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by Debbie Lineweaver

and Jason Wilson

Ww42bio.jpg (6842 bytes)

Wolf 42 of Druid Peak Pack.  Photo by Bill Wengeler

It was one of those gray days of late winter and Number 42 was still holding to, we suspected, a den. No one had seen her for over a week, though radio signals continued from an area where she stayed alone. Now signals told us that the rest of her pack was moving into 42's area, to our knowledge, for the first time.

Suddenly, after our standing by for hours, 42 walked out of her "den trees" casually and uneventfully for her part; for us, an exciting moment having not seen her for some time. Does she look pregnant? Is she nursing? Briefly put, she looked trim in the stomach with the same lithe, powerhouse appearance she has long had. It was good to see her.

After she wandered around the area for some minutes, she stopped, raised her nose to the sky and began howling. It was that low and easy sound.

No answer.

Then over the hill exploded six bull elk racing ahead of three other wolves, Numbers 21, 40, and 163. 21 is the alpha male, 40 the alpha female, and 163 is the lone surviving "pup" from last year, all 110 pounds of him! 42 looked up the hill and began to run to join in the chase, merging at an angle with the running wolves.

42's story in Yellowstone began in 1996 when she was reintroduced with the wolves that become known as the Druid Peak Pack. It was believed that she and 40 and 41 were sisters, 39 was their mother. 38 was added to make an alpha pair with 39. The composition of that pack has changed continually since then, but 42 and 40 remain.

That summer when 31, a dispersing male from the Chief Joseph Pack, was accepted into the Druid Peak Pack, we watched 42 and 41, then solid black and sleek, cavort with 31. Bouncing, tails wagging, running, chasing like young wolves often do. When 31 was injured and stayed in the far reaches of their territory, 42 & 41 returned to that area after the pack had gone home, to be with him, to take food to him, just out of curiosity? We don’t know and never will.

Number 42 has matured since then, and changed from pitch black to a charcoal and brown mottled color with a gray muzzle and those "raccoon" eyes. She is distinctive in many ways.

We fondly recall a sunny day during which she trotted down valley away from her pack, picking up a stick and tossing it in the air repeatedly. To add to the memory, she walked up to a bison, laid the stick in front of it and did a "play-bow" while looking at the bison! The bison did not respond! Did she think he would understand and play? Was she testing him? Was she so full-of-it she just had to do something silly?

There are the times when 40, the beautiful gray alpha female with a long, willowy tail, has dominated her intensely. Even when 39 and 41 eventually left the pack under similar conditions, 42 has endured. Why?

Once 42 appeared behind us as we sat on a hill. When we noticed her circling behind us, she seemed at ease and even laid down and gazed at us. Since she had approached the area and appeared undisturbed while knowing we were there, our judgment was to stay put rather than get up and frighten her.  She studied us while we admired her, exchanged howls with 105 who was following her path, then rose and slowly walked away in the direction she had been traveling. She is a talker in more ways than one. Was she inspecting some of the upright beings? Was she biding her time waiting for 105 to catch up?

Now here we were, on April 9, 1999, about to imprint another scene from 42's life to our minds. As she merged with the other wolves, tail tucked and somewhat crouched in standard submissive posture, 40 broke off her chase and began to dominate 42. Soon 21 and 163 stopped chasing the elk and circled around the two females, though neither participated in the interaction. 40 pinned 42, they rolled and 42 was on her back while 40 held her. 42 yelped frequently and ran away, but 40 followed, stopping her by either jumping on her or "standing high" over her.

Crouching to the ground with 40 standing over her, 42 eventually began crawling up to lick 40's muzzle, another act of submissiveness. This seemed to have no softening effect on 40, however. Soon 42 ran down the hill and 40 raced after her, into the trees toward 42's supposed den and out of our sight. 21 and 163 took different routes into the trees. Lasting about four minutes, the interaction seemed long and intense. Of course, the questions: Since 42 was first in a submissive posture, why did 40 feel the need to impose dominance? Was 40 here to destroy her den and pups, if there were any? Is this alpha female agitated by another female starting a den out of the alpha’s den area and needs to inspect it, or does a long absence of the beta female generate a need to pull the pack back together?

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Six members of the Druid Peak Pack on the move

Summarized results go like this: the pack stayed in the area for some time that day, and 42 and 103, a younger female, were at 42's "den" that night when others had left the area. So, 42 was not "driven" from her "den." The next morning, all the Druids were on an elk carcass nearby, feeding together as usual. 40 only mildly noted her dominance over 42 at that time; and in fact, that evening we watched 40 go to greet 42, who followed 40 back up the ridge to the carcass where the two fed beside each other after 42 approached with 40 wagging her tail! 40 left the carcass to her sister in short order.

For the next two weeks, 42, 163, and the two younger females, 103 and 106, lived a few miles away from the old Druid den where 21 and 40 were apparently tending pups, a common pattern in wolf packs. None of the Druids returned to 42's den area, and our later investigation found a den but no indication of pups ever having been there. The thinking is 42 experienced a pseudo-pregnancy. Did 40's actions actually bring her back into the pack?

Gradually, the other three returned "home" to the old den area. Both while 42 was with the younger ones and while alone, there were many mornings when she "spoke" incessantly, emitting mostly her low, easy howl, sometimes with a "twist" in the middle. What was she saying?  She spent a day with the "Yancey male," a common but unidentified wolf. Would she go back home or strike out on her own, away from 40 and the pack?

Resting with her head on her paws, back-lit with sunlight one morning, she gazed steadily for 15 minutes at one of those upright critters, a man sitting on a rock opposite her though an adequate distance away (we were not sure he could see her). Such concentration. Then she began to howl again; it went on for minutes. Just as it was hard to watch 40's putting her to the ground, this howling of a lone pack animal sounded forlorn. Yet we did not know for certain that she wasn’t simply saying, "I’m just fine down here and enjoying the peace and solitude!"

After more than three weeks, 42 was home at the old Druid den site! Since then, she has been with the pack, hunting, traveling, and resting with 40 and the others as pack animals usually do. Did she always intend to return? Did she find no other agreeable option, being alone or with another wolf, and was left little choice but to return?

Biologists warn, and rightly so, against anthropomorphizing.  That is, applying human emotions, values, and reasons to the behavior of other animals can be misleading. It is important to be objective enough to truly learn about wolves. Yet, we also see similarities between ourselves and other species, and therefore we feel less removed from caring about and valuing their livelihood. We think that humans have adequate intellectual capacity to accommodate both perspectives, even simultaneously!

Wolves share common characteristics yet are also individuals within their species, as are humans and other animals.  We can, with some effort, learn to know individuals and their idiosyncrasies, but we really do not know beyond the usual wisdom of animal behavior just exactly why an individual does all the things she does.  So we know her as special, and, yet, there is mystery about what makes her who she is.  It's a wonderful combination, so we continue to watch and learn...

For years, Debbie Lineweaver and Jason Wilson have been coming to Yellowstone to view and ponder the ways of wildlife.  They have a quiet and patient manner with which they watch and study their subjects, which results in clear, fascinating accounts from the field.  When accompanying them, I have always been intrigued to hear about their latest adventures and charmed by their warm and friendly manner.   Their observations and collective intuition have contributed mightily to our knowledge of Yellowstone's wild animals.  It is my privilege to share their contributions with everyone at Yellowstone Wolf Tracker.  N.V.


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