This mating is no game

  • Wolf footprints drawing

    Diane Sylvain

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, The wolves are back, big time.

Federal biologists are playing matchmaker. When six more gray wolves were trundled into Yellowstone Jan. 20, one male was introduced to a prospective new mate, and biologists hoped the two wouldn't fight. They didn't.

Although the wolves postured, displaying bravado typical of the animals meeting for the first time, they appeared to be getting along famously.

Biologists had first planned to add the new 120-pound male to the pen only with a fenced buffer zone between it and the female that arrived last week. But they later decided the two might hit it off better if they could check each other out right away.

"There is some risk here," said Wayne Brewster, the park biologist leading the effort to return wolves to the national park.

"But sooner or later, they're going to have to figure each other out, and they might do that more easily if we don't interfere."

Both animals, the leading male and female from two different wolf packs roaming western Alberta, will have plenty of time to get to know each other. The pair, along with the female's pup, will stay in a one-acre pen in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley for some six to eight weeks.

With the six new wolves that arrived in Yellowstone, a total of 14 wolves are prowling custom-designed, chain-link pens, itching for freedom.

If biologists see signs that the wolves have mated, they may let them go earlier. Then the pair can scout for den sites and wander among the herds of elk and bison crowding Yellowstone's northern range.

Rather than chasing the animals from their pens when it's time for them to go, park biologists will simply leave the gates open so the animals can depart at their leisure.

Park staff will stop hauling road-killed elk and deer carcasses to the pens at that point, Brewster said, although they may leave some carcasses in the area as the wolves adjust to their radio-collared liberty.

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