Yellowstone Reports

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How to Save Wolves

by Dave Hornoff

March 1, 2023

IF YOU EVER plan to dart a wild wolf sprinting over a snow-covered mountain from a low-flying helicopter, there are a few things you need to know. The wolf should be running away, and you should be aiming for the back or butt. Never take a shot at a wolf that’s facing you. The risk of injuring the animal with a dart to the face is too high. Also, a dart shoots hard but it’s not a bullet; you need to loft your shot. Try to keep the chase under a quarter mile. Push a distressed wolf much farther and you’re being cruel. Finally, while you’re leaning out over the helicopter’s landing skids focusing on the wolf, don’t forget the treetops rushing by under your feet. If you get snagged, you’re done.

These were the lessons Doug Smith took home after a trip to the Alaskan outback in 1999. Smith had recently become director of the Yellowstone Wolf Project, the research program that followed the reintroduction of wolves into the national park four years earlier. At the heart of the nascent program was the winter study, when Smith and his team would track packs deep into the park, collect predation data, and fix individual wolves with radio collars.