"You had better come right away
The urgent plea came over the radio. Anne Whitbecks voice was threaded with a
distraught tone, as if she had just witnessed something tragic.
"There is a wounded wolf."
The call was for Rick McIntyre who acting in his official capacity drove directly to
the scene. Bob Landis was one of the many to respond to the call as well, but I waited as
he drove away, scanning the hills above the river for any sign of the two mystery wolves
we had seen chasing elk at first light. The pair, an unidentified gray and black, followed
the fleeing herd in an easy lope disappearing behind a wooded butte just prior to the
Further up the road, I happened by Tom Zieber, or TZ, who was watching the Rose Creek
Pack. The pack including the alpha pair 8 and 18, had gathered on the banks of a creek
swollen and brown with spring mud. He, too, was reticent to leave a good observation to
respond to the daunting call of an injured wolf.
Twenty minutes later we heard from a group who were monitoring the activities of a wolf
that staggered and dropped only a few feet from the road. It was going no further and
appeared to be dying.
When we arrived Mike Ross, the area ranger, was guarding the wolf beside the road and
we joined a growing number of concerned onlookers in a nearby pull-out.
I arrived amid a cloud of tension and was told the individual was Wolf 34, the famous
alpha male of the Chief Joseph Pack. He lied precisely where 3 years ago he had
encountered the Rose Creek Pack and was nearly killed. The last stand of Chief Joseph, I
thought. An amazing ending for an amazing wolf. Could this have been the end of another
old wolfs tenure as pack leader and this individuals subsequent wanderings
after a disastrous encounter with the Druids? I never expected him to return to this part
of Yellowstone to get caught in such a predicament.
He at least would escape being a statistic of livestock depredation control, a fate
looming over him and his pack for the past year. They usually roam the park boundary and
ranches adjacent to Yellowstone, and Wolf 34 seemed a long way from home. Bob Landis
filmed the injured animal while it was still on its feet.
"Did it look like 34, though?"
"I never thought about, just took it for fact."
The frequency for Wolf 34 and 40 are very close together on the dial. A possible case
of mistaken identity was brewing, and I began to fear for Wolf 40. Rick walked back to the
wolf to try to get a better look, and returned with some doubts. Meanwhile, Mike told us
there were things we could do for this dying wolf, but it was in the hands of the
biologists who were racing here to investigate.
Doug Smith was in the air doing a monitoring flight. Rick contacted him and asked if
Wolf 34 was in his usual place. When his response came back over the radio, we had our
answer. Indeed, Wolf 34 was with his pack, and this wolf huddled in the rain down the road
could only be our beloved Wolf 40.
A swell of emotion overcame the group. I was one of many that did not expect the end so
soon for such a prominent wolf. The feisty alpha female of the Druid Peak Pack had long
ago garnered legendary status among her many observers. Her sudden demise was shocking and
at this time, inexplicable.
With the arrival of Kerry Murphy came a moment of hope.
"The faithful have gathered, Murph" I said of the concerned crowd that had
assembled. With a quick grin and acknowledgment he raced to Mikes side and assessed
the situation. Rick, TZ and I joined them to make some quick but sound decisions. A moment
later I was helping bundle her in tarp for a ride to the vet.
I was surprised and heartened by the decision to intervene in her circumstances. But
the state of the wolf had diminished to the point that I wasnt confident any help
would make the difference. No restraints were necessary and the incapacitated animal
offered us no resistance to our bundling and putting her into the heated cabin of the
pick-up. We were gently setting her on the seat moments before Murph was rushing her away.
My last look at Wolf 40 was memorable among a litany of amazing observations simply
because it included my own hand setting her head gently against an arm-rest.
A small motorcade followed Murph out of the valley. I returned to the lot with the
others to discuss our findings.
She was hypothermic and non-responsive to our handling. The wounds were concentrated in
the groin and around the neck. The neck wounds were gaping, and dripping blood. Because
wolves tend to focus their attacks on these parts of the body, we was certain she was the
victim of a wolf attack.
As it had happened all morning, the bad news again arrived by radio.
"She is dead."
Wolf 40 did not survive the first leg of the trip.
"I thought she was going to make it," someone said.
Wolf 21 stands over his mate, Wolf 40
by Dan Stahler
The circumstances surrounding Wolf 40s death left a lot of room for speculation.
The cause was other wolves, but which wolves we can not be certain. One leading theory
pins the deed on her own sister and daughters, the subordinate contingency of the Druid
Peak Pack. Wolves 42, 103 and 105, the black females of the pack, had been attending a den
across the valley. There had been at least 6 pups seen among this group the week before
Wolf 40s death. The night before, Wolf 40 visited the enclave and while visible to
observers displayed her usual dominance over these individuals. Speculation begins where
night fell and left her in the area of these other females and their pups. Perhaps she
attacked these pups and the combined defensive effort of the other females overwhelmed 40
and left her with mortal wounds. Her final resting place was within about a mile of this
This is the most interesting explanation in terms of how it could stretch our
understanding of interactions within a wolf pack. Subordinates may rise in defense of
their offspring or themselves and kill the alpha, but there are many mysteries yet to be
unraveled surrounding this subject.
The more common occurrence of wolves from a different pack killing the alpha is also
possible. There were no radio signals of foreign wolves that morning; however there were
the uncollared pair I was watching just 4 miles away, as well as, the usual close
proximity of arch-rivals, the Rose Creek wolves. Two days later the Crystal Creek Pack
made a visit to the Druids valley, perhaps they had been in the area.
Wolf 21 continued to attend Wolf 40s den after her death. He carried food and
presumably was feeding her pups. A few days after 40s death, Wolf 42 began to carry
pups from her own den to 40s den. A two-day effort brought at least 6 pups some 4
miles to the new den. At one point Wolf 105 also carried a pup but turned back with it
after encountering some people working out in the valley only a mile away from 40s
There is speculation that another Druid female, Wolf 106, also had a litter and may
have moved them to 40s den recently as well.
The most interesting situation to observe in the next weeks and months is who will rise
to assume the alpha female role in the Druid Peak Pack. The obvious front-runner is long
time beta female 42; however, the other females 105, 103 and 106 can conceivably make a
bid of their own during this time of transition. Wolf 21 may have something to do with
outcome as well, as he seeks compatibility in a new pair bond with one of the familiar
During Wolf 40s early years, her role as dominant female was shared somewhat with
her sisters, 41 and 42. Gradually she became the alpha with increasingly aggressive
interactions that led to Wolf 41s leaving the pack. Wolf 42 was always submissive to
Wolf 40, and became increasingly more so in the last couple of years.
Wolf 40 will be remembered for her years as leader of the Druid Peak Pack. Personally,
I regard her as an individual that with her many exploits best taught me the true nature
of a wolf. Its hard to think of a Lamar Valley without Wolf 40, her reign was long