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Wolf No. 9 suspected of giving birth for the 7th time

Just in time for Mother’s Day!

Gazette Wyoming Bureau

Popular Yellowstone Park Wolf No. 9, who in 1995 captured the public’s 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 Yellowstone’s wolves.

“It’s 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.

“I’m 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. 9’s 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. 9’s descendants.

In other words, 78 of the 109 wolves born in and around Yellowstone during those years were No. 9’s children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

Talk about a flood of Mother’s 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 park’s prolific Rose Creek pack as its “alpha” female until her daughter, No. 18, took her place as the pack’s leader sometime in 1998 or 1999.

Last fall, No. 9 left her longtime pack and began wandering by herself along Yellowstone’s 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. 9’s 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. 153’s den, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Mike Jimenez, who has been tracking the animals from the air. It’s 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 Yellowstone’s 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 we’re seeing a leveling off of wolf numbers,” he said.

David Mech, a nationally recognized wolf biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Biological Resources Division, said No. 9’s 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 wolf’s going to be that successful anywhere, it’s going to be in Yellowstone.”

Michael Milstein can be reached at (307) 527-7250 or at

Article courtesy of Billings Gazette

Michael Milstein reports for the Billings Gazette on Wyoming issues and can be reached at


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