Wolves continued to be visible to park visitors during the spring of 1996. My own wolf observations this spring were about twice my 1995 rate, mostly taking place in Slough Creek Valley. On the morning of June 18, I met with 100 visitors at the Slough Creek area in hopes of viewing the wolves.
Around 6 a.m. we spotted eight members of the Rose Creek Pack (No. 8, the alpha male, and all seven yearlings) in a meadow at the lower end of Slough Creek Valley. The wolves gradually moved upstream along the western bank of the creek. At 6:15, the wolves sighted a small group of elk cows further upstream, with at least one calf. The pack ran toward the elk, with No. 8 in the lead position. At first, the calf ran at the front of the herd but then began to slow down. No. 8 was clearly gaining on the calf. As the wolves reached the elk, the herd reversed direction and ran downstream. Two black yearlings and a charcoal yearling ran up to the calf and the charcoal wolf made first contact. A moment later, at least four wolves were attacking the calf. Within a minute, all eight were feeding on the carcass. The tails of the wolves were wagging and held high. During the next hour, the pack remained in the general area of the kill, feeding on the carcass and resting, scattered over an area of several hundred yards.
At 7:15, No. 8 jumped up and ran uphill at top speed, away from the creek. Two black yearlings also jumped up and joined the alpha male. At first, I assumed that they were going after another calf. A few moments later, however, I saw four wolves running downhill toward the Rose Creek wolves. This group contained two grays, a black, and a white wolf. I assumed it was the Druid Peak Pack.
At this point several things occurred at once and I wasn't able to follow all the action. I stayed with No. 8 and saw that he and the yearlings had caught and pinned down one of the gray wolves, the Druid Peak alpha male (No. 38). It appeared that at least five Rose Creek wolves were attacking him in the same way that they had pinned down and attacked the calf. After about one minute, No. 38 escaped or was let go by the other wolves. No. 8 immediately started chasing No. 38 diagonally up the high slope on the western side of the creek.
Both wolves looked like they were going at top speed up the steep hill. When I swung my spotting scope back to the other wolves, I found that the seven Rose Creek yearlings had chased the white wolf into the water. This was wolf No. 39, the Druid Peak alpha female. She turned around and swam back to the bank. Just after she got back on land, the yearlings charged at her again. She jumped back into the water and swam toward the eastern bank. She found her direct route blocked by a large tree floating horizontally in the water and tried to climb over the thick trunk, but got caught in the branches and seemed momentarily stuck. The yearlings stopped their pursuit at the edge of the water and watched No. 39. If they had continued to pursue her, they could easily have caught her at the tree.
The yearlings backed off again, and the white wolf returned to the western bank and watched them as they moved away. We could see that she was howling but could not hear the howl. To the north of No. 39 we spotted the black Druid Peak wolf (No. 41 or No. 42). She was also howling, probably in answer to No. 39. This yearling wolf was left alone by the Rose Creek wolves. I next saw the seven yearlings chase the other gray wolf (No. 40) up the slope. This seemed to be a half-hearted chase and the gray - another yearling female - easily escaped.
At 7:26, No. 39 ran upstream toward the black wolf, continually looking back over her shoulder at the scene of the attack. At 7:36, the seven yearlings ran toward the white and black wolves with No. 17 leading the charge. The yearlings broke off the pursuit and returned to the attack area. They smelled the spot where the Druid Peak alpha male had been pinned, possibly sniffing his blood. The yearlings then walked uphill in the general direction of their den site. At 7:56, the last of the yearlings disappeared into the trees.
I did not see any wolves after that. I believe the white and black Druid Peak wolves continued upstream. I lost track of No. 40 but assumed that she swung around and joined the other two. After the wolves disappeared, I turned to the visitors near me. Most of them had never seen a wolf in the wild before, and they were all excitedly talking about what they had just seen. I realized that this was the perfect moment to interpret the background history of this encounter between the two packs.
In early May, the Crystal Creek alpha male, No. 4, was found dead in the eastern end of Lamar Valley. His injuries indicated that he likely had been killed by other wolves. The Druid Peak Pack was in the area at the time and a visitor videotaped them chasing one of the other Crystal Creek wolves. It seems likely that the alpha male was killed by the Druid Peak Pack during a surprise encounter.
The Rose Creek alpha male is the 2-year- old son of the Crystal Creek alpha male. He joined the Rose Creek pack last October and since then has served as the stepfather of the yearlings. Their biological father had been illegally shot and killed in April 1995. The new alpha male fathered the pack's 1996 pups. He was the wolf who led the charge against the Druid Peak pack and caught, pinned, and attacked their alpha male. When that male broke away from the attack the Rose Creek alpha chased him out of the territory. He had no way of knowing that this wolf was probably responsible for the death of his father. By now, we were discussing the Shakespearean dimensions of what we had just witnessed: a young male wolf unknowingly gets revenge on the wolf that has likely killed his father. At the same time he saved his own pack from attack and loss of territory. As we gathered up our scopes and binoculars one man who had attended many of my programs and who had accompanied me to Slough Creek came over and said, "Thank you for giving me the best experience of my life." I agreed with him; this was by far the finest experience I've had in 20 years of watching wolves.
This article appeared in the May/June 1996 issue of "Yellowstone
Wolf Tracker: A Bulletin on Wolf Recovery in Yellowstone."