to look through the spotting scopes for better detail. A few wolves were running alongside the bison herd. It felt like something was about to happen. Would we see the Wapitis take down a bison?
The same herd of bison were in view of this pack yesterday. What does it feel like to be the prey with wolf neighbors?
A lone wolf howled. Its song filled the winter silence. There was no wind. The snow crunched under my boots as I shifted my body to line my eye up with the scope.
We watched the pack for about an hour and then said goodbye to the famous White Alpha Female and her brood. On to Lamar Valley.
We passed Lamar Canyon and our guide reminded us that this was the territory of wolf 06. I felt like I was on hallowed ground. I have been reading about wolf dynasties (my words) and 06 is a legend. She was as our guide Sarah described, “the Angelina Jolie of wolves”. Beautiful and athletic. A wolf version of Lara Croft . A black wolf from the Druids Pack, and daughter of the great Wolf #21 (also known as the perfect wolf for reasons too detailed to describe here). She was courted by many males and turned down almost all of them. When she was ready for a mate, she took on two young males, brothers 754M & 755M with no hunting experience. She mated with both and produced litters with them. She was known for her great hunting skills including having been the only wolf known to kill a cow elk and calf on the same day and by herself. On different occasions, she single-handedly fought off a grizzly bear, and a cougar. She was the Queen.
Wolves are only protected within the borders of this island known as Yellowstone National Park. Migrating animals do not know or understand park boundaries. Yellowstone is a summer feeding ground for elk who leave the park in winter in search of food in winter grazing areas outside the protected park boundaries, and the wolves follow.
06’s magnificent life was cut short when she and one of her mates (754) were shot and killed outside the park in Paradise Valley. Her death sent ripples through her pack and ultimately caused them to break up – not without inter and intra wolf conflicts that are again too detailed to go into. – Wolves have specific roles within their packs. When individuals are killed, the talent and special skills that wolf provides for its pack is lost. The loss of the Queen of Lamar was felt deeply by her pack who was never the same after her death, and to those who follow the dramatic lives of Yellowstone’s wolves. The New York Times published an article that was a eulogy of 06. I personally like the Outside Magazine article here.
Yellowstone’s wolves are real life Game of Thrones’ characters. GOTs fans know that falling in love with one of those characters is dangerous because pretty much all of them will have a tragic ending leaving the viewer mourning for their loss. — the wolves are no different.
In Lamar Valley magpies and ravens were scavenging off of an elk carcass. Three coyotes hung close. Not too far away was a lone black wolf sleeping in the snow. When he got up, the coyotes scattered. The wolf is likely 1109, she is older. Slowing down. She also had a limp. Two bald eagles landed on the carcass. 1109 found another spot to nap.
In the afternoon we took a break from wolves to go snowshoeing along a creek. Our guides talked about animal tracks and other natural history of the area. The snow was about 2-3 ft deep but not too packed. It was so quiet we could hear the “womp” of snow settling in. To alpine skiers this is scary and could mean an avalanche is coming. For us, it was just an exciting thing to listen for on the walk. Apparently less than 2% of Yellowstone’s visitors ever venture one quarter of a mile away from the road. It was nice to be among the two percent and a luxury.
On our return to Mammoth springs a huge bison jam filled the road. Bison jams are when the cars can’t pass because so many bison are using the road for travel. No matter how many times I see bison, I am still in awe of them. I love hearing their hooves click clack on the road and looking in the eyes of individuals. Bison, like wolves, are icons of the great west and relics of wilderness. You can view a bison jam here on the Green Edventures Facebook Page.
*Note: 755M is the father of the while Alpha from the Wapiti Lake Pack.