First it was Blaze. Then Scarface. Now it’s the white wolf who, for years, was the alpha female of the famed Canyon Pack. Each an iconic Yellowstone animal; each having lost their lives in the last few years due to believed human caused mortality.
The famous canine, who became an ambassador for wolves everywhere, was euthanized by Yellowstone National Park officials last week after being discovered by tourists with what turned out to be life threatening injuries. Jackson Hole News & Guide, amongst others, report that Yellowstone believes she was hit by a car.
One of only three white wolves in the world’s first national park, the wolf known by some as the White Lady successfully raised numerous pups to adulthood and brought excitement and wonderment to legions of tourists. Though she lived well beyond the age of six, the average age of a wild wolf, it still feels too soon to say goodbye to an animal who deserved to leave on nature’s terms.
I’ll never forget the moment I met this beautiful wolf – my first wolf.
Simon was on a determined mission to capture his first photograph of a beaver. Coming upon the Otter Creek bridge at the north end of Hayden Valley, I spotted what appeared to be a beaver swimming upstream. Simon, who was quickly joined by about twenty onlookers, became enthralled by the large rodent. I had my camera up and ready to focus on the beaver, who was beginning to swim toward us, before I lowered it and glanced further up the creek.
I’ll never know why I took my eye off the beaver – maybe it was to just enjoy so many people loving such a simple, but important creature; maybe I had a gut feeling that another creature was also taking in the scene. Regardless of the reason, as my eyes wandered, they also began to widen: About a hundred yards beyond the beaver was a white wolf slowly wading into the creek.
The white wolf’s colouring, mixed with the late afternoon sun, made her look almost like an apparition. For several moments it seemed as if time paused. I couldn’t move, to take a photo, or speak, to alert Simon or the other onlookers. I was transfixed by this wolf’s magic.
Eventually, I nudged Simon and pointed at the wolf, now halfway across Otter Creek. He was able to enjoy this scene of true wildness with me for a few more seconds, as the wolf finished its swim, stood on the far shore to shake off the cold, and wandered into the woods.
We left the beaver, awestruck by the wolf, and drove further south into Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley. But before driving too far, we parked in a pullout to reflect on what we saw and look across the field of sagebrush, in the hopes the wolf might continue on the same trajectory and materialize again. We were joined by a ranger, who was curious about what we were hoping to spot. We all waited, quietly, hoping against hope.
The ranger was the first to spot it. But she was convinced it was a coyote. As the light-furred canine trotted towards us, we knew it was our wolf, the alpha of the valley’s Canyon Pack. It took a few moments before the ranger realized we were right and seemed equally amazed by our shared luck. It’s wonderful when even those paid to watch over the wildlife still can appreciate the sheer awesomeness of a moment in nature with an animal too many fear, too few understand, and too few have the chance to see in their natural habitat.
All three of us were lucky to have this moment, but unlike Simon and the ranger, this was my first view of a wild wolf, let alone a wolf I had heard so much about. As it trotted within a few dozen yards of our car, it paused and looked at us. It seemed to be looking into us, as only wolves can. And before we could completely process the incredibleness of the encounter, the wolf moved on, across the road – and across the Yellowstone River – and out of view for good.
A few minutes with this wolf underscored the fallacy of the myths our society holds dear and the vastness of our world’s knowledge deficit when it comes to our relationship with apex predators. It’s fair to say, it was a life changing experience that has led me to dedicating my work to educating an understanding and appreciation of nature.
What’s incredible is that this one moment is a moment so many have had with this wolf. It was one of nature’s best teachers; it did more to make people rethink wolves and our relationship with the wild than almost any animal in Yellowstone’s history. Yet, no matter the gifts this wild creature gave to our world, it seems that man – even if by accident – still cut its life too short.
We’ve learned so much, but we have so much to learn. Thank you to this incredible wolf for all you taught our world and we promise to keep trying to pay your lessons forward. May Scarface and Blaze take good care of you.