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Field Journal: Gray Wolves of Yellowstone


Yellow Dave Friday, October 11, 1996

Soda Butte pack has left the pen
Reported by Doug Smith

On Monday, October 7, I left with a crew of people to free the Soda Butte wolves from their pen. We did this by removing part of the fence in the back and leaving the gate open in the front so the wolves could leave when they were ready. We didn't want to chase them from the pen because this might have caused them to run away from Yellowstone Park.

On Wednesday, October 9, I flew in a small airplane to check and see if the Soda Butte wolves had left their pen. All of these wolves are collared so I can track them using radio signals which we can pick up from the airplane. As I flew over Yellowstone Lake toward the wolf pen I picked up a signal. I was disappointed because it seemed to be coming from the pen. Wolves are very leery of people so even if they could run out of the pen right away, they don't. They figure it is some kind of human trick. They take their time checking things out. I very much wanted these wolves to be free again after being in the pen all summer. We all want to see them living like wolves are supposed to.

As we flew toward the pen I realized that the signal was not coming from the pen! The pilot and I flew five more miles and saw the Soda Butte Pack sleeping on the shoreline of Yellowstone Lake. They were out in the open just laying there! As we flew over them, they got up and greeted each other. Wolves are related to dogs and they communicate with tail-wagging and by licking each other on the face. They looked great and I was relieved.

The alpha male, the leader of the pack, is very old. I saw him lead the pack away from the lake. He and his mate were traveling together in the front of the pack, which is how packs usually travel. Their daughter from last year, and two pups from this year (one male, one female) followed. After being caught and moved from a ranch this spring and kept inside a pen all summer, the Soda Butte wolves were once again back in the wild where they belong.

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