Billings Gazette Wyoming Bureau
Defying the odds yet again, the aging
Yellowstone National Park wolf that may have already sown more genes throughout the park's
wolf population than any other animal has apparently assumed the leadership of a new wolf
pack in the Sunlight Basin northwest of Cody.
"She's just a tough old gal," said Tim
Eicher, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Cody. "She looked
good and healthy."
He spotted No. 9 on Tuesday (February 15th) with three
other wolves and identified her through the frequency of the radio collar she wears. He
has tentatively named the new pack the "Valentine Pack," because he discovered
the wolves the day after Valentine's Day.
One of the original 14 wolves released in Yellowstone
in early 1995, No. 9 captured public attention soon afterward by giving birth to the first
litter of pups near Red Lodge just as her mate was illegally shot nearby. She later became
the alpha wolf of the park's Rose Creek wolf pack and gave birth to four more litters -
making her one of the most prolific of the Yellowstone wolves.
No. 9 is at least 8 years old - very old for a wild
wolf - and is graying with age.
Sometime last fall, she left the Rose Creek pack after her domineering daughter - No. 18 -
took over the pack's ranking position. No. 9 had since wandered alone in the Pilot Creek
region near Cooke City. Biologists had guessed she would probably soon die of starvation
or during a run-in with prey or another wolf pack, a common fate for older wolves.
But Eicher spotted No. 9 Tuesday with a 2-year old
female wolf, also from the Rose Creek pack, and two black male wolves. One of the male
wolves wore a radio collar while the other did not.
As Eicher watched, one of the male wolves put his head
over No. 9's neck and 9 flipped her tail to the side - both signs of courtship between the
two. They then sauntered into the trees. The male wolf with No. 9 later emerged to chase
off the other male, a sign that No. 9 and the male are the pack's dominant pair. Eicher
also saw the second male wolf briefly mount the younger female.
On Thursday morning, two mountain lion hunters spotted
the four wolves and saw one of the males mount No. 9, they later told Eicher.
"She's obviously receptive," Eicher said.
Sunlight Basin has been home to the separate Sunlight wolf pack for close to a year.
Ed Bangs, leader of the federal wolf recovery program,
said he had received many requests to help No. 9 in her old age by leaving food for her or
capturing her and placing her in a sanctuary.
"I thought, 'Why do that?' - give her a chance to
surprise us and maybe she'll find another pack," Bangs said. "It looks like
that's what she's done and that's great. Maybe she's going to have another litter."