Saying goodbye to two more members of the Lamar Canyon pack, Twin, the alpha male, and Mottled, the beta male, is long overdue.
Truth be told, every time someone asks me a question about the Lamar Canyons, or I look at a photo of twin, or think of the pack before and the hopes and happiness that we felt for them, knowing the truth in my heart, I can barely speak. I can barely answer questions, as my chest tightens and the tears threaten to fall. But, both Twin and Mottled deserve a goodbye, just like all of the others that have gone before them, and so I will, at last, try to put the story into words.
In April of 2015 the Lamar Canyon alpha male, 925, was killed by the Prospect Peak pack. Twin, Mottled, Dark Black and 965 were members of that pack and took part in the killing of 925. Such sorrow we felt over 925’s death but we gleaned some sort of comfort from the fact that he left behind 6 beautiful and healthy pups. 926 was already pregnant when her mate died and we worried about her ability to care for the six youngsters and her new pups. 925 had turned out to be a remarkable alpha male and had taken extraordinary care of his family, keeping them well-fed and away from all of us.
We watched 926 for the next two weeks as she struggled to move forward. Her pups were gnawing at a very old bison carcass while she slipped off to feast on a deer that had been hit by a car. This deer gave 926 the strength to move forward and begin caring for her family, as she went out hunting, successfully, the very next day. So, as the watchers, seeing the story of nature unfold before our eyes, we some times cried and some times smiled. In my own heart, I knew that nature would have its way and that we had no control over that, but hoped to see the pack survive and continue on.
And then, two weeks after 925’s death, Twin and his three companions, Mottled, Dark Black and 965, came calling on the Lamar Canyons. I watched as the boys chased 926 through the den forest and as she ran and hid. We saw the boys encounter some of the pups and watched as the pups barked and howled while the males ignored them. It was clear that Twin meant no harm for the pups, he just wanted 926. As the sun went down on a cold day, some of the pups led the males to the east and we wondered what the next day would bring.
Morning came and 926 was with the males, separated from the pups. Lots of howling that day, and much sorrow when the pups wouldn’t return to mom and she was forced to make a choice. She chose for her unborn pups and went with the males. As far as we know, 926 was never with all 6 of her pups again – possibly there was a visit when they were all on the Blacktail at one time but we don’t know for sure. The pups went off on their own and actually did quite well, until one was poached outside of the park.
926 went through so much. All four of the males left and returned to the Prospect Peak pack, leaving her alone and hungry, ready to give birth. And, then Mottled and Twin returned. I am convinced that Twin had left 926 to go retrieve his best buddy, as he and Mottled were tight – always greeting each other with affection. The two males returned and fed 926, right before she went to the den. If felt like a miracle and hope for the pack was renewed.
Eventually, the other two males also returned, and 926’s two daughters came back after their brother was poached. We were watching the pack grow and weren’t even counting the new pups.
There were five new pups, all offspring of 925, three gray and two black, and we had the privilege of watching them quite often. But, the pack was so visible and it was such a treat for folks to watch puppies, that the crowds grew around the Lamar Canyon den area and nearly every day, when the adults returned to feed the pups, several could not get across the road with their full bellies. Mottled, Dark Black, 965 and Big T, were not fond of the roads and people and so kept their distance. Uncle Mottled, as we called him, often stayed behind with the pups. One day I was able to watch as Mottled returned and the pups surrounded him with such joy – he was so loving and patient. As if they were his own. One could not help but love Mottled and he proved his worth to the pack many times.
We had some happy times, watching the Lamar Canyons, now 12 strong, and could see no reason that they wouldn’t be a healthy pack. But, mange struck and the pups were all badly affected. Big T, obviously a great babysitter, and 926, were also badly affected by the mange early on. Eventually, 965, Dark Black and Mottled, all suffered also. Pups began disappearing. We lost a black one first. And then a gray one. They just disappeared and we never knew what happened.
The pack continued on and I saw the adults teaching the surviving pups how to hunt. They became a family, cohesive and very loving with one another. 926 stayed close to her pups and was constantly trying to ease their discomfort from the mange. Twin, it turned out, was a loving father, even though the pups were not his.
And then the Mollies arrived, 16 strong and very healthy. They stole carcasses from the Lamars. One day they chased and attacked Mottled but did not kill him.
I watched the Mollies appear and take chase of the bedded Lamars. Mottled ran past and was in the clear, but he turned back and led the Mollies away from his pack. He ran down, across the road, followed by the enemy wolves, and while we didn’t see the attack, we knew it occurred. We thought for sure, with 7 Mollies attacking, that he was dead. But, then I spotted Mottled, leaving the area, sore but very much alive. He had saved his pack from certain attack. They lost the carcass that day but everyone survived.
And then came another carcass, collaring, and the Lamar Canyons giving up on their sick members. The adults abandoned the pups, two by then as one gray had already been killed by the Mollies when they stole a bison carcass from them, and Big T, and just left for a long time. The three held on, getting scraps, and for a time Mottled returned and provided food for Big T. And then the black pup was killed by the Mollies – Blackie. So very sad. And, the gray survived, somehow and began to look better but his family was gone and he went looking for them, never to be seen again. I believe that he was returning one day, via the Lamar River corridor, and was killed by the Junctions. This belief is based on some chasing activity that we witnessed. The same for Big T – I believe that she encountered the Junctions near Hell Roaring and was killed. No proof, just based on activity by the wolves. And, 965 dispersed.
So, the Lamar Canyons were only 5, after having been 12 just months before.
And, then, they had a carcass near Slough Creek and the Junctions returned and gave chase. Mottled was never seen again and it is believed that he was attacked and killed. The sadness of Mottled’s loss was palpable and devastating. He had been a rock for the Lamar Canyons, and Twin loved him so.
And then the Lamar Canyons were only four, two with bad mange, 926 and Dark Black, and two pregnant. Sadness set in and has not lifted. The only hope, the big bright spot that was left, was the thought of new puppies, possibly sired by both Twin and Mottled. That and the love between Little T and Twin, which was always magical to watch – and so forbidden. The four would carry on and do their best to survive.
The Mollies had finally left, so that 779 could den, and things were quiet. 926 and Little T did not have their puppies until May 1, possibly later for T, and so the foursome were out hunting and taking care of business.
And, then, one day, three of the Lamars were spotted west of the den area, and another 3 black wolves were seen on the hill above them. I saw Twin and Dark Black, but worried for the two females as they were not seen. My gut told me that the Mollies had returned. I watched Twin as he somewhat followed Dark Black, who had been distant from the pack for weeks, but stopping to look back and howl. And, then he seemed to have found what he was looking for and turned to go back. I waited and waited but never saw him again.
The following day there were 12 Mollies in Lamar Valley, and I knew that the three seen the day before, close to the Lamars, had been the enemy. 926 and T were seen coming from the south, near where the Mollies had been, and crossing back towards the den area and I wondered why they had been out so close to the other wolves.
Well, as we put the timeline of events together, we never saw Twin again and can only surmise that he had a run in with the Mollies and was killed. Personally, I would like to think that he is still out there but my heart knows that he would not have left his unborn pups and T.
As the days passed by with no sightings of Twin, my heart sank to new lows and I became unable to talk about the pack, except for brief mentions. I had looked forward to seeing Twin as a father to his own pups, and the possibility of the pack making a comeback with two litters, but that would not happen.
Twin greeting Blackie just days before she was abandoned and eventually killed by Mollies. 926 and T are following.
926 and T disappeared to their dens and only Dark Black was left. But, he disappeared too, for only a day or a little more. When he returned to Lamar Valley, Dark Black had the mangy 965 in tow. I don’t have any proof but believe that he did just as Twin had done the year before when he left to get Mottled. Dark Black, now the alpha male of the Lamar Canyons, had gone for help to care for his family.
And, so the pack still has four adults, with the return of 965. Pups were born and it was clear that the females had been nursing.
But, it seems, more bad news is on the horizon. Several days ago, three black wolves were seen heading up towards the den area, from the back side. Bill H. did not recognize the wolves and as we all know, 926’s collar is distinctive. But, Rick had hope that it was the Lamars because he had their signals. He did not see the wolves.
Well, a little later in the day, we found 965 and a black standing at sky line, way above the den area, where the wolves tend to go when under attack. They were looking down towards the den. A little later still, I saw a number of vulture circling over the den area. And, then for the next 2 days, 926 was to the west. The four Lamars returned to the den area briefly, for an overnight, and there were reports of a lot of howling. The next morning, all four adults left and went out Cache Creek and had not returned yesterday, as far as we could tell. Meanwhile, the Mollies wolves, 3 of them, were seen in Soda Butte Valley, and another unknown wolf was seen at 21’s crossing, coming out of the den area, all before the Lamars returned later that day.
The Lamar puppies, the last of Twin and possibly Mottled, would only be three weeks old, if they are still alive. With so many extra wolves in the valley, and being so near the den area, my hope is dwindling for their survival.
And, it seems, that the pack will never catch a break – it is just one thing after another. Perhaps the remaining four can go off and become healthy once again, if they don’t have young to care for. And, maybe they will find a new home. For now, it looks like some Mollies are settled into Lamar Valley and have no plans to leave any time soon.
I am sorry for this sad story about our beloved Lamar Canyons – the pack we have watched struggle, thrive and struggle again, since the death of 06 in December of 2012. This is not the story I wanted to tell. Part of me wonders if we did not love this pack too much and if they could have done better with more space to move about freely. Part of me wonders if we have not loved the Lamar Canyons to death – adding stress to their lives and making it hard to fight the mange. Part of me wonders if this might be what happened to the Druids, who were also loved so darned much.
There seems to be no easy answers for this syndrome of loving the animals of Yellowstone to death – people need to see them, need to know them but can’t leave them alone.
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