The act of dispersing is a dangerous one for wolves, because, ultimately, they will be out looking for a mate and territory. Most often, the male disperser will attempt to woo a female from its pack but that means that he has to get around her parents and siblings. Some times it works and some times it doesn’t. Unknown wolves are generally seen as the enemy and some times the pack doesn’t stop and ask intentions before attacking. But, to the disperser wolf, the possible gain of a mate and being alpha of his own pack is worth the risks.
From Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale:
Most wolves die in the process of dispersing. Dispersal is a tremendous risk, but one worth taking. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is reproducing. Reproduction is very unlikely within the pack to which a wolf is born. It is better to risk death for some chance of finding a mate and a territory, than to live safely, but have virtually no chance of reproduction. http://www.isleroyalewolf.org/overview/overview/wolves.html
Most often, the males begin dispersing and looking for mates closer to breeding time, which is February, but, as we saw with 755 two years ago, summer is never too soon to find a mate.
For the most part, when it comes to the behavior of wolves, they are a mystery – wild and unpredictable. But the things that we know for sure is that wolves will fight till the death over sex, food and territory.
Often, it is the Beta male that will challenge an older, sick or injured alpha for the top position. And, as we saw with 763 last year, when he was challenged, the result will often be injury and some times death. 763, the ex-alpha of the Prospect Peak pack, was challenged by a younger male and injured a couple of times, but he was allowed to remain with the pack, because the two males knew each other. His collar does not work so we don’t know how he is doing now. When the Junction Butte pack was overtaken by 970 and 911, 890, the alpha male, was allowed to stay and the two seem to have a good relationship, with both males breeding the females.
While I have seen a lot of behaviors from males trying to find a mate or take over a pack, I have not seen any that resulted in death between the two males. Though, I know that this has been witnessed. When 925 was killed, it was because of territory and food, and because he stayed back while his family escaped. When the Prospect boys went calling on 926, there appeared to be no aggression towards the six pups, even though I saw opportunity.
From Wolf Country:
“Rank order is established and maintained through a series of ritualized fights and posturing best described as ritual bluffing. Wolves prefer psychological warfare to physical confrontations, meaning that high-ranking status is based more on personality or attitude than on size or physical strength. Rank, who holds it, and how it is enforced varies widely between packs and between individual animals. In large packs full of easygoing wolves, or in a group of juvenile wolves, rank order may shift almost constantly, or even be circular (e.g., animal A dominates animal B, who dominates animal C, who dominates animal A).
Loss of rank can happen gradually or suddenly. An older wolf may simply choose to give way when an ambitious challenger presents itself, yielding its position without bloodshed. On the other hand, the challenged individual may choose to fight back, with varying degrees of intensity. While the majority of wolf aggression is non-damaging and ritualized, a high-stakes fight can easily result in injury for either or both parties. The loser of such a confrontation is frequently chased away from the pack or, rarely, may be killed as other aggressive wolves contribute to the insurgency. This kind of dominance encounter is more common in the winter months, when mating occurs.” http://www.wolfcountry.net/information/WolfPack.html
The wolf I have had the privilege of watching the most, while trying to win a new mate, is 755, the current, but maybe not still, alpha male of the Wapiti pack. He lost his mate, 06, in December 1012, to a hunter’s bullet. By breeding time he had found himself a Mollies gal, 759, and she was carrying one pup when she came into conflict with 755’s daughter, 776, and was killed. He had a couple of other companions/mates that he just showed up with and that were presumably out on their own, that didn’t work out. He might have taken 889 from 890 but we were not around to watch. But, then he tried to win another gal, a Mollies, from the Junction Butte pack and he seemed to have an uncanny knack for getting in and getting out without being hurt. We watched for several days as 890 attempted to keep 755 from getting 970. We didn’t see male on male aggression, though they were in close proximity, but 890 followed 970 relentlessly. During which, just for a giggle, 890’s mate, 870 ran over to 755 and they tried to mate. We did see 755 being chased but he was always able to evade capture.
Not long after winning 970, 911 swooped in and stole her from 755. Thus began a couple of months of watching 755 trail 911 and 970 (and some times 889) every where they went. 755 kept a respectful distance but eventually gave up and went back to 889, who was pregnant but we never learned what happened to her pups.
And then one day 755 was courting the Canyon adult female and her dad, 712, was not too happy about that. But we saw no fights and 755 won the girl. And, all was well. They had two litters of pups and all of us were anxious to watch the two of them and their pups and yearling this summer. I spent 5 days at a bison carcass, waiting for the Wapiti pack to come in, just to see 755 with his family. And, luckily, I was able to.
And then one week ago, Mollies wolves showed up near the Wapiti’s rendezvous area, which could only mean trouble. There were seven Mollies to begin with. I was worried about the pups but never considered that the male, 1015, was going to try and steal 755’s mate. There was a chase and 755 got away. And then the alpha female and the yearling were with the Wapiti males, with a lot of flirting. And, thus they have been for the past 5 days. Except for the yearling – she is often seen on her own and today was with her dad, which is to be expected until she has a mate of her own. But the alpha female has been with the Mollies. And, the four pups, 3 gray and one black, seem to be somewhere in between. One day they were seen with 755 and he seemed to be trying to lead them somewhere and the next day he was no where around.
The next day we saw both females and the two males (the other 5 Mollies seem to have left) out hunting, traveling some distance. And, we saw them return with full bellies and blood on their faces. Well, the yearling was not with them. The alpha was intent on going somewhere and her behavior seemed to suggest she was going to feed pups, but they surpassed the rendezvous (it will always be called the rendezvous, whether there are pups in there or not – just the way it works.) and kept going. Leading one to believe that the pups have been moved.
755 is a lover, not a fighter, as history has shown, and it is most likely that he stepped aside in order to avoid being hurt or killed. But, as he has done in the past, he is a lurker and I would think that taking care of his family is all he knows. And, so he is still hanging around. Maybe he is being allowed to by the Mollies, and maybe he is being sneaky.
I know that the final chapter has not been written yet but it is highly doubtful that the Mollies males, the younger, darker one definitely being a Mollie, will give up their prize of an alpha female, pups and territory. I can’t imagine that with 15 brothers and sisters, an adult male wolf would take up and run around with another adult male wolf, from another pack. These wolves have been trying to disperse all winter long and are the ones that were in Lamar quite often. They came from a pack of 16 that had zero dispersals in 4 years. There will be more Mollies out looking for mates and territory.
There is some speculation here, there always is with the wolves. But, wolves are wolves and they will fight to the death for sex, territory and food – it is their instinct. I have watched 755 struggle for a mate for a long time. He was the first male to become alpha of two packs and I was there rooting him on – so this is pretty close to the saddest outcome I can think of. Except that he is still alive – we did not lose him permanently because he chose not to fight.
While everyone might want to deny what is happening and would want to hope for some sort of miracle, facts are facts. Younger males will come in and take over a pack for their own – it is the way things work. The behaviors and activity are fascinating and we can rejoice seeing 755 with his pups or his yearling daughter, and knowing that he is not completely alone, he still has a family for now. But, eventually, if 1015 has stolen his mate, then 755 will have to move on. These are just things I know from watching wolves quite a lot over several years, and asking a lot of questions. And, doing some reading. I’m not an expert or an authority, just someone who is trying to be realistic and practical, and looking forward to seeing what will happen next.
Photos from yesterday’s hunting expedition with the two Mollies males and the two Wapiti Lake females. Funny, when I see the elk chasing the wolves – Wapiti means elk. But, yesterday was a good example of how hard and dangerous it is for wolves to hunt.