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Long Time alpha male of Chief Joseph Pack is dead.

Nov. 30, 2001

Update Dec. 20, Killed by other wolves.

On Nov. 28, the freshly dead body of Chief Joseph Alpha Male 34M was found in the Fir Ridge/Duck Creek area near the western boundary of Yellowstone National Park.

The first report I received indicated he was found impaled on a branch (a likely prey-chasing mortality), but today's USFWS report says that the cause is unknown and under investigation. I called wolf project director Ed Bangs and he said a necropsy was being done -- that the cause was not known.  It may be natural or may be human-caused.

Worrisome is the fact that this death took place not far from and the same day as the controversial Montana DOL bison-killing activities. No connection between the two is known at this time. However, the new Cougar Creek Pack was less than a mile from 34's carcass, and he was not far from US 191. He might have been yet another victim of that unfortunate highway.

Number 34M was the last radio-collared member of the Chief Joseph Pack, the pack a fixture in the NW corner of the Park since 1997. A number of uncollared pack members are still around. The pack has not dispersed, although a number have been lost to the Taylor Peaks Pack to the west and some to general dispersal.

34M was one of 4 wolves from British Columbia released in 1996 from the Nez Perce Pen. The rest, 31M, 32F, and 33F are now dead too. 

After their 1996 release, 31M left the other three wolves almost immediately. He was a lone wolf until he was accepted into the Druid Peak Pack early in 1997, where he became the beta male.  31M and the Druid pack's original alpha male (38M) were illegally shot the same day outside the Park near Crandall Creek on Dec. 4, 1997

Of the remaining trio, 32F was the original alpha female, but she was killed by a semi-truck on US 191 in June 1996. 34M and 33F traveled together for about 5 months after 32's death, but then 34M tried to raid a female mate from the Druids, and barely escaped with his life. 

Soon thereafter, 34M coaxed away and impregnated both 16F and 17F from the Rose Creek Pack. These sisters (16 and 17) had separate litters in 1997 on opposite sides of the Gallatin Range, but both dens were near the Park boundary (17F near Gardiner and 16F in Daly Creek). 34M remained with 17F and helped her raise litter of 5 pups. Meanwhile, 16F was mostly left to fend for her 5 pups by herself in Daly Creek. In July 1997, however, 17F was killed (impaled on a branch) chasing elk. Number 34M then brought 17's litter across the mountains to 16's den in Daly Creek. For a brief period there were 10 pups at Daly Creek. 

Killer highway 191, however, soon almost claimed 16F's life. She recovered, but dispersed out of the area to eventually form the Sheep Mountain Pack north of Gardiner near Dome Mountain. Shortly after 16F's disappearance, 33F reappeared, rejoined 34M, and adopted the 17F's pups, but 16's were left to fend for themselves, and they soon began to starve. The pups went down to US 191 and also found a den under a shed at the nearby Black Butte Ranch (which has no livestock). One of the pups was killed on US 191. Gradually the rest of the pups disappeared, except pup 111F, who eventually found her mother whose wounds had mended in Tom Miner Basin north of the Park. 111F accompanied her mother for several months, but then they separated. She (111) was found dead about a year later on the slopes of Mt. Washburn in the Park.

Meanwhile, 33F, 34M and 17's five pups prospered and formed a rejuvenated Chief Joseph Pack with more litters in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001. The pack grew large even though several more were lost to killer highway US 191, including, finally, 33F in August 2001.

The pack's range centered on Daly Creek, but they were fond of the prey rich area north of the Park, especially Tom Miner Basin, where they became the terror of sheep dogs, killing many guard dogs. In 2000, they denned in Cinnabar Basin, an unsuitable site near corrals. After much hazing (a long story) they eventually returned to Daly Creek. In 2001 they denned again in Daly Creek, a place with plenty of prey, including a large amount of road kill, from the highway that was both their boon and bane.

Update 12-20. The approximate cause of death of no. 34 has been determined. He was attacked by other wolves, probably the new Cougar Creek Pack which was nearby. 34M had a large puncture in his chest, suggesting that while he was being bitten and chased by the wolves he may have run into a sharp object.  The pack has not met its demise, and as many as eleven members were recently visually tracked, despite the deaths of its alpha pair this year.

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  Copyright 2001 Ralph Maughan

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