A week ago today I was sitting in a car wash and happened to look down at my phone and notice that three wolves had been killed in the hunt, right outside of Yellowstone. My heart sunk and I found it difficult to breathe. Three wolves in one day! I later found out that another wolf had also been taken, bringing the day’s total to four.
Early that morning I had driven out to Lamar Valley in hopes of seeing the Lamar Canyons but they were not in sight. While sitting there I suddenly thought of 889F and the feeling was so strong that I expected her to show up any second. “Maybe she will come and scrounge on a carcass,” I thought to myself. I began scanning the valley looking for the limping black beauty but it was empty.
Reports of the wolves that were killed said that two collared males, and a gray and black without collars were taken. I was beside myself with worry about which two collared males had been taken, knowing that chances were good that they were both alpha males.
The following morning I drove out to the park and just as I got to the Yellowstone picnic area my mind wandered to 889. “Why hadn’t she shown up,” I wondered. The feeling had been so strong. And then a voice answered my question and told me that she was dead, she was gone. But, the two collars were males, I reasoned.
I wanted badly to know which wolves had been killed but there was no way to find out. For some reason I drove all of the way out to Cooke City and looked at the killers business, knowing who had killed the wolf but not knowing the wolf had been killed. Nothing made sense to me but I drove beyond Cooke City for a ways before turning around and returning to the park. I later learned that 889 had been killed east of Cooke City.
Many of you might think I am crazy and maybe that is true but so is this story, that is what happened. I felt 889 the morning she was killed, much the same as I think of someone and then see them in the next day or two. I don’t know what it is called but it is spooky, though facts are hard to argue with. And, I knew she was dead.
I have driven into the park 4 times now since learning of 889’s death and it does not get any easier. Out on Round Prairie I saw the black log that I thought was her one night. One night when I had found her on the road, coming back from where ever she had been. Something looked so pitiful about her that night and I was very upset while watching her through the fog and rain. I could barely watch her and that was the last time I saw her close. No pictures because I had quit photographing the girl when she was on the road. No regrets, my images were from better times, though she definitely never caught a break.
The first time I saw 889F she was in Little America with 890, walking near the Peregrines. I had no clue who she was but was excited to see wolves and so was watching without hopes of capturing a photo. Back then I wasn’t much into long distance watching and just had a short lens so wolf photography was hopeless.
I remember that the wolves disappeared and a man went wandering out into the sage, probably to see if he could watch them pass by further out. What he never knew was that 889 walked right behind him, stopped to look at him and then continued on. It was kind of funny to me at the time. I also remember that 889 was quite pregnant and looked ready to give birth at any time.
And, she probably did have her pups soon after that, with 890 at her side, but we never saw the pups because they did not survive.
889 and 890 disappeared into the the Antelope Creek area and I did not see them for a long time. But, when 755 traveled through Lamar one day, I told someone that he was going to retrieve 889. He had tried to woo her during mating season but did not succeed.
Soon after, 890 returned to the Junction Buttes and some time after that, 755 and 889 showed up on the scene together. What a happy day it was to see 755 with this beautiful gal!
But, bliss did not last long because 889 was injured in her right paw and had a hard time getting around. In fact, she could not put any weight on it for some time. And, 755 showed her no mercy, leading her all over the place.
I found the two of them on a hill one day. Rick had been looking and looking but could not find them. Luckily for me she had gotten up from her resting spot and I saw some black movement on a high hill and there they were.
After she was injured, 755 and 889 were in Lamar Valley and he had gone up to rest on a hill, leaving 889 to struggle her way towards him. By this time she was worn out and her trek was long and painful. We stood and watched as she headed our way, thinking she would cross the road and head up to 755. But, when she got to the road, 889 turned and came towards us.
I was stunned! Because I had never seen a wolf do such a thing and did not know at the time that 889 was not shy of people. Of course, I was clicking away even though she was a pitiful sight. Her GPS collar had a huge snowball attached and she was holding her bad leg up as she traveled. But, her eyes were bright, oh so bright, and her face shined of innocence. Her lips were smiling. When she looked me there was such an open heart, naive that anything bad existed in the world, and my own heart melted.
The girl had heart!
Looking into those eyes, one can almost forget that the poor wolf had a snowball at her neck. It seemed that she had too many burdens to carry but that none of them got her down.
Edited version – removed the collar so that her stunning heart and beauty could shine through.
889 made it up the hill towards 755 but rested on a knoll below him. And, 755, not knowing that she was down there, got up, stretched and wandered off. My heart absolutely broke in two after watching her struggle so hard to get to him. For days, I was upset, thinking about what we had witnessed.
One thing really made the day special though and that was that my friends Susan and Gary had invited me on a private tour with Nathan of Wildside, and so we all experienced 889 together. It was truly a special event.
The two wolves were on again, off again for awhile, particularly when 755 went after her sister, the black female. But, when that did not work out, 755 and 889 got back together again and she did look pregnant.
We thought that perhaps all was good, 755 had his new mate and there would be puppies.
But, then, one day we saw the two of them wandering across Little America. I saw about what direction they were heading and went way ahead to set up and wait, hoping that they would travel by, within camera range. But, this girl had a way of getting me into trouble and this day would be no exception.
As I stood there watching and waiting, it looked like they might cross instead of going by, but well away from me. But, they did not and continued on. At some point 889 took a turn towards the road and was coming my way. Having been in a situation with her before, where Rick and the others were present, I was not too concerned and naturally assumed that she would get on the road and move along. My tailgate was up and I moved back as far as possible when she kept coming my way, still thinking she would turn and go down the road.
But, no, not 889, she walked right up to me, stopped, and looked into my eyes. I felt the tears go down my cheeks because it was then that I knew for certain that she would be shot and killed. Of course she was too close for photos, just tears.
She looked at me, I looked at her and she finally turned to go down the road. Of course I thought that she would keep going and went around to the other side of my car to retrieve a shorter lens for a going away road shot, only to find she had stopped in front of my car on that side. She constantly startled me with her comfort and nonchalance.
889 started down the road and I hopped into my car, determined to hold traffic back so that people would not disturb her travels, or go by too fast and hit her.
For my good deeds and trying to do the right thing, I was put on public ridicule by some nasty foreign wolf watcher person who was always trying to get me in trouble and get me kicked out of the park. Luckily, Rick had seen the whole thing and stood up for me or she might have gotten her way. It wasn’t the last time 889 got me into trouble but that was just her way. She was determined to get close to people and I was determined to protect her.
I realized, while watching 889 that day that she was not pregnant and the news hit everyone hard because we had so hoped that 755 would be an alpha again.
And, so time went on and we would see 889 once in a while but she wasn’t to be with 755 much longer as both went their own way. Every time I saw her she gave me that look and I will always wonder if she recognized me.
I found 889 in road situations very often and became active in letting people know in hopes that she would get hazed and quit spending time on the road. I wanted her to stay away from roads and people, hoping she would stay safe. All I cared about was her safety and photography became secondary at best.
Finally, one day, everything fell into place for the hazing of 889/
She was in Little America again, bothering some pronghorn with quite a happy crowd watching on. I had told some people that if they wanted to see a wolf, that she would be there. Not sure how I knew that but they were very happy to see 889.
Rick was notified and he notified law enforcement. I anticipated her movements, weaving through the crowds, and let Rick know where she was. Today had to be the day because the girl could not go on like this.
She upset some coyotes and they were talking nasty to her.
And then she decided to go for a swim.
She tried to cross the road but people stood right in front of her and would not let her pass. I asked everyone to move out of her way but one couple refused and moved closer. They asked me who I was and I told them, “Someone who cares.” Not sure how people got to be so selfish in this world but walking that close to a wild animal and blocking it from moving is the epitome of selfishness. The epitome of craziness. It still hurts me when I think about how she was treated.
She couldn’t cross where she wanted to and so she went on by us and then crossed right beside the ranger who was getting the shotgun ready to haze her. I think he was a bit startled to look up and see a wolf walking past him.
He gets ready to shoot.
And she is hit.
For having a bad leg she was off like a rocket.
And then there was a second shot that startled her so badly that she rolled head first.
Well, we did not see her as much after that and she began leaving the park for extended periods of time. When in the park she would cross the road near people but would usually keep on going.
I guess I wonder if she equated her punishment with the park and not with her bad behavior.
One thing that I know, she was a beauty that needed a break but never got one. 889 carried on as a lone wolf over the next several months until her death. She did show up with a gray for awhile, but not long. And, at one time she tried to go back to the Junction Buttes but that did not work either as her sister would not allow her back. That was the last any of us saw of 889. I asked about her from time to time but never anything, nothing at all. I knew she was out of the park and that one day she would head back our way.
That day was a week ago and she was shot dead. Weighing only 80 pounds, 889 was not in good health – her injury was getting the better of her and her teeth were bad. She might not have survived the winter and now she is out of pain. Her loneliness and pain are gone now and we remember her and the pleasure that she gave to so many.
But, I can’t help but wonder, did she walk right up to the man who shot her? Did she ever learn that people were evil? I will never know.
She took a big chunk of my heart with her and I can’t help but look at the empty spaces, where she once was, and think of 889.