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Field Journal: Gray Wolves of Yellowstone


Yellow Dave Monday, October 14, 1996

About radio-tracking
Reported by Doug Smith

A lot of wildlife biologists study animals by following them around. Doing this allows a biologist to learn a great deal about the animals they are studying. How does a biologist follow a wild animal? First, we must catch them. When they are caught, we can put a collar on them, much like the collar you put on your dog, only this collar has a radio in it.

The radio transmits a beep which we can hear with another radio at a distance of up to 10 miles. All our wolves have their own frequency. We can "tune-in" to different wolves like changing the station on a radio. The best way to do this is from an airplane because we get better reception, plus the wolves move so much we can't keep up with them from the ground.

I fly about once a week to "radio locate" all 53 wolves in Yellowstone. Since the wolves are spread out all over the park, it takes me five to six hours to do this. I fly in a plane called a Supercub, which is very small. It only holds two people — me and the pilot. The pilot keeps track of flying the plane and I keep track of locating the wolves. We work as a team and we usually find all the wolves.

Once we find the wolves by tracking the radio in their collar, we fly low to try and see the wolves. We do this because sometimes other wolves are there that we do not have collars on. These are usually young pups that we haven't caught yet so we want to visually check on them. Also we are interested in what the wolves are eating. By flying low we see if they are eating or not and what kind of animal it is that they are eating.

Yesterday I flew and saw 20 wolves from the airplane. That flight was five hours long and we flew all the way to Grand Teton National Park and back. You can't beat a view of the Tetons from a tiny airplane!

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