Just in time for Mothers Day!
By MICHAEL MILSTEIN
Gazette Wyoming Bureau
Popular Yellowstone Park Wolf No. 9, who in 1995 captured the publics attention
as the first reintroduced park wolf to give birth, has denned northwest of Cody and may
have produced her sixth litter of pups in the Yellowstone region. No other
Yellowstone wolf has become a mother so many times.
Because No. 9 had 1-year-old pup with her when biologists captured her in Canada for
transplant to Yellowstone, that would mean she has given birth to at least seven litters
in her lifetime. Biologists running the federal wolf recovery project say such a rare
reproductive feat illustrates the perseverance of the animal considered the grand
matriarch of Yellowstones wolves.
Its exciting that someone who was an early hero in all of this keeps adding
to her reputation, said John Varley, chief of the Yellowstone Center for Resources.
No. 9 is now at least 8 years old and probably older, which is very old for a wild
wolf, biologists say.
Im pulling for her once again, said Ed Bangs of the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service. She has had quite a remarkable run.
Also remarkable is No. 9s unceasing genetic contribution to the Yellowstone wolf
population. A DNA analysis of blood samples taken from wolves during annual
radio-collaring operations showed that 72 percent of all wolves born in the Yellowstone
region from the first year of the federal reintroduction program in 1995 through 1998 were
No. 9s descendants.
In other words, 78 of the 109 wolves born in and around Yellowstone during those years
were No. 9s children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
Talk about a flood of Mothers Day cards.
Bangs cautions that wolves occasionally dig dens and go through the motions of
pregnancy without ever producing pups, so nobody can say whether No. 9 has actually borne
another litter until pups emerge from the den four to five weeks after birth.
She definitely appears to have denned, he said. Whether that means
there will be puppies or not, we should know in a few weeks.
No. 9 won fame as the first Yellowstone wolf to give birth by producing a litter of
pups near Red Lodge in 1995, just as her mate was illegally shot nearby. Biologists moved
9 and her eight pups back into a pen in Yellowstone Park for temporary safekeeping.
President Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, later helped haul road-killed meat to the
pen to feed No. 9 and her offspring.
The wolf went on to lead the parks prolific Rose Creek pack as its alpha
female until her daughter, No. 18, took her place as the packs leader sometime in
1998 or 1999.
Last fall, No. 9 left her longtime pack and began wandering by herself along
Yellowstones eastern edge. Biologists surmised that she might die old and alone, as
many aging wolves do, but instead she surprised them by linking up with three other wolves
to form a fledgling pack in the Sunlight Basin, which lies in the drainage of the Clarks
Fork of the Yellowstone River northwest of Cody.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Tim Eicher has been monitoring signals
from No. 9s radio-collar and in recent weeks found the signals isolated in a
specific spot, indicating the wolf has dug a den and is sticking to the den.
But No. 9 has apparently broken from her new pack, because No. 153, another female wolf
from that pack, has also denned about 12 miles away.
At least two male wolves appear to be hovering around No. 153s den, said U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Mike Jimenez, who has been tracking the animals from
the air. Its still not clear whether any other wolves accompany 9 at her den, he
said, but if another wolf were with her it would explain why she has moved so far away
from other wolves in the pack.
It would be difficult for No. 9 to raise a litter of pups alone, Bangs said.
The separate Sunlight pack, which has dwelled for more than two years at the upper end
of the Sunlight Basin, also appears to have denned this spring, Jimenez said.
Initial indications are that females from 12 different wolf packs in the Yellowstone
region have denned and may produce litters this spring. A few wolves that biologists
expected to den did not, including the alpha female of Yellowstones Soda Butte pack,
who was apparently kicked and killed by a moose only a week before she would have given
birth, Bangs said.
The number of breeding wolves now is not rising nearly as fast as it was in the first
few years after wolves returned to Yellowstone, he said, probably because the prime
territories are now occupied.
They started out with almost unlimited food and unlimited habitat and they did
real well, but now were seeing a leveling off of wolf numbers, he said.
David Mech, a nationally recognized wolf biologist with the U.S. Geological Surveys
Biological Resources Division, said No. 9s reproductive success reflects the
excellent wolf habitat and food supply available in and around Yellowstone.
Yellowstone is kind of the best-case situation because of the prey base
available, he said. If a wolfs going to be that successful anywhere, its
going to be in Yellowstone.
Michael Milstein can be reached at (307) 527-7250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org