My guest today is an author and “wolf whisperer” Rick McIntyre. Rick is a Naturalist who has been observing wolves in Yellowstone Park since they were reintegrated in 1995. His fourth book in his wolf series, THE ALPHA FEMALE WOLF, follows female alpha 06 and her two partners, brothers 754 and 755. Rick shares the uplifting and, at times heart-wrenching stories of these wolf families. How they love, cooperate, war, survive, live and even kill. What he demonstrates through these glorious animals is not only how close we are in behavior and how similar our “family” dynamics are, but the most successful packs were the families led by the most helpful and compassionate Alphas. You would think it would be the most aggressive or savage Alphas that dominated, but the wolves remind us that together, and with love, we can live longer, and our communities can thrive with that approach. Enjoy
Listen to the episode here:
- Naming the Wolves [00:12:03]
- Reintroducing Wolves in Yellowstone [00:14:35]
- Why People Hunt Wolves [00:20:16]
- Protecting Wolves [00:24:53]
- In a “Family” of Wolves [00:38:39]
- The Story of 06 [00:41:22]
- The Physical and Emotional Aspects of Being a Witness [00:54:39]
- Mange in Wolves [00:59:55]
- Wolf Hunts [01:05:18]
- 06’s Role in the Pack [01:10:29]
- 42’s Evil Sister [01:12:01]
- Howling [01:18:27]
- Wolves’ Diet [01:25:25]
- The Day 42 Saved 21 [01:27:38]
- Threats to Wolves [01:31:15]
Uplifting & Heart-Wrenching Stories from Yellowstone’s Alpha Wolves with ‘Wolf Whisperer’ Rick McIntyre
“When I talk to people that have never seen wolves in Yellowstone and they start asking questions, I oftentimes tell them that they may not realize it but they already know a lot about wolf behavior because of their previous experience with dogs. That’s why it’s easy for people to relate to our wolves and to understand them because of their background with dogs in their lives.”
“It’s my obligation to bear witness to these stories and these stories so that people can understand what the lives of wild wolves are like. My real goal, in the long run, is to turn around attitudes toward wolves and turn around people that want to kill them. I’m happy to say that people have come up to me, for some reason, it’s always women, and have told me that they bought some extra copies of my early books and gave them to their male friends who are anti-wolf. Every time they’ve had a response from those men, they said that it did change them. That’s what I’m trying to do, change people.”
My guest is Rick McIntyre. He has a new book out, which is the fourth in a series about wolves and it’s called The Alpha Female Wolf. I’m going to do the intro a little bit differently. I want to set the table on some things that are important. This is not my customary interview where we’re talking to doctors and scientists, like, “Here are a million takeaways.”
This was a little different and I’ll explain why I wanted to do it and also set the table for some things that are important. If I don’t explain, it may be a little confusing as you get settled into this conversation. One, I would like to say that Rick is in a cabin in Yellowstone. Also, I hope you tolerate me a little bit because there was a lot of information that I thought was interesting for the layman and not the wolf expert.
Because Rick is passionate about these wolves, these, packs, and the stories, I could lose him in the story and then not be able to stop and go, “What about this little information or detail?” A lot of times, I did step on him so forgive me. Please bear with me because I had to reach across to make it happen. It was not as easy on this one.
In 1995, they started doing a reintegration of wolves into Yellowstone Park. Rick was brought there and he had some experience with wolves in Alaska and some other places and he was a naturalist and it’s like, “I’m going to be your educator.” They brought him in ‘94. In ‘95, they started bringing the wolves and there’s a whole process to get them integrated because also, you want them to stay in Yellowstone because they’re surrounded by four states where it’s legal to hunt wolves.
They did not want the wolves to migrate back north. A lot of these wolves came from Canada. There’s a whole process in that. They started in ‘95. Rick’s there to support any thinking, “In these first few days, I hope I get a glimpse of a wolf this month.” What happened is he started seeing wolves all the time and this prompted him to go, “I’m going to pivot and we’re going to do this differently.”
It was about a ten-year period that Rick did not miss a day observing these wolves, these packs, and these families. Jane Goodall, who wrote the foreword to this book, calls him The Wolf Whisperer. This is somebody who spent 6 to 10 hours a day sometimes in -42 or -50-degree weather writing notes, 12,000 pages of handwritten notes, and 100,000 hours observing these creatures. He was dedicated to this for fifteen years.
Why do I want to have this conversation? First off, the similarity of the dynamics between wolves and humans is astounding. From Rick’s point of view, he doesn’t think we’re more similar and dynamic with any other creature. I’m sure, when we see primates, there’s something similar but as far as family, cooperation, strategy, and all these things, and even the emotions, we line up incredibly and that’s probably why our domestic dogs integrate into our families so well.
By the way, all the proceeds of the books go to supporting the wolves. When I tell you that this is somebody who is passionate and pure about what they’re doing, it’s an inspiration. Also, there are some important stories in these books and characters, wolves, that are a real reminder to us about how we can thrive.
I want to set the table and encourage you to have some patience. They named the wolves with numbers. They don’t want people getting comfortable, like, “There’s Bobby and Sam.” They want these wolves to stay natural. They don’t intervene. They let the packs even duke it out and fight it out even though it’s emotional and stressful for the people observing it.
Rick observes everything from half a mile to a mile away. They’d have a few of the wolves collared. They have some other ways of understanding what’s going on with these wolves but they stay away. They named them like 06, the one that The Alpha Female Wolf book is about. She was born in 2006 so they call her 06. There are some other characters that you’re going to hear us talking about that I want to, at the top of the show, give you a tiny little bit of context on who these wolves are so that when you’re reading, it’s not confusing. Have a little bit of patience.
Also, I will say the books have gorgeous pictures of each of the wolves so you can connect with them visually. That’s what I would try to do. There are some important wolves. You have 06 and this is about her and her family. She had two brothers that are partners and that was 754 and 755. That’s the family from this story. You will hear us talk about going way back because 06 is related to a family that was made by a female, 42, and a super wolf, alpha male, 21.
42 and 21 were one of the most successful wolf families Yellowstone has ever seen. Their pups thrived. They live longer. Wolves live anywhere from 5 to 7.5 years in the wild. Both of these wolves live close to ten years. Their pack flourished and even the indication of dealing with mange and things like that. This family did so well. At the core of this family, over and over, you’ll Rick talk about how cooperative they were and how helpful and strategic 42 is.
Even though 21 was the super wolf, he never killed any of his opponents. Of course, wolves are fighting for territory and resources and oftentimes, it ends with one alpha killing another alpha. In all of his confrontations, 21 never killed any of his opponents. One would say, “If we’re talking about humans, great compassion and restraint,” whatever you want to say.
Another important thing to know about 21 is he was raised by a wolf that was the runt of his litter, which was number 8. Number 8 displayed some of the same traits of being compassionate. Rick had the opportunity to observe 8, 9, 21’s mother, and all these other families. This was the Druid pack around 06. In the book, they talk about the Mollie’s and they have this war.
Each area has a name. Each pack is connected to a certain specific area. You had 21 and 42 and everybody thriving more because of the way that they took care of each other and took care of the pack and how they approach things. What was interesting is 42 had a sister, 40. She was a psychopath. She was an alpha female. I won’t give away what happened to 40. She would kill her siblings, pups. They said that she had killed about nine other wolves. It’s a different approach.
[bctt tweet=”I like to share my experiences, my knowledge, and my stories with people.”]
I love talking to scientists and doctors and how can we help our mental health, our physical health, and all of it. These books, these stories, and these animals have so many stories, examples, and reminders back to us that if we’re going to thrive as an individual, as a partnership, as a collective, and as a family, of course, you want to be smart, make good decisions and do some of the right things. Being compassionate, reasonable, and loving, in the end, benefits everybody. Being aggressive, violent, or dominant, not only is there hardly a time for it, but in the long run, that doesn’t work out. You’ll read in the conversation, and even for 40, it doesn’t work out. That felt important to me.
We’re going through unusual times and it’s easy to feel reactionary and impulsive. More than ever, we need to have self-restraint and love in our hearts even when we’re scared, frustrated or feel like someone’s infringing on us. That was the other reason I wanted to have this conversation. It’s not my typical one. We are talking about animals like they’re people. You have this opportunity to learn about these stories about these animals and it is no different.
I get inspired when I see people that are dedicated to something for the sake of being dedicated. He suffered a lot to do this. He’d have 90 go to sleep and he wouldn’t know when he saw seventeen wolves going to a den and if everybody in the den and the pups included would be dead from the opposing pack until morning. Imagine spending hours and hours outside by yourself in the cold and watching these incredible creatures. With that, I hope you enjoy my conversation with Rick McIntyre. I appreciate your patience and letting me do something a little bit different. As usual, I appreciate you spending time with me. Enjoy.
Rick McIntyre, I read your fourth book, The Alpha Female Wolf. It’s your fourth book, right?
In that series, yes. I have earlier books but you could say it’s the fourth book.
About the wolves. I know we’re going to travel to a lot of places. I would like to encourage people who are reading this that you purposely gave the wolves names as numbers and one is that you don’t want people who were there thinking of them as their friends and thinking of them as people. At Yellowstone, you guys wanted that distance so the wolves could live as naturally and away from people and not be adjusted to people.
I want to encourage people to have patience with the numbers. I got used to it. I read some of your other books where a lot of this starts with 8 and 9 and see if people could change their thinking and thinking about the numbers and associating it with wolves. This book, The Alpha Female, was it a surprise to you? What I’d love to know is, first, maybe you could share how many years and hours you observed the wolves that were reintegrated and put into Yellowstone. It’s pretty astounding how many years and hours you’ve observed these beautiful creatures.
Yes, let’s get into that. You know the basic story that wolves were very much native animals. When Yellowstone was established as a national park, the early rangers, like everyone else in the country in the old days, felt that they were no good. The park rangers exterminated the original Yellowstone population. We eventually realized that was wrong and we brought them back in 1995. I had already started to work here at that time.
Rick, when you started there, I’m curious, in your mind, before 1995, you were going to be educating people and teaching them but what did you think that your job was going to be primarily made up of before 1995?
That’s a good question to get into because that does bring us back to the beginning of my own story in Yellowstone. I started in the spring of ‘94, the year before the reintroduction, and I was brought on with the title of Wolf Interpreter. I was the only one in the world to have that title because I had already worked with wolves in Alaska at Denali National Park and then also in Glacier National Park in Northern Montana.
Up through that point, my title, when I worked for the park service, was a naturalist, the naturalist of the rangers that do the campfire talks, the children’s programs, and all those things. My specialty was communication. I was brought on to promote and explain the wolf reintroduction program, the proposed program. The wolves weren’t there yet but all of my programs and all of my talks had to do with what we planned to do.
When I returned in ‘95, it was a little bit after the wolves had been released, my job switched to being something different and unexpected. We never thought that the Canadian wolves, who were heavily hunted, trapped, and had reason to be terrified of human beings, somehow realized that Yellowstone was a safe place for them. We began to see them almost every day, particularly one pack known as the Crystal Creek Pack. We were not prepared for that.
For that first summer, my goal was to try to see at least one wolf over the course of the summer. If I had, I would have been a happy guy. I saw the entire six-member family of that pack on my first full day in the park. I had to adjust quickly to this new reality in Yellowstone. That pack lived in a section of the park that is fifteen miles from where I am. That had little visitation because there were no lakes, no geysers, and no hot springs, very few people came up there, and it radically changed.
Back then, I’m not sure what our visitation was, maybe 1.5 million visitors a year, and now it’s 5 million visitors a year. Many of them are coming here with the primary goal of seeing wolves. In my previous career, since I’d worked with park visitors all the time every day in my jobs in other national parks, that was fine with me. I was used to being around crowds, used to talking to people, and used to helping them. It’s easy for me to adjust to that.
It’s a pretty good deal to have a job where you help people see wolves. I would get out there early in the morning, I would find the wolves, and I would have my spotting scopes set up. Because I was in a park ranger uniform and I stood out, car after car would stop and ask, “What are you doing? What are you seeing?” I would invite people to look through the scope and the reaction was universal, people were thrilled and excited beyond belief to be able to see a family of wild wolves. All of that was unexpected. We hadn’t planned it.
Rick, two things before we move on. I read that originally, wasn’t it Leopold the person who killed wolves and then rethought this? Was he not part of bringing this idea to life or making the suggestion?
I’m pleased that you brought that up because that is something that relates well to our story. Aldo Leopold was a wildlife biology professor. Prior to that, he was one of many people involved in working for the US Forest Service whose job was to kill off the wolves. He was a wolf exterminator. He gradually converted to the opposite side. Way back in the 1940s when wolves were still being killed everywhere, he was the first one to suggest reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone. We honored the part that he played in calling one of the first packs here the Leopold Pack. Yes, he had a huge influence on Yellowstone.
It’s such a curious thing, we hunt these animals but yet the visits will go five times to witness or get a glimpse of one of these beautiful walls. From where you are, what do you think is in people, this push and pull that’s like, “I want to see it. I want to destroy it.” Is it the fear of the unknown? Why do you think that is?
That’s a big subject to get into, the psychology of it. The first thought that I have to convey is when I’m dealing with visitors in Yellowstone, they’re universally and extremely pro-wolf. I can’t even remember the last time, inside the park, I had a conversation with anyone that did not like wolves. However, it is true that the state of Montana, which butts up against Yellowstone, does allow legal wolf hunting, also Idaho and Wyoming as well. That’s a subject we can get into if we want to. Outside the park, that is legal. There is a court case now that we’re watching closely that we hope will lower the number of wolves that will be killed on the northern border of Yellowstone, that’s where I live.
I’ll give you a quick example. The pack that I mainly study is the Junction Butte pack. Over two years ago, eight members were shot and killed in the Montana hunt and four of those were pups, the other four were yearlings. They were in a young stage of their life. They didn’t understand the danger of leaving the park. We feel we’ve made some progress. This court case that’s up for review right now, we’re optimistic that this will greatly limit the number of wolves that can be taken. We feel we have the wind in our back right now.
I’m asking this out of genuine curiosity. There are certain animals that people hunt because they’re going to eat them. To me, that’s a different relationship. I never understood people hunting a tiger or something where it’s an ornament. A wolf falls under the category of it being a challenge and an ornament versus there’s not that other type of relationship where they honor the animal, they eat the animal, and they do that part of it. Is that more where people are hunting? These animals are anywhere from 100 to, the biggest female, 135 pounds. These are large and beautiful animals. Is that mostly what’s happening when people are hunting wolves?
To define some terms, I have many friends who are subsistence hunters. That would mean that you’re shooting a deer or you’re shooting an elk so that you can feed your family with it. A higher percentage of my friends in Alaska were in that category. I don’t hunt myself. If that’s why you’re doing it, I’m okay with that, if you’re hunting to feed your family. That’s what wolves do, they’re professional predators, and they kill to feed their families.
The other category would be trophy hunters. If you shoot a lion in Africa, you’re not shooting it to eat it. If you shoot a wolf in Montana, you’re not shooting it to eat. It’s a trophy. It is legal to do that in the surrounding states. What we’re trying to work on our end, the conservationist is here, is to at least limit the amount of wolf hunting and trapping to the bare minimum. I’ll put it that way.
You have to be sensitive because if you’re trying to work in lockstep with people to make it better, it’s not about criticizing them. I was curious. I did appreciate that Leopold had this change of heart after killing wolves and then being like, “We shouldn’t be killing them.” I appreciated that. You started seeing these wolves.
How do they reintroduce them? What’s that process look like? I was fascinated by how they have their territories and you have these packs that have names and they go on for generations and then sometimes they disperse and new packs are born out of this. How does it initially start, in ’95, introducing these animals?
That’s a good subject to get into, thanks for asking that. No one had ever done anything exactly like this before so it was uncharted territory. Somehow we ended up with a group of men and women that came on board from all sorts of backgrounds imaginable and that team worked together. Every time a critical decision needed to be made, whatever person was in the position to make that decision somehow always made exactly the right decision.
To review briefly what the protocol was, we got an agreement from the Canadians to go first to Alberta in early 1995, and we were able to capture fourteen wild wolves, most of them were members of families. We wanted to bring down family groups as much as we could so that they would be used to each other and would want to stick together. Those three packs were each put in separate acclimation pens.
The concept was, like dogs, wolves have a homing instinct. Let’s say you have a dog and someone kidnaps your dog, it has a pretty good chance that he or she could find its way home. If you moved to a new location and then after a couple of months your dog was kidnapped, they would probably be able to understand, “We have a new territory now so I’ll go to the new home.”
We were concerned that if we let the wolves out of the back of the truck, they would start to go north toward Canada. We found from the old records when they were killing the wolves, the highest density was in the very northern section of the park, meaning close to the border. If the wolves traveled for an hour or two, they would have left Yellowstone, they would be long gone, and the whole purpose would be wiped out.
[bctt tweet=”My goal, in the long run, is to turn around attitudes toward wolves and turn around people that want to kill them.”]
The acclimation pens worked out perfectly. The main pack that I watched in the early years, the Crystal Creek Pack, claimed the area surrounding their release site. That’s the pack that I watched every day for the first couple of years. It was a risky decision, a lot was riding on that, it could have gone wrong, but it worked perfectly.
There are many beautiful and interesting things in your books but one of them is that people have to realize these animals can smell up to 40,000 to 50,000 different types of scents. These animals, that’s how they know each other, that’s how they know where they are, and things like that. I don’t think we can even sometimes wrap our heads around how well they see, hear, and smell. It’s mind-boggling.
It’s something out of Marvel Comics.
I want to dive in first to The Alpha Female Wolf book. You didn’t realize you were going to have this opportunity to have to see these animals from about half a mile to a mile away most times because you’re giving that space. You don’t want them to be comfortable with you. It feels like this book was the culmination of you having a different understanding of the way that the pack works and having such a beautiful subject in 06, the wolf. This is the legacy of Yellowstone, 06, the subtitle of your book. You have the main character, she’s a successful pack leader, and she comes from a powerful line of other wolves. What I appreciate is people can learn about the other wolves ahead of her. What made you write another book to dial into how their pack runs?
All that’s good background information, thank you for bringing that up. My first three books happen to have male wolves as the main character. There was The Rise of Wolf 8, The Reign of Wolf 21, and The Redemption of Wolf 302. It certainly was time to switch things a little bit. The main character who we knew is the 06 female was born in the year 2006. She was later radio-collared and given a number. By then, we were so used to calling her the 06 female, we stuck with that. For the record, officially, she was known by the government as wolf 832.
We knew that the early wolf biologists had been wrong, they said that the pack is led by the alpha male and he gets whatever he wishes, whatever his way is, and all the other wolves have to do what he tells them to do or he’ll beat them up. What’s a fascinating aspect of explaining that story is that the first person that figured that out was a teenage girl. For many generations, pretty much every wolf biologist out there was a man, a middle-aged guy.
A friend of mine, Paul, in the 1970s, was in charge of a wolf sanctuary. A high school girl named, Susan Bragdon, applied for permission to study the wolves for an essay contest or maybe a writing assignment for one of her classes, and he agreed. He asked her to fill out the forms that he normally filled out on the behavior of the family of wolves. When she finished her time there, she turned in her report and all the forms and as he was looking it over, he realized that she had messed up because she was saying that it was the mother wolf, the alpha female, that was the true boss of the family.
He was a good enough scientist that before he went to her to explain that she had misinterpreted the behavior, he decided to go out there and spend a few minutes watching the wolf family and make sure that nothing had changed so he could confirm, “No, that’s the big tough male that’s the boss.” Because he had just read her report and that was fresh in his mind, he realized that he was the one that was wrong for all those years and that she, with fresh eyes and an open mind, had figured out the correct hierarchy.
I had already known that story and because I had watched wolves in Alaska, I was familiar with it. Since we have such a far greater opportunity to see the behavior in detail, it’s reinforced to us every day who the real boss of the family is. One way to maybe put this in a different language is in military terms. The alpha female is the equivalent of the commanding officer and the alpha male would be considered the executive officer, kind of in Star Trek terms where Captain Kirk tells the first officer, “Make it so.”
The reason behind that, the way that I see it, the alpha female is the mother wolf. She’s raising the younger wall and she gives birth every spring. She has a lot of responsibilities. She has to plan things out. She has to figure things out. She has to look into the future. She has an agenda. She needs a certain level of compliance and success from the other members of the pack. She’s the boss and everybody is working for her.
The alpha male’s primary job then is to lead the hunting party when the alpha female was back at the den raising the pups, bringing back food for her and the pups, and defending the family from grizzly bears, mountain lions, and rival pack of wolves. He’s the muscle, the bodyguard so to speak, but he’s definitely not the boss, he just works with the boss. In one of my earlier books, I write about wolf 21, he was our undisputed and undefeated heavyweight champion of Yellowstone. He never lost a fight.
I love 21.
He was a great guy. He knew how life worked and he knew that he was not the boss of the operation, it was his longtime companion, female 42. The males, when they’re pups, they learn how life works. You might be able to get away with stuff with your father but not with your mother. Let’s say there’s a pup that’s a little bit bigger than the others and a little bit bigger and stronger and he’s playing too roughly.
When the mother notices that, she’s going to come over and grab that guy in her mouth, yank him up by his back, and give them a timeout. The mothers don’t take any off of anybody and they’re decisive. The pups can probably get away with a lot of stuff with the adult males but they know who the boss is. That continues throughout their life. 06’s daughter, 926, was much smaller than her mother.
Also, in the book, rival wolves killed her mate, and then they seem to come for her, four huge male wolves. During the night, when I wasn’t able to watch them, she converted the four males that had killed her mate to work for her and made them raise the pups that had been sired by the guy that they had killed. That was her power and they were terrified of her.
If they were feeding on a carcass and she came along, they would back off, they didn’t want to have anything to do with displeasing her. One time, the biggest of all the males who was probably 30 or 40 pounds heavier than her didn’t get out of your way quickly enough at a carcass and she destroyed him. It was embarrassing to watch but females are in charge.
Rick, I want to get into the story a little bit of the Druid’s and 06’s journey. You tell a story in one of your other books and I encourage people to check them out. Also, you put a lot of beautiful pictures so you can visualize these wolves in these scenarios even more and they’re extraordinary. You told a quick story about 21, this masculine super wolf who had one of the most successful unions with 42 who you describe as this cooperative and fair female wolf.
She had a nasty sister, 40, who killed siblings, pups, and all these things. They reigned supreme and peacefully. They had a lot of pups that survived. They lived a long time, almost ten years. You tell the story that they’re in this open field and 21, the super male, gets up to go in a direction and he does it 8 or 9 times. She doesn’t move and no one else in the pack moves. She then gets up and goes in the opposite direction and everybody goes where she goes.
Besides this idea of anticipating, “Where is there going to be food? Where would be a safe place to have pups?” It’s that strategy. We’ll go into 06’s story. There were a few things that I want people to learn about. You said that the males will bring her food but they’ll often even eat the food, twenty pounds of meat, and go to her if she’s pregnant or has pups and regurgitate the meat. I didn’t know this, this is amazing.
Let’s talk about that.
They have different personalities. Some packs are aggressive and ruthless and some are quite nice. Superhuman 21 wouldn’t kill his opponent in a fight. Things like this, you made it so human.
A way to address this is to take a step back and say that there are no two species in the world that are so similar in social behavior as wolves in humans. The absolute proof of that is how perfectly the domesticated version of the wolf, the dog, fits into a human family. It’s a perfect fit. Wolves are used for millions of years to live in a pack as a family. Most packs have parents and different generations of their young. They’re used to cooperating and working together and operating as a team.
They do compete with each other for the top position, there are squabbles, there are disagreements, and things like that. In the end, they’re a family and they work together. That’s exactly how humans evolved as well. It’s understandable how the domestic version of the wolf, the dog, became such a valued companion. At first, it’s a working animal for humans, and then a companion.
As everyone knows, whoever had a dog, a dog can look at its human companions and understand our emotions and what we’re trying to express to them. All that comes from the fact that their wolf ancestors behave very much as we do. When I talk to people who have never seen wolves in Yellowstone and they start asking questions, I oftentimes tell them that they may not realize it but they already know a lot about wolf behavior because of their previous experience with dogs. That’s why it’s easy for people to relate to our wolves and to understand them because of their background with dogs in their lives.
You say this in your book, writing these stories, even retiring from that one specific position so that you could tell these stories of the wolves to generate that hope and to share the stories of these animals. Also, you talk and write about how, ultimately, the most successful packs were the ones that were more compassionate and in that vein of cooperation and not so ruthless. Some of the more ruthless packs maybe weren’t in the long run as successful.
That’s a good lead into the part of 06’s story where she had to deal with a vicious rival. Should we get into that part of the story?
Yes, I want to talk about her.
06 was a big female by our standards but she had an enemy that was quite a bit bigger than her, extremely aggressive, and violent. For many generations, there had been a feud between 06’s genetic line and another pack that’s known as Mollie’s Pack. Ironically, it was 06’s grandmother, 40, who was also a violent wolf, that probably led the attack that led to this long-term feud between the two families.
Her grandmother was involved in attacking the original ancestors of Mollie’s wolves. They killed the alpha male and all the pups, there were only two survivors. They had to abandon their territory, 06’s ancestors stole it from them. That pack, which became known as Mollie’s pack, thrived in a remote section of Yellowstone. Maybe because they had such a challenging difficult life down there, they became the largest wolves in Yellowstone aggressive.
The alpha female, many generations later, that was the rival to 06, was known as wolf 686, she was very large. I’ve tabulated that, in her career, she killed a minimum of nine other wolves, and that included at least one alpha male. She was a tough and violent girl. We always suspected that she might have been the inspiration for Queen Cersei in the Game of Thrones series or maybe Lady Macbeth in that television series as well. She was out for blood.
Of course, she was born generations after the first attack on her ancestors but there was something in her makeup that she was out to 06’s family. Of course, 06 was innocent, she had nothing to do with any of this. I’m sure, you read the section of the book where 686, one denning season, she had not gotten pregnant. She led an assault on 06’s den a few days after 06 had given birth. Would you like me to tell that story or would you like to save that for later, what happened?
You’re in charge, Rick. I’m following you. I’m trying to slide little tidbits in that are common knowledge for you that most of us don’t know.
This is such an exciting story. Since we’ve already led into it, let me go into it. We haven’t talked about the two mates that 06 chose.
She had two lovers.
She had many lovers before those guys. She was a Disney princess. She was courted by all the biggest and the best males in the park. She would have brief relationships with them and then dump them. If they objected to that, she would beat him up and leave them bleeding on the ground. When I talk about that part of her career, I think of the song by the band, Heart, called If Looks Could Kill. The woman singer is saying to the no-good boyfriend, “If looks could kill, you’d be lying on the floor saying, ‘Please, baby, please, don’t hurt me no more.” That was 06.
If any boy displeased her, then she would turn on them and beat them up. We thought that she would never settle down, would never have pups, never have a family, and would be a lone wolf for life. When she was middle-aged, she ended up with these two brothers that were less than half her age. In human years, she would be maybe a woman in her 40s and they would be high school sophomores. Isn’t there a word when you have an older female and a much younger guy? What’s that word?
Yes, there is, a cougar.
She invented that.
It’s 754 and 755, the two brothers.
755 was more dominant but 754 always played with the pups and interact with the pups. They were serving the greater family. That was interesting.
[bctt tweet=”A hunt is essentially a team effort by a family of wolves.”]
At least on the male side, he was the biggest and strongest wolf in the family. He volunteered to be the nanny of the pups. When the pack traveled, he tried to be last in line so that he would make sure that none of the pups strayed from the path. He was especially protective of the pups and he loved to play with them.
There were many cases where the pack had to rely on him because he was the strongest and biggest of the males. He served this interesting role in the pack. In some ways, he was like, in the Marvel movie, The Incredible Hulk, the guy that you would turn to when you need the strength. At other times, he wanted to be the nanny and the babysitter.
Getting back to the story of 06 and her arrival. I haven’t talked about the two boyfriends because it didn’t make sense when she first met them and picked them above all the other bigger, stronger, and more accomplished males that were dying to pair off with her. This one particular spring, a few days after she had her pups, the den where she was located was in a forest. It wasn’t too far from the road so we could watch what was coming and going but we couldn’t see the den, which was originally dug under a tree. Her grandmother was born in that den, by the way, and then 06 found it and was using it.
We saw her enemy, 686, marching toward the den forest and she had a raiding party of seventeen wolves, which was more than twice the number of adults in 06’s pack. 686, we saw her lead her assaulting party directly into that forest where we knew 06 had just had her pups being that she had not fully recovered yet. She had the two males on her side and she had a couple of yearlings, pups from the previous year, on her side but it was nothing compared to that attacking force.
All the wolves were in the trees and we couldn’t see what was happening. Suddenly, there was an explosion of wolves coming out of the trees and it took me a few moments to realize that the lead wolf was 06, she was running for her life because behind her were 17 wolves whose intent was to tear her apart, led by 686, her enemy. Because she had just given birth, her ability to run at top speed was extremely limited and you could see that the seventeen wolves were gaining on her.
I realized that it was even more dire for her than I had first realized because 06 had made a mistake. She was running in a southerly direction, which meant that she was heading toward the top of a cliff. At that point, it was almost like watching an Indiana Jones movie where the bad guys are chasing him and then he ends up at the top of the cliff. She was going to have to stop, turn around, and, by herself, fight seventeen wolves. Even for 06, she wasn’t going to be able to survive that.
I didn’t give her enough credit because she didn’t stop when she got to the top of that cliff. She apparently had already scoped out that there was a weight down that cliff, a crevice. With no hesitation, she charged down there at full speed, about 35 miles an hour. It was loaded with sharp rocks. She probably cut up the pads on her feet but she did that and that saved her life. 686 and the other wolves stopped, they were too afraid to run down there. That’s how 06 saved her life.
That’s not the end of the story because the seventeen wolves turned around, they followed 06’s scent trail, and that was going to lead them directly back to the den. They were between her and her newborn pups. That meant that now, it was totally up to 754 and 755, her choice of those males to serve her to be heard defenders. Now, this was the climax where they were going to be up to the job.
I got my telemetry equipment out to check on the signals coming from the radio collars of the two males and it was coming directly from that forest as were the signals from the attacking wolves. For the next hour, we stood there seeing nothing but assuming that whatever had happened had already happened. The two males pretty certainly were already dead along with all of 06’s pups. We could see 06 off to the west. After an hour, all seventeen wolves from the attacking party left. I continued to do the telemetry, I continue to get the signals from 754 and 755.
I need to explain something at this point. The wolf radio collars have a component in it, a motion sensor, that if there’s no motion after a certain amount of time, the beeps per minute double, that’s called the mortality signal. It takes four hours for that to kick in because if a wolf was sleeping for three hours, you don’t want to have a false reading. I kept on checking about every 10 or 15 minutes and it was always the normal signal but the four hours were not up and then it got dark and there was nothing to see.
Reluctantly, I had to go home. I got up early the next morning and drove straight out. As I was approaching the area while I was driving, I turned on the receiver for the alpha male, 755, with great fear. To tell you the truth, I was certain it was going to be the mortality signal but it wasn’t, it was a normal signal. His brother was normal too. To cut to the quick, we eventually saw that all the adult wolves had survived and all the pups, everyone. Those two males, by themselves, had held off seventeen wolves that were intent on tearing them apart. 06 picked the right guys.
When I read your books, I can’t help but be curious about the emotional roller coaster for you and I appreciate that. I know you’re studying them. You wrote 12,000 pages of notes. You’ve looked at these animals for 100,000 hours. I understand that there’s a science element and you’re getting information. I can tell too that you liked certain wolves more than others. You can tell something about if they seem more affable or generous. You respond to that even from your witnessing point. That night, did you sleep? What do you do with that because it’s a lot?
No, I didn’t sleep very well and I was nervous when I came out because I was sure that they were all dead. That’s life for wolves. I don’t think we’ve mentioned it yet but in Yellowstone, the most common cause of death for wolves is other wolves killing them. That’s one more way that they’re like people, they fight over territory, and they fight over stuff. That’s why 06’s choice of who is going to protect her family was critical and why following that story over the years was fascinating for me.
She only had three litters. Also, females never go into menopause. Until they die, they are having pups. That’s another interesting thing. I know it’s the life of wolves and nature is tough. I thought a lot about you going through all of these journeys with these animals.
Yes, it can be an emotional roller coaster, it is. I don’t know why I was the person that ended up in this situation. There’s no logical reason why it was me. My degree is in forestry. There are a lot of people out here that have PhDs, wolf biology, and stuff like that but I was the one that ended up in the middle of this and I don’t understand why.
I like to share my experiences, my knowledge, and my stories with people. Somehow, all that came together and I can’t explain why. I’m getting close to my 10,000th day out in the field either watching wolves or at least looking for them and I never get tired of it. I’ll be getting up in the morning at about 4:45 so I can drive about 45 minutes to where the wolves might be. This is winter in Yellowstone so it’s pretty cold and I don’t do well in cold temperatures but I have to put up with it.
I was given this opportunity. It’s that Latin phrase, “Carpe diem. Seize the day. Seize the opportunity.” That’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t have a logical explanation for why I’m here but somehow I ended up here. It’s my obligation to bear witness to these stories and to tell the stories so that people can understand what the lives of wild wolves are like.
My goal, in the long run, is to turn around attitudes toward wolves and turn around people that want to kill them. I’m happy to say that people have come up to me, for some reason it’s always women, and have told me that they bought some extra copies of my early books and gave them to their male friends who are anti-wolf. Every time they’ve had a response from those men, they said that it did change them. That’s what I’m trying to do, change people.
When you talk about the cold, you shared that there were times that it gets to 42 below.
It’s really cold too. What do you do? Do you have any tricks for keeping warm besides layers? At what point is the layer not enough?
I’m thin so I don’t have too many fat layers to protect me. There are times when I probably have twelve layers and I’m still cold. To be serious, you have to watch for hypothermia. if I start to shiver, that’s a significant sign, and you have to deal with the situation. If I’m out in the cold too long, I have to go back to the car and warm up. Most days, I have to hike a certain distance to get to the wolves or come back so I can warm up. It is a challenge. I’m willing to pay the price to deal with that for the privilege of being able to watch the wolves. They’re probably more active in the winter. Because they have such thick fur, they’re impervious to the cold so they’re the exact opposite of me.
A real threat is a mange. I thought that was interesting, the wolves that have mange. Depending on how severe the mange is, they need 1,700, or something like that, more calories to survive. Besides other wolves, that’s a bit of a threat.
Mange is caused by mites that drill into the skin and then feed off of blood and tissue. Understandably, if you had something under your skin, you’d be scratching all the time, and it’s the scratching that causes the fur loss. It’s a horrible thing to witness. It’s terrible. What makes it even worse is that it was deliberately spread by human beings.
In one of my books, I write about a historic incident back in Montana. In 1903, the state legislature passed a bill that required the state veterinarian to capture wild wolves throughout the state. Let’s say from one particular pack, they capture 1 or 2 wolves. They take those wolves and put them in a pen with other wolves that have severe cases of mange. They wait until they can certify that the new wolves have caught mange due to the mites from the infected wolves.
The veterinarian was required, legally, to take those two new wolves out of the pen and release them back where their family is so they can affect the fellow members of their pack. It’s a horrible thing. It’s along the same vein when the army was giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans. It essentially was germ warfare. It’s horrible because of the suffering that it causes.
Now that we’re further down, are we seeing less mange in the wolves now, or is it a luck of the draw for one animal maybe gets it over another?
The mites are in the ecosystem and there are times when they increase and times when they decrease. We don’t quite understand why that would be. The infections come and go. A good point to make on this though is we find, in general, if a wolf is a member of a pack in good standing, the other wolves will take care of it. They will bring it food, they will watch over it, and will protect it from other wolf packs, etc.
If you’re a member of a wolf pack and you have a bad case of mange, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to be able to survive and you’ll get back to normal. If you’re a lone wolf, it’s the exact opposite. They will do what’s necessary to care for sick or incapacitated members of the family. One of my favorite stories was 21’s son, 253, who is the number two male in the family. He was a big and strong wall.
When he was helping his father defend the family from a rival pack, he was severely bitten on the leg and it was so bad that he couldn’t travel at all. A month, six weeks, or something like that, he was laid up in a meadow. The older wolves carry food from distant carcasses back and drop it off so that he could eat it. He had spent a lot of time playing with the pups in the family.
This one particular day, this little pup was old enough to travel to a carcass. I’m laughing because, in a way, it was the funniest thing in the world to see but it was also such an emotional thing. He picked up this elk leg and carried it all the way back to his big brother and gave it to him. It was a struggle for him because the leg probably weighed more than he did but he wouldn’t give up and he was determined to help out his big brother. That’s another wolf story that we see all the time here, how bonded they are to each other, and how much they care for each other.
They hunt. It’s interesting because people don’t realize that a wolf is between 85 and 145 or 150-ish pounds. Big males could be heavier.
Let’s say the average weight for an adult wolf is 100 pounds.
They have to hunt elks that are 700 pounds and, occasionally, a bison that’s 2,000 pounds. Also, they have to deal with bears that are 350 and larger. We talked about the alpha males doing their job and bringing in the muscle. Especially, in 06’s case, you talk a lot about what a ferocious hunter she was, sneaky, not backing down, being able to lure bears away from her pups, and things like that. The females do have a part and a role in that as well.
Yes. A hunt is essentially a team effort by a family of wolves. I’ve seen pups play pretty significant roles in attacking their first fall when they were only about maybe seven months old. They want to travel with the adults, they’re raring to go. It’s like everyone that has a pet dog, if you look like you’re getting ready to go for a walk, your dog would rather die than stay home. They want to go with you. The pups want to do it.
This little guy was running for all he was worth and he was biting the elk. He wasn’t accomplishing much but he understood the concept. What’s fascinating to me is it was a team effort. Generally speaking, the fastest members of the wolf pack would be the female yearlings. They would be, in the equivalent of a human family, the teenage daughters. They’re thing thin, sleek, and fastest by far. Let’s say you were a wolf and you were a yearling and maybe you had a sister that was the same age, you two would be the fastest ones.
Let’s say you were so fast and you caught up with the elk. Your job would be to lunge forward and grab a hind leg and hold on with your jaws. The problem is that the other hind leg of the elk is trying to kick you in the face and they could smash your face by doing that. You’re hoping that your sister is going to catch up and if she grabs the other hind leg, then both of you are safe. That’s an example of teamwork. All you’re doing is acting as a drag. Combined, maybe you’re 170 pounds, the two daughters, and that’s not enough to keep the elk still.
[bctt tweet=”There are no two species in the world that are so similar in social behavior as wolves in humans.”]
The other wolves are going to run in, it could be your father, your mother, your older brother, or your older sister. Let’s say it’s the alpha male. His job is also extremely dangerous because he’s going to try to run around to the front of the elk, get in position, leap up, and grab the throat of the elk, that’s the killing bite.
Even a big wolf is only about 26 or 28 inches at the shoulder, maybe the size of a good-sized German shepherd. The head of the elk, the neck, would be maybe six feet off the ground. He has to jump as high as he can, turn his jaws to the side, and then grab the throat. When he’s attached to the throat, the elk is going to try to smash him against a nearby tree or a boulder and shake him off. If he can hold on for about a minute, she’s going to die of asphyxiation because she won’t be able to breathe. He has about 1,500 pounds of pressure in his jaws.
At the same time, other members of the pack are going to be attacking the other point but that’s the fatal blow, that’s the fastest way to kill him and to stop a counterattack. That’s the first lesson a young wolf learns, we got to all work together in this or we’re not going to be able to feed. It’s teamwork. It’s a team effort. It’s like in any human endeavor, whether it’s a football team or people working in a corporation, or a podcast staff, the better you can work together.
There’s a famous quote in one of my books from a biologist where he talks about how it’s commonly misinterpreted the phrase, “Survival of the fittest.” Most people interpret that to mean the most aggressive and strongest are going to survive the longest. He said, “No. The fittest means the most cooperative,” especially if you’re talking about wolves.
If we go back to the story of the two sisters, 40 and 42, who were as different as could be, 42 eventually prevailed. She was probably the most effective wolf we’ve ever had at getting the whole pack to work together for a common goal. I said of her and in one line in my book that she could have been the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II and may have been able to do a better job than Eisenhower did. Her gift was organization. It made 21’s life easier. He was the heavyweight champion but all he had to do is what he was told by his mate and his life was pretty easy.
When you talk about how that shows up in the wolf life and organization, I know what that looks like in my world. I have three daughters, a husband, work, and everything. Is it knowing that she’s picking the right places to be and she’s disciplining at the right moment but maybe not too severely? Is it understanding? Also, does she set up the dynamic on how all the other members of the family relate to one another?
Let’s talk about that. First of all, she makes, by far, the most important decision of the year, where to den. If that’s a bad decision, probably all the pups are going to die. If it’s a good decision, there’s going to be a high survival rate. By the time she’s had her pups, she will have already trained and organized all the other members of the family. She would have gone out and hunted with them earlier in the year. She would have already shown them the best places to hunt. If the younger wolves haven’t fully learned how to be integrated into a coordinated attack, she will demonstrate how to do that.
She has to educate all of them and get them to work together properly to support her when she’s indisposed with the pups to protect her and feed her particularly. She put a lot of time and effort into befriending and supporting all the other members of the family, sharing her food with them, and supporting them. Other mothers that had pups, she would help them. Everyone in the family had reason to be beholding to her, to owe her favors. All adult wolves love to be around little pups, they love to play with them. Can I tell the story of what happened when she finally had to deal with her evil sister?
This is one of the best stories to explain how wolves operate and what they’re capable of. I do need to condense the story a little bit. she and her sister, 40, were exact opposites. 40 was extremely violent, so violent to the extent that she did something that is sign of a psychopath. Two years in a row, she killed all of 42’s pups.
Is that just to bring attention to her pups and resources?
Yes. I’ve never put it this way but you could say that she was jealous of her sister and jealous of her sister’s pup. She wanted everything for her. By the way, do you have a sister?
I’m an only child, unfortunately.
You’ve heard of sisters that don’t get along.
That takes you to a whole other level.
What can be worse than that, for one sister to kill her sister’s pups two years in a row? There was nothing that 21 could do because he had this unbreakable rule in his life to never do anything that can harm a female. He didn’t know how to deal with this. He had to rely on 42 to figure it out. We could see that, over the years, 42 was doing a lot of favors for the younger females in the family. She would help them and she would try to protect them from her sister. She eventually realized she was building an alliance with the younger females.
It all came to a head in the third spring. After two years of all of her pups being killed, she had pups for the third time, but it was a further distance away from where 40 had her pups. Late one day, I saw a 40 leave her den and travel the five miles to 42’s den. She went up into the trees where we knew 42’s pups were and we were sure she wants once more to kill them. It got dark and we couldn’t see anything so I went home.
The next morning, I got signals from both females. I assumed that the deed had been done and that 42’s pups had been killed. A woman ran to me and she was sobbing and she said, “There was an injured wolf by the side of the road and was bleeding to death.” I thought, “It’s 40 and she finally fought for her pups. I’m sure she’s bleeding to death.” We ran over there and this wolf was drenched in blood. She was still breathing but you could see that her wounds were fatal. It wasn’t 42, it was 40 and she died a few moments later.
When we did a necropsy on her, her body was full of wolf bites, way too many for just one wolf to inflict on her. To us, that was proof that the alliance of other females that 42 had built up over the years, that was the payoff, that was the climax of the story. What I think happened was 40 ran into the den and probably grabbed one of her sister’s pups and maybe, for the first time, 40 jumped in to defend the pup. The two sisters were fighting, a fight that 42 could not win, probably she was close to being killed. Her allies came to the scene on her side. As a team, they defeated 40. They spared her life and let her go but the wounds were too much.
That’s only part one of that story. Part two is 21 was desperate a few days later because 42’s pups were starving to death. They needed to be nourished and there was nothing he could do about that. He took the chance of coming over to 42’s den, rounded her up, and brought her back to 40’s den, which we thought was a mistake, because why wouldn’t you kill all those pups? What if they grew up to be her mother like their mother? It was the exact opposite.
42 got all the other mother wolves to bring their pups, she brought her pups there, and we eventually were able to count that there were 21 pups at the main den that year. That was proof that she was not only raising her own pups but that she was raising 40’s pups and helping the other mothers with theirs. She never held all that violence that had been inflicted on her against 40’s pups. One of those surviving pups became 06’s mother. That’s how all the stories connect. There never would have been 06 if it wasn’t for that.
Rick, when I read your books, I feel like you have a special place in your heart for a wolf that was a male, that was the runt of the litter, and that was 8. Is that right?
To give people context, 8 eight was the runt but he was taken in by 9, who was a female, because her partner had been killed, and he’s the one who raised the super wolf, 21, who would not kill his opponent. If people want to learn about these other couples, 8 and 9 is a beautiful story and these are in some of the earlier books. I want to ask you a few little questions. When we hear wolves howling, it’s a source of communication. Even if you had an opposing pack, there would be a way and a time they would howl and they would have times that they wouldn’t signal their location. There are people who study howling.
There’s a lot that we can talk about. I have two colleagues, John and Mary Theberge, who’re from Canada. We’ve published a paper on howling. They’ve told me that wolves can identify other individual wolves by their howling. You have a certain number of friends and if you get a phone call and one of your friends starts talking, you’d be able to recognize who they are by the sound of their voice, wolves can do that. They tell me that it’s the harmonics component of the howl. They can figure that out from a distance.
There are a lot of functions to howling, it certainly can be used to defend your territory. If you’re in your own territory and you hear a rival pack howling at you, you need to howl back as loud as you possibly can with as many wolves as you can. Hopefully, that will cause the other guys to turn around and leave because they don’t want to mess with a pack that they’ve realized is more powerful and numerous than they are.
Another purpose of howling is romantic. Like people, wolves don’t mate with close relatives, and a normal pack is a family of wolves. Let’s say you’re a young male and you’ve matured, the only females you know are your mother and your sisters and nothing’s going to happen there. A young male will leave home, that’s called dispersing, and it’s a Romeo and Juliet type thing. Oftentimes, you would go into enemy territory as Romeo did. He risked his life because Juliet’s brothers wanted to kill him because he was from the enemy. That’s a huge risk but there’s also a huge reward.
If you go into a rival pack’s territory and you howl, suddenly, after an hour, a cute female runs towards you because she’s heard your howl, that’s going to change your life. It’s like anyone that’s had a dog, when you go to the park, if you have a male dog and if he sees a new female, they want to get together and wag their tails. It’s pretty much the same with wolves. Hopefully, they’ll be compatible and they’ll run off together. The mating season is in February. That’s part one.
Part two is to find a vacant territory and that’s hard to do but if they do, that’s the beginning of a dynasty like in Game of Thrones. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of initiative to leave the safety of home and do that. Many wolves don’t survive that, many wolves are killed. If you succeed, you’ve won the lottery.
Like with people, there were some wolves that have very high social intelligence. I’ll tell you a quick story. There was a time when there were two rival packs that hated each other and were aggressive toward each other but a male from one pack strolled right into the enemy. He spent the first day or so avoiding the big alpha male. He went up to the pups one by one, played with them, shared some food, and was friendly with them. One by one, he went to the female yearlings and made friends with them, and to the older females, made friends with them.
He avoided the big guy. He never challenged him and never had a raised tail. If the big guy came toward him, he would tuck his tail and walk behind the females. It was by either the 2nd or the 3rd day that the two males were sleeping side by side and they were pals. Somehow, he was able to figure out how to fit into that. I’m sure you know people that are awkwardly social and it’s hard for them to meet new people and make friends. There are other people that can do it naturally.
Of all things, the example a cite is Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. I read his autobiography and he talked about he was vacationing in Jamaica and he unknowingly walked into the bar where all of the worst of the worst criminals hung up. In five minutes, he was getting drunk with all of them and they became friends for the rest of his life. He is that socially intelligent male wolf.
I could go on and on. I found so many things fascinating. We often think of dogs that every seven years, they’re 1, 7, 2, or 14. You guys have found that by the time these animals are a year, they’re more like 30-year-olds as far as maturity, and then it goes slower as they get older. Did I get that right?
They’ve done some new research on it. A one year dog or a wild wolf is the equivalent to a 30-year-old person. A four-year-old is equivalent to 52 for a human. The oldest wolves we’ve ever had in the wild here get up to be 12, that’s very unusual, and that would be pretty much like a 70-year-old person. It’s not fair to compare that with human beings right now. You’d need to compare it to our ancestors in the ice age where almost no one got to be 70. If you got to be middle age, you are a pretty lucky man or woman because of the lack of modern medicine. We don’t intervene if a wolf has a broken leg or some other issue. In fact, there was one wolf that only had three legs and she still managed to become an alpha female, she was a tough girl.
I thought about that too that it must be hard. You think, “They’re going to the den right now. We could get in there and help 06’s family out,” but you can’t intervene. I appreciate the commitment even to the point if the wolves get too weirdly comfortable around people, you guys will make sure that they will stay away from people. One last thing that I thought was interesting was, in the summer months, maybe it’s June or July, you guys have documented that 80% or a little bit more of the wolf’s diet is blueberries.
I don’t remember that that’s the case here. That is the case in other parts of Montana. They do like berries, rose hips, which is kind of a type of berry. I grew up in the East. Back there, we call them blueberries. Out here, they’re called huckleberries. Yes, if they’re available, they’ll take advantage of that. Occasionally, they’ll eat grass that might be to clear out their digestive system. I’m not sure of the exact reason for that but dogs do that as well.
I’m pretty picky about what I eat. I’ve been writing about some of the pretty grungy stuff that I’ve seen wolves eat. There are anti-wolf people that will say wolves will kill for fun and never eat anything and then kill something else and never eat it. The wolves here are the exact opposite. I’ve seen them eat the lining of the stomach, which is pretty gross stuff. I’ve seen them eat intestines. I’ve seen many wolves pluck the fur off of a hide and then eat the hide.
You may have heard that in situations where humans are starving to death, you can eat shoe leather, that’s essentially animal hide, and there’s a tiny bit of nutrition for that, so wolves do that pretty frequently. I’ve seen wolves gnaw on bones that are about a year and a half old. They’re willing to do what it takes to survive and maybe that’s a good point to emphasize here. Wolves are survivors, they know how to do that, and that’s one of the reasons I have such great admiration for them. They’re going to do whatever it takes to survive and to ensure that their family survives. We’ve talked a lot about 21. Can I tell one of my favorite stories of him to finish up?
Of course. I love 21.
Everyone loves 21. We talked about how he’s undefeated in fights but never killed a rival. There was this one time, to protect one of his pups from a rival pack, they were charging down 21 and the pup. Even though he would have been willing to fight it out with a superior force, he did the correct thing. When the pup ran away due to being afraid, the father wolf ran after him.
21 was running away from a battle but what he was doing was putting himself between the attacking wolves and the defenseless pup and it worked, the pup got away. The other wolves caught up with him, they were about eight or so, and they attacked him and they pulled him down. We could see 21 on the ground with eight wolves simultaneously biting him. They rolled slightly out of our sight. It was a horrible moment for me because it certainly looked like this is it for 21.
There had been so many times prior to that where he was the savior of the pack, he was the one that ran in to save the other members, 42, and the younger wolves. What happened that day, 42 was the one that organized a rescue party, she led it, and she led the whole Druid pack charging into that location. We saw all the enemy wolves flee for their lives with tucked tails chased by 42 and the others but no 21. We saw the pup, by the way.
We can see that every member was accounted for except for their alpha male and it looked, at that time, that was it for 21 but at least he died heroically and successfully saving that pop. It was maybe an hour later we were still searching for him. I picked up 42 and the other wolves in my scope. She was sleeping all curled up and standing right beside her was 21. He had come back and he was bloody but he was alive. That was the day that 42 saved the heavyweight champion of the world.
Rick, I want to end this but it is the thing that we talk all the time about. In my podcast, the hope is to find ways for people to be encouraged to do something to support themselves, their health, their well-being, their quality of life, whatever that is, whatever they need. It’s that reminder that we do need that community. No matter how strong and powerful we are, we need each other and it’s important.
To the point in your book, the wolves or the people that probably genuinely thrive the best are compassionate and the ones looking out for each other are those types. I appreciate it. This book we’ve focused on is The Alpha Female Wolf but you do have three earlier in the series of this series of books. Rick, is there anything else, any invitation that you’d want to extend to people, or a way for them to learn more or support more before we let you go?
We haven’t talked about some of the threats against wolves like hunting past the park boundary, that’s a big issue. Pretty much all of the major non-profit wildlife organizations are very involved with wolf issues. I can recommend one local organization called Wolves of the Rockies. If you type that in, their website will come right up. They would be able to give the full story of some of the threats to the wolves in the Yellowstone area and what people could do to help.
There are some court cases. There are a lot of fights to be fought to help protect and save the wolves way more than we can get into right now. Wolves need our help. The more that we have shows like yourself, thank you very much for doing this for wolves. The more information we can get out and the more true stories we can get out for wolves, the more that people will admire and respect wolves. The more we do that, the safer wolves are going to be and the more that they will be understood.
It always is a dilemma for me to understand how pretty much every human being in the world loves dogs. You could take the most anti-wolf guy in the world and he’ll talk to you all day about how great his dogs are. Shouldn’t that transfer to the original version of the way your dog is? Your dog is here because of wolves and your dog treats you like you’re the leader of the pack. Maybe you should have some respect for its wild ancestors.
Rick McIntyre, I appreciate your time. I know you didn’t plan it but I’m glad that when the opportunity presented itself, you were willing to dedicate this many years and hours to teaching us all of the things that you logged and you’ve seen. Thank you.
I don’t know why but the wolves have gifted me with these stories so my job is to regift them to other people. That’s my purpose in life.
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About Rick McIntyre
Rick McIntyre is the acclaimed author of the Alpha Wolves of Yellowstone Book Series, which includes The Rise of Wolf 8: Witnessing the Triumph of Yellowstone’s Underdog and The Reign of Wolf 21: The Saga of Yellowstone’s Legendary Druid Pack. McIntyre is currently at work on the third book in the series, about Wolf 302. McIntyre has recorded over 100,000 sightings of wild wolves—which is more sightings than any other person in history—and has written more than 7 million words of wolf observations, making him one of the world’s foremost experts on wild wolf behavior.