"The gaze of the wolf reaches into our soul." Barry Lopez
To live in Yellowstone is to dwell in constant wonder and delight. I’m still marveling over the bison grazing in my front yard in the morning, or the ghostly steam rising from a hotspring on a pale winter’s day. Yet nothing in the park transports me into such heights of unadulterated joy than the sight of a wolf trotting over the landscape. For me, wolves represent the fearless, bold, and magnificent character of wildness. Aldo Leopold captured it perfectly in describing the wolf as having eyes filled with “fierce green fire” and their howl an “outburst of wild defiant sorrow.”
On our drive to work this morning, my co-worker and I stopped to observe five wolves in Mammoth Hot Springs wandering and resting on a small hillside frosted with last night’s snow. A few other fellow staff members also gazed at the wolves, along with some park visitors. All shared the same look of delight.
I did not have my good camera with me (first rule of thumb--always bring your camera along in Yellowstone) but I was able to make a short video.
This afternoon, another happy wolf surprise arrived in a letter from the Yellowstone Park Foundation. One of my close friends, Susan McCarthy, had made a donation to the non-profit to purchase a radio collar for the Yellowstone Wolf Project. She had requested that they inscribe the collar “For My Friend Beth Pratt.” Susan—you are too wonderful—what a special gift!
Over the winter, Doug Smith, the Wolf Project leader, and his crew collared a number of wolves. My collar was placed on wolf 495M, a six-year old black alpha male of Mollie’s Pack and also at 143 pounds, the largest wolf ever recorded in Yellowstone National Park. We must share a love of good food!
The letter from the Foundation relates a comment from the park researcher: “As the two sedated wolves came into view…we saw what looked to be a gray wolf next to a good sized black bear. We immediately joked with Wolf Project leader Doug Smith that he had darted the wrong species, but indeed it was a wolf, the 143 pound alpha male 495M.” When I think of this magnificent creature bounding through the park with my name on his collar, I admit I get a bit teary-eyed. Doug Smith and crew—thank you for all the incredible work you do with wolves in the park!
In 2007, I took a great course through the Yellowstone Association about wolves from Doug Smith. Our class was so inspired by his teaching that we pooled our resources to also sponsor a collar (and inscribed it with an Aldo Leopold quote), which was placed on wolf 482M. These collars enable researchers to gather valuable information about the wolves in the park. If you would like to consider funding a radio collar or donating to the Yellowstone Wolf Project, visit the Yellowstone Park Foundation’s website.
You can learn more about 495M and the Yellowstone wolves by visiting the National Park Service’s science pages. Doug Smith has also co-authored an excellent book about Yellowstone's wolf reintroduction called Decade of the Wolf.
I’ll keep you posted on 495M’s adventures!