Druid Peak Pack Down To Lone Wolf

The Druid Peak Pack, the most closely watched and photographed wolf pack in the world, is down to its last wolf. For 14 years, the Druids were the dominant pack in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley. Biologist Doug Smith, leader of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, offers his insight.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

If you've been to Yellowstone National Park in recent years, you may have heard this.

(Soundbite of howling)

NORRIS: Those are grey wolves, specifically the wolves of the Druid Peak Pack. The Druids, as they're called, were the dominant pack in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley for more than a decade. Because their den was close to a main road, they became the most closely watched wolves in the park and perhaps in the world. Researchers studied them day after day gaining new information about wolf behavior. Last summer there were 18 wolves in the pack, but since then they've been decimated by disease and by competition from other wolves. Yellowstone biologist Doug Smith says the Druids are now down to just one wolf, and she's not doing well.

Mr. DOUG SMITH (Biologist, Yellowstone): She's very, very thin. She's missing hair on about half of her body. She's moved out of Lamar Valley. So, she's on the fringe now. And I just don't think she's going to make it.

NORRIS: What do you do in situation like that? Do you leave her to the wild or do you try to take her in an attempt to nurse her back to health?

Mr. SMITH: Well, that's a great question and it deals with the heart of what national parks are all about. We let nature take its course. This decline of the Druid pack and the state of this last female is all part of the natural scheme of things. So, we allow nature to take its course.

NORRIS: I'd like to know a little bit more about the pack - what made them so special, and what it was that visitors to Yellowstone were able to see.

Mr. SMITH: Well, most importantly they were easy to see. I mean, if you came to Yellowstone during the Druid pack reign and spent a day or two looking, you'd see them. They had two leaders of the pack - we call them Alphas. The males' number was 21, the females was 42. They were a classic couple - people loved to anthropomorphize about them. Geez, look how much they love each other, how they care for each other, how good mom and dad they are. I would go out some days and there would be 300 or 400 people on the roadside just lapping this up, you know, real nature - we don't get anymore. And they provided it.

NORRIS: Filmmakers working in the park captured something pretty extraordinary back in 2003 - this ritual as a new breeding male was welcomed into the pack, can you tell us little bit about that?

Mr. SMITH: Well, the Alpha male in Druid had been shot outside the park. This roaming male senses that there's a vacancy, but if you make a mistake, you're dead. So, there was this sequence - it went on all day. A filmmaker was there, part of my team was there. That they observed this kind of touch-and-go joining of the pack by an outside male and that was 21, who went on to be that famous Alpha wolf. He was hesitating and howling and wolves from Druid would come out, typically the young females and they were coming out and what we called play bowing for this male and he was stiff and rigid tail in the air, nervous. And he felt his way through it masterfully.

NORRIS: What other packs are you watching right now? Is there are another pack that will replace the Druids?

Mr. SMITH: There is. It's going to be, I think, another crowd favorite. The Alpha female is lightly colored and the nickname, the Silver Pack, came from her. They have slipped right in where the Druids used to be. And in fact, they killed a couple of Druids. There's a new pack we call them the trio, two males and a female, at the far west end of the old Druid territory. They will likely have pups this year and be another pack. And then another pack at the far west end of Wolf range called the Black Tail Pack, it is another pack that's being closely watched.

NORRIS: Doug Smith, thank you very much.

Mr. SMITH: You bet.

NORRIS: Doug Smith is a wolf biologist and the leader of the Yellowstone Wolf Project.

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