Opportunity South of the Border

In the mid-1990s, when the wolf reintroduction programs in the Rocky Mountain states were ready to proceed, biologists trekked north to capture and relocate wolves from central Alberta and northern British Columbia. These wolves released into Yellowstone National Park were the genesis of the most famous wolf reintroduction program in the world.

The first group of wolves captured in Canada in late 1994 came from just east of Jasper National Park, Alberta, about 550 miles north of Yellowstone. They were released in Yellowstone and in the Central Idaho Recovery Area in January, 1995. A year later a second group of wolves was captured just east of Williston Lake, British Columbia, about 200 miles further north of Yellowstone.

Biologists chose the capture sites carefully, looking for vegetation, terrain and prey species similar to those in Yellowstone, as well as existing wolf populations free from rabies and other diseases. In addition, sport hunting was legal in the areas where the wolves were captured, making the animals' survival a matter of chance, whether they stayed in Canada or faced the hazards of capture, transportation and release into unfamiliar surroundings.

Wolves in numerous packs were radio-collared and studied extensively prior to capture, giving scientists crucial information about each wolf's age, overall health, and station in the pack hierarchy. Ideally, the wolves destined for Yellowstone and Idaho would be a mixed lot: experienced hunters and yearling pups, an equal mix of males and females, and dominant as well as subordinate pack members.

The initial January 1995 release in Yellowstone consisted of 14 wolves, which had been flown and trucked south from Canada. In January 1996, 17 more wolves were translocated to Yellowstone. In Idaho, 15 wolves were released in 1995 and 20 the following year. The wolves from the Jasper area were predominantly black; those from British Columbia were mostly gray, and larger in size. The largest wolf was a huge 130-pound male, and his mate weighed an equally impressive 115 pounds.

Currently there are more than 125 wolves in Yellowstone and about 150 wolves in Idaho, all likely descended from the original "Canadians". Remarkably, biologists now believe that more than 70 percent of the wolves in Yellowstone are descended from a single black female, #9F, one of the first wolves captured in Alberta. Her litter of eight pups born in the spring of 1995 was the first for any of the released wolves in Yellowstone, and they were the first wolf pups born in the Park since 1924. Significantly, all of the pups survived their first summer, and more than half of them lived to reproduce, quickly ensuring the dominance of their mother's genes.

Originally a member of the Rose Creek Pack, #9F (now faded to a silver-gray color) is believed to have had at least four additional litters, and is thought to be at least 8 years old, an advanced age for a wolf in the wild. In late 1999 she dispersed from her pack and early in 2000 she was observed with a new group of wolves, initially called the Valentine Pack, and may have had a sixth litter of pups.

Wolf #9F is not unique in her immediate family. Her daughter, #7F, was captured and released with her into Yellowstone in 1995. Wolf #7F has whelped at least four litters, and she still survives.

Although #9F's longevity and reproductive success are an interesting sidelight for the public, biologists would much rather see the Yellowstone wolf population grow from a more diverse gene pool