Local activists focus on understanding wild wolves
Last updated 11/3/2021 at Noon
Rick McIntyre’s newest book, “The Redemption of Wolf 302,” is being released this month. It’s the third in a series of stories about Yellowstone wolves and covers some of the same fascinating canine characters in his other books.
The most successful wolf introduction ever launched began in 1995. In 2008, McIntyre had reached his 3,000th day in a row of getting up before dawn to observe wolves. He saw wolves on 98.7 percent of those days. In this book, McIntyre describes the main events of wild wolf packs over the course of five years.
Along the way, readers benefit from the author’s extensive field notes. He goes into especially great depth about the way the packs function. Packs, which can be understood as families, are led by the alpha or breeding female. There is a lot of competition between packs, leading McIntyre to make comparisons to military battle strategies: Advance rather than retreat; and pretend to be strong even when outnumbered.
Through McIntyre, we get an inside view into the hunt, seeing how difficult and dangerous it can be for individual wolves. They “must be willing to repeatedly go into combat and take on the risk of those potentially crippling or fatal hits.” We learn that wolf populations can be extremely fragile, as they are very susceptible to diseases, such as mange and distemper. Outbreaks, like those he chronicles in 2005, can kill whole packs in a year or two. Regrettably, mange was introduced by humans into coyote populations in the early 20th century as a means to eradicate predators.
Pack dynamics are subtle and dependent on the personalities of the alphas who set the tone. We get to observe how puppy play both bonds the pack and trains the young wolves in future hunting maneuvers. McIntyre makes a case for wolves modeling reciprocity: “I would say that the wolves who are the fairest and the most cooperative have the most allies.”
One could argue that the author makes anthropomorphic judgments. Intermittently he describes the principal character of the book, Wolf 302, as: “noninvolved,” “a renegade,” “unorthodox,” “suave,” and “a hero.” And he admits that he “tried to figure out what was going on in 302’s mind.” McIntyre ponders differences between personality and character and his reoccurring question throughout the book is: Can 302 change?
We question whether 302 really needs to be redeemed as McIntyre wishes. 302’s journey is absorbing. He lived such an unusual lifestyle for a wolf and did not conform to what scientists have documented as “normal” wolf behavior. Having had a key role in each different pack he interacted with, he was able sire (perhaps) more pups than any other wolf in Yellowstone. 302 may be the most famous of Yellowstone’s wolves. The end of his story is truly moving, and we don’t want to give it away!
McIntyre’s stated purpose is “to observe and understand what the lives of wild wolves [are] really like, the good times and the difficult times, then tell their stories to people so they can know what it might be like to be a wolf.” We agree that, in “The Redemption of Wolf 302,” he achieves this goal.
Most science and modern understanding of wolves is based on observation of captive wolves. McIntyre’s sagas of Yellowstone wolves give us a rare and unique opportunity to learn about generations of wild wolves, who live their lives in areas highly visible to humans.
Tangentially, understanding their behavior better, we have more insight into wild wolves here in Oregon. We recommend watching the documentary “The Rise of Black Wolf” by Bob Landis (National Geographic) in tandem with reading the book. And stay tuned; there is a fourth book coming.
If you are interested in joining the Wolf Welcome Committee, email wolfwel
[email protected] Join us virtually to discuss the book in late November.