July 11, 2008

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Day 6

DAVE: Skunked 2! We struck out again today. We backtracked the wolves much farther over the mud flats of the Remus Creek drainage and up various dried creek beds in the sandy desert, a total now of about 10 – 12 miles from where we saw the breeding female. Every half mile or so, we would climb a hill and howl, but we got no replies. Finally, after losing the tracks because of the lack of good tracking ground, we continued in the direction the tracks had been coming from for several more miles, howled several more times and then posted ourselves on hills and watched from 9:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. hoping to see a wolf emerge from some distant spot and begin its nightly hunt. But no such luck. We then began the long drive on our ATV’s back to camp while pondering where our reasoning could have gone wrong.

These negative results made us begin questioning our assumptions, among them (1) the 5 miles we backtracked the breeding female should have led us toward the den because in the evening, usually a wolf would be coming from the den, and (2) the many other old and fresh wolf tracks along the same route also indicated wolves traveling to and from the den. If either of these two assumptions is wrong, that could explain why we could not find the den. The only hard information we have about the den is where we saw the breeding female, as she almost certainly was returning to the den to nurse the pups. This, of course, is another assumption but a very good one because the female had been away from the pups for at least 10 hours.

Conceivably when we first saw her, she was NOT coming directly from the den but perhaps from an old kill or some other attraction, in which case her backtrack could have misled us. So tomorrow we begin searching and howling in the new area where the female disappeared.

This dispatch demonstrates the necessity of strategy when researchers are trying to find “needles in a haystack” – or in this case, wolves in a landscape so huge that one can see for seemingly endless miles in every direction. Although the land is treeless, the terrain is rugged, with gullies and dips and high ridges and valleys. Dean and Dave have learned through years of observation that wolf packs have established patterns and routines when they are raising pups. The adults are tied to the den and/or rendezvous site until the pups are old enough to travel and to hunt with the pack. It is this routine of hunting and returning to bring food to the youngsters that holds the key to finding where the wolves have established their summer “home.”

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