Sunday, September 11, 2016

Yellowstone NP #2

Beautiful scenery was everywhere we looked.  The rivers were running swift and crystal clear, and sometimes the elk were standing belly-deep to cool off and avoid the biting flies.  (Fortunately the flies didn’t bite us.) 

Gibbon Falls, Tower Falls, Virginia Cascade and the falls at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone were impressive.

And everywhere there were the bones of lodgepole pines that had been killed by fire or by water from the geysers and scalding pools.

As I mentioned earlier, the park’s grizzly bears and wolves, didn’t show themselves when we were out and about.  However, the Wolf & Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone made up for what we did not see in the wild.  The center houses eight magnificent grizzly bears and six wolves, in addition to several rescued raptors.  But for the center, all these animals would have been euthanized.

The bears have all been relocated to the center, either because they were orphaned or because they became “nuisance bears.”  Bear 101 was the 101st bear to be collared in Yellowstone.  For twenty years she lived successfully in the wild, raising several sets of cubs.  Then, in 2002 during a period of extreme drought, she discovered garbage dumps and human food.  After being relocated unsuccessfully several times, she was removed from the wild and brought to the center. 

The bears, in rotation, spend several hours each day in the Grizzly Habitat.  Sam, at 1000 pounds, is the largest of the center’s grizzlies.  He is not particularly sociable, and since he is much larger than any of the others, when his turn comes he has the habitat to himself.

When one bear or group of bears leaves the habitat, kids ages 5-12 join an animal keeper and hide food for the bears.  

Then, when the next bears are released, they race into the enclosure to look for the food.

We enjoyed watching the grizzlies interact.  At one point, Spirit got into a tiff with Grant and Roosevelt.  There was much standing, roaring, and finally a chase.  No blood was spilled, but the sounds coming from those 350-400 pound bears was impressive.

The center is home to three wolf “packs” as well.  Each enclosure holds two wolves.  They were all bred in captivity in other locations, and were "excess" pups until they found a home here.  Kootenai and Akela of the River Valley Pack were born in 2007.  They were very active, and at one point were howling to each other from opposite sides of their habitat.

Summit and Adara of the Granite Wolf Pack were having “enrichment” when we visited.  While they were inside being fed, a keeper placed several elk bones in their enclosure, as well as sprinkled some bobcat sent in their pen.  When they were released, they raced around looking for the bones and rolling in the scent.

McKinley and Leopold, the High Country Wolf Pack, are ten years old, and were not as active as the others.  McKinley is the largest of the center’s wolves, and weighs about 125 pounds.  All the wolves were obviously healthy.  The keeper explained that the had not yet grown their winter coats, so did not look as furry as they will in a couple of months.

We were sorry we didn’t see any wild wolves or bears, but it was a real treat to get a close look at these beautiful animals and to know that they are being well cared for.

Yellowstone also has coyotes, and we were fortunate to see one of these normally shy canids while we were out geyser gazing.  He (or maybe she) was drifting slowly across the meadow adjacent to one of the geyser fields.  The lines of cars some 250 yards away and people with cameras and binoculars pointed his way didn’t phase him.

And there was also a two-legged critter people were staring at as well.  Against every rule of Yellowstone warning about stepping off the boardwalk and into the geyser field, this guy had walked across the meadow and right into the center of the steaming, bubbling cauldron. 

As we left, he was making his way back to his car and the rangers were waiting for him.  He’s lucky they didn’t have to perform a rescue or recovery operation.

We also got a quick look at a couple of Bighorn rams that were grazing beside the road.

However, by far our best wildlife viewing was of some of Yellowstone’s elk.  Based on the behavior of this bull and his harem, I would say the rut has definitely begun.  

This handsome fellow was bugling and doing his best to interest one of the elk cows in a closer relationship.

His impressive 6x6 rack would have been the envy of many a bull.  However, the ladies were playing hard to get, at least while we watched.  

Our Yellowstone experience was every bit as good as the last one, and we look forward to the next.

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