I’ll never forget the day Dr. Doug Smith, director of the Wolf Restoration Project at Yellowstone National Park told me the story of Female 7. She was one of the first wolves set free in Yellowstone in March, 1995. The first in almost seventy years, following a time when people trapped and killed wolves to eliminate this top predator from Yellowstone National Park.
Finally, people realized, you can’t fool with mother nature. Every animal in an ecosystem has its role. Wolves helped eliminate sick, weak, and old animals keeping populations of grazing animals, like elk and deer, from becoming huge—too big for there to be enough food for them to eat.
What struck me as exciting was that the young wolf scientists called Female 7 didn’t choose to remain part of the pack people artificially created. She immediately set off into the wilderness on her own. Of course, no one knows exactly what she experienced or how she reacted. Family Pack is her story as I imagine it happened. The ending is known and we'll get to that.
Family Pack opens with a young female wolf heading off on her own into Yellowstone National Park. There are no other wolves anywhere around. Imagine if you were suddenly in a wilderness where you were the only human. How would you feel about that? What might you find exciting? What might make you feel frightened?
For wolves, the world is given shape and texture as much by scents as by colors and shadows. Close your eyes and have a partner guide you into different rooms of your home. Can you tell where you are just by what you smell? A wolf could!
Next, close your eyes while your partner cuts or peels an orange, an apple, or a banana and hold it under your nose. Sniff this fruit. Then have your partner hide the mystery fruit so you can’t see it when you open your eyes. Use crayons or paint to color a piece of paper, sharing your impressions of this fruit based solely on how it smelled. For example, rather than using orange to show that fruit choose a color to share how sweet it smelled and make the color dark or light to indicate whether the odor was strong or faint.
Finish by showing your picture to another family member who didn't see the mystery fruit. Can they identify whether your picture shares an orange, an apple, or a banana? Then have your partner reveal the mystery fruit and let everyone share sniffing and tasting it.
At one point in the story, the young female thrusts her muzzle skyward and howls. Where she used to live, her voice would have drawn a chorus of other wolf voices and the arrival of her family. Try it!
Have family members scatter throughout the house. Then you move to wherever you want your family to meet up. Start your family’s chorus by tipping your head back and giving a good loud howl. Have each family member join in with a howl that is slightly different than yours and thus uniquely their own. Each family member should also move toward you between howls. Repeat until your entirely family has found you.
Did howling help you find each other?
Did you find you were quickly able to identify each family member by their individual howl?
Imagine how you would feel if, like the female wolf in the story, you howled and your family never found you?
The young female wolf finally becomes able to catch prey to feed herself by practicing her hunting skills. Name at least five things practice has helped you learn to do better.
Finally, one day, the young female discovers she’s no longer the only wolf in her home territory. When she first meets the young male they sniff each other, rub heads, and lick muzzles. Like wolves, people have customs for greeting someone new? Think about how people you know respond to being introduced to someone.
Family Pack has a very happy ending.
Female 7 and Male 2 mate. I suspect it was love at first sniff. When they had pups, their family pack became the first naturally formed pack in Yellowstone following the reintroduction of wolves. Scientists called it the Leopold Pack.
Over the years since then, the Leopold Pack has grown into one of the strongest and largest packs in Yellowstone National Park. Female 7 and Male 2 are no longer living. However, their descendants continue to hunt the same territory Female 7 first claimed when everywhere she went she left the first wolf prints to mark the ground in over seventy years.
Now, isn't that one special wild female worth honoring this month!?