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Field Journal: Gray Wolves of Yellowstone


Thursday, November 14, 1996

Track station report
Reported by Chris Lucash

This morning, John arrived at the track station we put out for the Elkmont pack yesterday. Except for scratches, drag marks, and rustled leaves, you wouldn't know that an entire deer carcass had been there the day before. Only a few tufts of hair remained in the area where we had placed the carcass. To his disappointment, there was very little recognizable wolf sign (tracks) either.

One reason John had trouble finding wolf sign was last night's rain. Some tracks may have been washed away. But John also found evidence that a group of wild pigs rooted through the area. Their walking and digging actions also covered up the wolf prints. It is likely that the wolves found the deer carcass very soon after we set it out, consumed most of the deer, and dragged away the remains of the carcass. Wolves would have to be away from the area for some time before the pigs would have been comfortable enough to travel through!

As he expected, John found adult wolf tracks. He also found several smaller canid tracks. Canid is a general term given to members of the Canidae family, which includes wolves, coyotes, foxes, and dogs. John thought the smaller tracks could either be from one of the wolf pups or a coyote. Coyotes are 20 to 30 lbs smaller than adult red wolves, so young red wolf pups can be the same size as a coyote. This makes it nearly impossible to tell their tracks apart. John even found one small canid track on top of a wild pig track. This indicates that the smaller canid came through much later than the adult wolves. In the end, the few small tracks ended up posing more questions for us than providing answers.

Using his radio-telemetry equipment, John could hear the radio-collar signals from both the adult wolves. The pups could be with the adult pair but they may just be very wary of coming near the track station where we have disturbed the ground and left our scent. Avoiding contact with us is smart behavior for a wild wolf.

Studying wildlife is rarely as easy as it may seem from reading a book or watching wildlife television programs. Wild animals are not very predictable and rarely cooperate with our plans for them. Wildlife biologists and researchers cannot be the kind of people who are easily discouraged. It takes a lot of time and effort to collect meaningful information on wildlife successfully. And good information is often the result of many failed attempts.
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