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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Goodbye, Big Gray

'Big Grey' has died.

This wolf, alpha male of the Lamar Canyon pack in Yellowstone National Park, was attacked by eight or nine members of the Prospect Peak pack on March 6. He fought valiantly, aided by two of his yearling sons, giving his pregnant mate and other pups time to escape. Because he wore a radio collar, his movements could be tracked by researchers. Unfortunately, two days later they received the dreaded signal that indicated that this magnificent wolf had died.

For reasons unknown, the Lamars had wandered into the Prospect Peaks' territory. By the time they realized their mistake, it was too late and the Prospects attacked with a vengeance. Known as 925M, the alpha male died protecting his family.

The Lamars have always been my favorite pack. They were the first Yellowstone wolves I ever saw, in January 2014, and I got to see them on subsequent visits to Yellowstone. Just a couple of weeks ago, my group watched the entire Lamar pack trotting across the snow for several miles, until the fading light made it difficult to see them. I don't know whether the Lamar pack was less fearful of humans than the other resident packs, or whether their territory simply afforded better viewing opportunities. Whatever the reason, I will be forever grateful that I was able to see these wonderful animals on more than one occasion.

Wolves are devoted parents and mates, and as 925M showed, will die to protect them. It appears that his mate and at least two of his pups went to visit him after the attack, perhaps knowing how seriously injured he was.

The death of 925M hit me very hard. I am glad he died defending his family and not from being shot by some cretin with a rifle. But life will not be the same for his mate, 926F, his six yearling pups and his soon-to-be-born pups. How will his mate hunt? She is, after all, pregnant. Will his pups be able to help their mother hunt and provide food for the growing family? Will she be subject to attack without her mate to protect her?

Nature can be cruel. Wolves in the wild typically live no more than three or four years. Wolf 925M was between four and five years old. But this knowledge doesn't lessen the impact 925M's death has had on me and many others who avidly follow the Yellowstone wolf packs. My heart aches for the Lamar Canyon pack, whose alpha female, the much-loved wolf known as 06, was killed by a fool with a gun when she stepped outside the safety of Yellowstone in late 2012.

I hope and pray that 926F, a daughter of 06, has her mother's strength and resilience and will be able to keep her family together after this terrible loss.