How to find Wolves in Yellowstone

Yellowstone wolf running in snow in Crystal Creek pen; January 1996; Accession No. 15606 Courtesy US National Park Service
Yellowstone wolf running in snow in Crystal Creek pen; January 1996; Accession No. 15606
Courtesy US National Park Service
Outlying wolves of the Northern Rocky Mountain population occasionally wander into Utah, but seeing one is rare. If you want to increase your chances of viewing one of these majestic beasts, the best place to go is the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park.How to find Wolves in Yellowstone

Wolf standing in water, in Grand Teton National Park, close to Yellowstone. Courtesy US National Park Service.
Wolf standing in water,
in Grand Teton National Park,
close to Yellowstone.
Courtesy US National Park Service.

For over six decades, wolves were missing from Yellowstone’s ecosystem. But on a cold January day in 1995, eight gray wolves from Canada were released in the park in an effort to restore the predator to this native habitat.

Before their release, wolves were the only indigenous mammal missing from the Park. The last pack of wolves were killed in the 1920s.

The Park is now one of the few ecosystems in the temperate world to have the same mammals wandering around, as it had hundreds of years ago.

A mother wolf nursing her pups outside their den. 7-16-2010 Courtesy US National Park Service
A mother wolf nursing her pups outside their den. 7-16-2010
Courtesy US National Park Service

Today, approximately 88 wolves live in Yellowstone.

Finding one of these gray wolves is challenging, but if a person knows where to look, with the right equipment, the chances increase considerably.

Nathan Varley, a naturalist guide with Yellowstone Wolf Tracker says, “Wolves are usually spotted from long distances, using high quality optics. Recently, I guided a group that had their first wolf sighting over two miles away. We patiently watched the pack of 11 wolves move until they were less than a mile away.”

Leopold wolf following grizzly bear Courtesy US National Park Service, Doug Smith Photographer, April 2005
Leopold wolf following grizzly bear
Courtesy US National Park Service,
Doug Smith Photographer, April 2005

“The pack encountered a bison herd and attempted to single out a calf. The herd rallied, surrounding the calf so the wolves couldn’t get to it. Snow began to fall so we lost sight of the hunt, but learned later the pack was unsuccessful. We found them the next day, many miles away.”

Before arriving in Yellowstone, visitors may want to learn how to distinguish coyotes from wolves.

Two wolf pups gnaw on bison bones Courtesy US National Park Service
Two wolf pups gnaw on bison bones
Courtesy US National Park Service

Rick McIntire, who researched Yellowstone wolves with the U.S. Park Service since 1995, explains, “In a given wolf pack territory which may be 300 square miles, there could be 10 coyote packs. So the chances of visitors seeing coyotes before wolves is high.

McIntire gives the following tips for identifying coyotes and wolves:

“It may be hard to tell smaller wolves from bigger coyotes. One thing to look for is coyotes have big ears and narrow jawlines like a fox, whereas wolves have ears that are proportional to the size of their heads, and strong stout jaws.

Their vocalizations are also different. Wolves have a deep howl, while coyote’s howl has a high pitched tone.

The wolves color may also help. Roughly half of Yellowstone wolves are black and since coyotes are never that dark, if you see a group of canines and one of them is black you have found a wolf pack.

The best place to begin the search is the northeast corner of the park at Lamar Valley – the “Serengeti” of the Yellowstone. Many prey gather here, which attract the large predators like bears and wolves.

Once you arrive, find an appropriate place to park, set up your viewing equipment close to your car, then settle down for a relaxing couple hours of observation. Patience often pays off, so be alert.

Daniel MacNulty, associate professor in the Quinney College of Natural Resource at USU, who has been studying the Yellowstone wolves for the past two decades said, “Watch for prey standing alert looking at something, follow their gaze, they may point you directly to a wolf pack.”

So if you’re ready to find one of these majestic beasts, gather some family or friends, your high quality optics – and head north. The northern road in Yellowstone which passes Lamar Valley is open all year long, so you won’t have to wait till spring.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

How to find Wolves in Yellowstone-Credits:

Images: Courtesy US National Park Service:

Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

How to find Wolves in Yellowstone-Additional Reading

Wildlife Viewing, Yellowstone National Park, US National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/viewanim.htm

Yellowstone National Park, US National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm

Inside Yellowstone Videos – Lamar Valley and Wolves, Yellowstone National Park, US National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/photosmultimedia/0031lamarvalley-iy.htm

Wolves, Yellowstone National Park, US National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/wolves.htm

Maps, Yellowstone National Park, US National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/maps.htm

Blakeslee, Nate, American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West, Crown; First Edition edition (October 17, 2017), https://www.amazon.com/American-Wolf-Story-Survival-Obsession/dp/1101902787

Lamplugh, Rick, Deep into Yellowstone: A Year’s Immersion in Grandeur and Controversy, https://www.amazon.com/Deep-into-Yellowstone-Immersion-Controversy/dp/1546448322

Allphin, Don, Not crying wolf: There really are wolves in Utah, Herald Extra, Logan, Jan 9, 2015, https://www.heraldextra.com/print-specific/columnists/not-crying-wolf-there-really-are-wolves-in-utah/article_4c19beea-06c2-59d4-b963-49fe2fd48136.html

Wolves in Utah, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/wolf/

Utah Wolves, Sierra Club Utah Chapter, https://utah.sierraclub.org/content/utah-wolves

Utah Wolves, The Wildlife News, http://www.thewildlifenews.com/category/wolves/utah-wolves/
See also:
http://www.thewildlifenews.com/about/
How to find Wolves in Yellowstone

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Yellowstone Gray Wolf, Photo Courtesy US FWS. Tracy Brooks, Photographer
Yellowstone Gray Wolf(Canis lupus)
Photo Courtesy US FWS
Tracy Brooks, Photographer

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Yellowstone Gray Wolf with Radio Collar, Photo Courtesy US FWS, William Campbell, PhotographerYellowstone Gray Wolf(Canis lupus)
With Radio Collar
Photo Courtesy US FWS
William Campbell, Photographer

Hi, I’m Holly Strand.

In January, a movie called “the Grey” briefly flashed across theater screens. The plot pits man against nature: after a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness, 7 men struggle to return civilization. In the process, the group is whittled down one by one, victims of ferocious and hungry wolves.

Author Barry Lopez says the wolf as human predator is a theme that runs deep into the human psyche. Thus, this movie is just the latest in a long line of wolf eats man stories. Little Red Riding Hood maybe the most famous example. Aesop’s fables are full of wolves with questionable intentions. The tale that chills me the most is a flashback within Willa Cather’s My Ántonia. Riding sleds in a snowstorm, an entire wedding party is attacked and then devoured by a pack of hungry wolves, the bride screaming in terror until she is taken down and finished off….. Ugh.

On the other hand we have legends and accounts that praise the wolf as noble and even familial. Many native American groups revered the wolf for its strength and survival skills.

The founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus were supposedly raised by wolves, as was Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. In 1963 Farley Mowat published Never Cry Wolf, which led many people to see wolves in a more sympathetic light.

So how do wolves regard humans? Are we a creature to be avoided or are we dinner entrees?

Not long ago, a team of researchers examined the data on wolf attacks from a handful of European countries plus North America. From these records they drew the following conclusions:

  1. The majority of attacks on humans involve wolves with rabies.
  2. Among non-rabid attacks, most victims were children, and to a lesser extent, adult women.
  3. When wolves lose their fear of humans, attacks increase dramatically.
  4. Wolf–dog hybrids are innately less fearful of humans, making them extremely dangerous.
  5. And lastly—and not surprisingly—provoking a wolf is likely to incite an attack. Cornering a wolf or entering a den with pups is not a good idea.


The study also confirmed that the number of attacks on humans has dropped dramatically in the last century. This is not just because there are fewer wolves. It’s that the situations leading to attacks are not common anymore:

For instance, the incidence of rabies has dropped dramatically in North America and Europe.

And we no longer send our children out alone to tend sheep or other livestock, an invitation for a wolf attack.

Another factor is that legislation has curtailed the breeding of wolf-dog hybrids. Now 40 U.S. states effectively forbid the ownership, breeding and importation of wolf-dogs, while others impose some form of regulation upon ownership.

In summary, the consensus of wolf specialists is that under normal circumstances people aren’t on the wolf’s menu. Bears, cougars, tigers and other large carnivores are more likely to attack humans.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.


Credits:

Images: Courtesy US FWS http://images.fws.gov
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading:


Carnahan, Joe. Director. 2012. The Grey http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1601913/

Linnell, J.D.C., R. Andersen, Z. Andersone, L. Balciauskas, J.C. Blanco, L. Biotani, S. Brainerd, U. Breitenmoser, I. Kojola, O. Liberg, J. Loe, H. Okarma, H. Pedersen, C. Promberger, H. Sand, E. Solberg, H. Valdmann, P. Wabakken. 2002. The fear of wolves: A review of wolfs attacks on humans. NINA Oppdragsmelding: 731:1-65. http://www.lcie.org/docs/damage%20prevention/linnell%20nina%20op%20731%20fear%20of%20wolves%20eng.pdf

Löe J. and E. Röskaft. 2004. Large Carnivores and Human Safety: A Review. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment Aug 2004 : Vol. 33, Issue 6, pg(s) 283-288

Lopez, Barry. 2004. Of Wolves and Men. Twenty-fifth anniversary edition, Scribner.

Mech, L. David. 1991. The way of the wolf. Voyageur Press, Stillwater, MN

Palamar, Colette. A History of Attitudes Toward Wolves. University of Idaho.

http://www.class.uidaho.edu/kpgeorge/issues/wolves_history/history_symbol.htm [accessed April 18, 2012]

Silver, Marc. 2012. Would Real Wolves Act Like the Wolves of ‘The Grey’? National Geographic interview of Daniel MacNulty, Utah State University. [accessed April 18, 2012]