Rebirth of Yellowstone's Wolves

The saga of the first wolf pups born in the region in seven decades

09-01-1997 // Mark Wexler

When these eight newborn wolf pups were found two summers ago huddled together in a den in Yellowstone, biologists were elated. The pups were the first gray wolves born in the region since the 1920s--the last time wild wolves roamed the national park.

In 1995, as part of a plan to help restore all of the pieces of Yellowstone's original ecosystem, scientists began reintroducing wolves from Canada into the park. Two of those wolves, a female known as Number 9 and a male called Number 10, paired up and produced these offspring.

The pups' lives got off to a rocky start, however. Soon after they were born, their father was killed by a poacher, who later was convicted under provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Their mother remained close to the den site and by chance, researchers in the area heard the plaintiff cry of a pup. Moments later, they found the infant wolves nestled together in a rocky crevice. Scientists put the eight pups and their mother in a Yellowstone holding pen for rehabilitation.

"Because the female had lost her mate, our plan was to keep her pups in the compound until they grew large enough--about 50 pounds--to catch prey and defend themselves," says Yellowstone wolf biologist Mike Phillips. But Nature had other plans.

A fierce summer storm swept through the area, knocking down the holding pen's fences. Moments later, the pups fled the compound. Phillips and other Park Service staff eventually returned six of the youngsters to their mother. The other two eluded capture and soon found an adoptive parent: a year-old male from another pack called Number 8.

After all of the wolves were released from the compound in the fall, one of the pups was killed by an automobile. A second pup later died in a skirmish with another wolf. Their mother, meanwhile, had paired off with Number 8 and, along with some of the youngsters from the original litter, formed a family unit that became one of eight packs of wild wolves currently surviving in Yellowstone.

"Six of the eight original pups are now healthy two year olds," says Phillips. "This is one story that clearly has a happy ending."

As a tribute to that first litter, wildlife artist John Seerey-Lester painted this portrait of the pups in their den in the summer of 1995. The painting, called "Yellowstone's Future," is available as a limited-edition print from NWF Editions, a National Wildlife Federation subsidiary dedicated to conservation of the nation's natural resources. For more information or the phone number of a gallery near you, call 1-800-699-9693.

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