Although we were anxious to check out the possible kill sites, our first order of business was to try to determine if the wolves are denning in either of the dens we know about. We quickly determined that they were not in the den last used in 2006, although we had not expected them to be. Because we cannot reach the 2009 den from the ground because of impassable mud flats (see earlier posts), we had to rely on help from the Canadian military. They are in the area each year from May through July and have a helicopter, so we asked the pilot to fly high over the 2009 den on one of his regular flights and see if any wolves were there. We soon learned that the 2009 den was empty.
So where are the wolves denning? Or did they even have pups this year? Because Brutus starved to death, could that mean the pack would not produce pups because the female is in poor nutritional condition? We think not, although one never knows for sure. Our reasoning is that the breeding pair dominates the pack and thus gets the most food. Brutus was 10-yr old, so perhaps a younger wolf usurped his breeding position. This could have been an outside male, as sometimes happens, or there could have been a second breeding pair in this very large pack of 20+. Thus we believe there must still be a breeding pair in the area. There are plenty of tracks around; we just have to try to figure out where the den is, not an easy task in the huge area. And we could easily fail.
First, however, we need to check out as many potential kills as we can to see if our inferences from the location data are valid (see earlier posts).