Yellowstone’s pioneering wolf family, the Druid Peak pack, is down to its last member.
That lone survivor of the famous group of gray wolves, which has been a draw to tourists worldwide and a subject of consistent interest to scientists since re-introduction of the animals to the national park in 1996, might not survive this winter.
“The Druid pack is kaput,” Doug Smith, Yellowstone’s wolf biologist, told the Billings Gazette.
There were still 11 wolves in the pack as late as January.
Then the alpha female was killed in a fight with another pack and the alpha male disappeared. Before doing so, he contracted mange, a disease that can kill animals with compromised immune systems.
Seven other females in the pack have died from mange or after being injured in fights.
When introduced to the nation’s oldest national park on Apr. 14, 1996, the Druid Peak pack had five members. It grew to 37 members by 2001, sustained by the ample quantity of elk in its home area on the northwest corner of the park.
By the next year the pack had split up, and by 2005 the number of wolves was down to four adults.
The Druid Peak pack would not be the first to disappear from the Yellowstone ecosystem since re-introduction. At least six others have died out.
But the Druid Peak pack may be one of a kind.
In a first, some of its members were filmed in 2001 in the act of killing a grizzly bear cub.
Then, in 2003, researchers recorded the pack welcoming a new male member, an event never before documented by humans.
Perhaps that illustrious history is a reason that some observers continue to be optimistic about the pack’s future.
“I would say they are down and out, but not done yet,” Rick McIntyre, a Yellowstone Wolf Project technician who has worked with the Druid Peak pack since before they were released from cages nearly fifteen years ago, told the Gazette.
The gray wolf was first listed as an endangered species in the United States in 1967. Restoration of the species to its historic range in Yellowstone National Park was mandated by the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
In May 2009 the Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Yellowstone wolves, along with others that made up a distinct group called the Northern Rocky Mountains Distinct Population Segment, from the endangered species list.