Note from Rick: though this post is about wolves, I’m certain that the situation is similar for coyotes. Family bonds are strong for both canids.
The wolf on the right in the photo, called 755 for his collar number, was once the alpha male of the Lamar Canyon pack. That ended fifteen months ago when his alpha female—the famous wolf called 06—was shot and killed by a hunter.
The results of legal wolf hunts are presented to the public as palatable statistics. In the 2012-13 hunts outside the park, for example, twelve Yellowstone wolves were killed. Six were collared wolves that—when alive—provided valuable research data. One of those collared wolves was 06. Such statistics don’t begin to tell the whole story of the impact of one bullet. Here’s what happened—and is still happening—to 755.
The death of 06 left 755 outside the park with breeding season just around the corner. His drive to reproduce was strong, but he had a pack full of females that he would not mate with since they were his daughters. He left his family, returned to the Lamar Valley, and mated with an eligible female.
A few days later his daughters returned to the valley. They attacked their father’s new mate. She limped off to die in the woods. The next day 755 howled and pleaded with his family members to join him. None did. 755 left the Lamar Valley alone. He eventually found two more mates but neither of those couplings led to the creation of a new pack in which he could resume his alpha role.
The wolf on the left in the picture, called 889, is the fourth wolf with which 755 has tried to start a pack. Wolf watchers believe she is pregnant. Even if pups are born, the pack’s chances of survival are not good.
Wolf experts have found that pack size matters. When 755 was the alpha male, the Lamar Canyon pack contained eleven wolves. Now he has only 889, though a couple of other wolves sometimes travel with them.
Having only one other wolf—instead of ten—by your side presents life-threatening problems. Two wolves bring down less prey and eat less often than a larger pack. When 755 and 889 make a kill, they lose more of it to ravens and other scavengers. Pups in smaller packs have less chance of surviving in general. Wolves—regardless of age—in smaller packs are more likely to die from mange. For reasons such as these, a smaller pack has less chances of staying together. 755 may find himself without a pack again—if he survives.
Listing the results of wolf hunts as totals or quotas ignores an essential truth: the death of a wolf—especially an alpha—throws the delicate social order of a pack into life-threatening disarray, forcing many wolves to choose new leaders, new roles, new lives.
To read more about Yellowstone’s wolves and the Lamar Valley, check out my best selling new book, In the Temple of Wolves at http://amzn.to/Jpea9Q