Long Live Wolf 163
by Justin Franze
As I was reading over the mid-February wolf report for Yellowstone, I came across some sad
news. During the second collaring operation, researchers came across a mortality signal
from high in the Absaroka Mountains east of Yellowstone. Unfortunately, the collar and the
signal coming form it belonged to Wolf 163. As shock and then sadness came over me, I kept
replaying the experience I had had with Wolf 163. As I told myself the story, I thought
that I should share it with other people who have come to know the wolves of Yellowstone
and have had similar encounters. Not similar in substance, but similar in the emotions it
Here is my story of 163.
In June of 1999 my girlfriend Stacey and I headed for
Yellowstone. Our mission was obvious, to observe wolves. Not only to observe wolves, but
to observe wolves in the greatest surroundings possible, Yellowstone. After two days of
driving non-stop we finally made it to the park. We decided to stay at the campground and
go to bed early so we would be up at the crack of dawn. We hoped that this would increase
our chance of seeing wolves. As it turned out, we could only imagine how much so. The
alarm went off at 4 a.m. and we pulled ourselves out of our sleeping bags and got ready
for our first viewing opportunity of the trip. To say that we were excited would be an
understatement. Stacey had never been to Yellowstone before, and I wanted her to see her
first wolf. I on the other hand had seen wolves last year, and was ready to see them
We got into the car and headed out to the valley. We tried
to control our excitement and focus on our objective: spotting and viewing wolves. Just
after the campground, there was a moose in a field on the side of the road. We stopped and
watched for a minute and continued on. I had never seen a moose before, but I had a
strange feeling that something more would be just ahead.
As we continued down the road, something caught my eye.
Something was moving just off of the road, and it was black. I couldn't believe it, it was
a wolf. This was the closest I had ever been to a wolf, and I could not keep back my joy.
Here on the first day of our trip we struck gold. A wolf at ~20 yards away. What could be
It took only thirty seconds to answer my own question. While
I was going crazy and studying every movement of the wolf to my side, Stacey was silent.
It took me a minute to realize this and see why she was so quiet. As I turned to look at
her, I noticed she was staring straight ahead. Before I could ask her anything, I saw it
for myself. There, not even five feet from the front of my car, stood Wolf 163.
He had stopped, and was just standing in front of the car
staring right back at us. He was looking right at us and all I could do was stare back. He
wasn't afraid, or nervous, he just seemed curious. My heart was racing and I could barely
talk. I simply muttered, "Wolf." My head was spinning. I couldn't believe our
luck. Here I had spent a year preparing for this trip; trying to find out where the best
spot to see wolves would be and standing right in front of the car was the most beautiful
creature I had ever seen.
He stared at me and I stared at him. It was awesome. After
standing there for about a minute he continued on his way. He walked past the car and met
up with rest of the pack. It was if he wanted to see what on earth would be blocking his
path at 4:30 in the morning while he was on the hunt. He wasn't afraid of me, he was just
curious. He wanted to see what I was up to and then he moved on. I'm sure I really made no
impression on him that day. He had seen people before and probably wasn't that big of a
deal for him. But he definitely made an impression on me.
I will never forget that day. It's as clear in my mind as
the day it happened. I will also never forget Wolf 163. He was so big, so bold. He never
seemed to be afraid of anything. I was saddened when I heard the news that he had
dispersed from the Druid's. This meant that I would probably never see 163 again, but I
was hopeful that he would start his own pack. With any luck, he would find a mate and they
would reproduce. He would help restore the wolf population to Yellowstone. I was hopeful
that he would be OK, hopeful until today when I heard the news that he had died. I will
miss 163, but I am forever grateful for the experience he allowed me to have. I will
always remember him as I saw him on that day, big, bold, and ready to take on the world.