The Weekly Wolf

I spent six years living with the wolves of Mission:Wolf.
Each Monday, this page will feature a photograph and story
of these wolves or a fellow species from the gray wolf's ecosystem.

January 28, 2013



Asha was a black and silver colored female wolf, born in the spring of 1993. She grew up in a large pack of wolves known as the “action pack” next to the refuge’s visitor’s center. As Asha matured into a rambunctious teenager, she quickly turned into the pack’s troublemaker and tried to take over the alpha female position. Once we realized what she was up to, we separated her from the pack and gave Asha and a male wolf named Rasta, another mischief-maker, their own enclosure.

Asha was outgoing around all those who raised her, but remained rather shy around strangers. Her pale yellow eyes warily followed anyone who walked down the path next to her enclosure. Asha was very sweet tempered, although she did appreciate the occasional water hose tug-of-war if we weren’t paying close enough attention. Another one of her favorite past-times was to swim through deep, fresh snow. Whenever the refuge was buried under snow banks and we were working extra hard just to feed the wolves, we'd look up to see Asha dog-paddling through the powder.

Known as one of the gentlest wolves as the refuge, Asha quickly became friends with any of the staff who lived in one of the lower huts. During morning walk-around, Asha hung back behind a tree or bush until she discovered who it was. Then, if it was one of Asha’s friends, she'd rush up to the fence, shove Rasta out of the way, and press up against the fence for some attention.

Asha passed away on June 17, 2007. While she has probably moved on to another life and adventure somewhere, I will always remember her wild, yellow eyes, gentle spirit and enthusiastic licks.

January 21, 2013



Most visitors and short-term staff were drawn to Druid by his massive size, deep-throated howl, and intense eyes. Shivers rippled up and down their spines whenever he gazed through the fence at them. They were both bewitched and intimidated by his wildness. How do I know this? Because I felt it too, when I first came to Mission:Wolf. Even with my back turned, I could feel Druid’s bold, silent stare following my every move in his part of the refuge. Worse still, he’d occasionally charge up to the fence, paw at it, and grumble at me. Logically, I knew he couldn’t get to me – but that still didn’t stop the hairs on the back of my neck from rising.

Over the ten years I knew him, my relationship with Druid evolved into one of the most complex and illuminating experiences of my life. The longer I spent with the wolves, learning their behaviors and intricate body language, the more I came to appreciate the complexity of their emotions.

It finally dawned on me that Druid wasn’t stalking me… in fact he was trying to befriend me in his own weird, wolf-y way. You see, Druid was hand-raised by humans from the time he was a tiny pup in the hopes of socializing him. And the plan worked wonderfully, for a time. Druid was a happy-go-lucky puppy, who grew into a boisterous teenage wolf that adored everyone. The only problem – growing wolves don’t understand two basic principles: 1) the meaning of the word ‘no;’ and 2) humans are unreasonably fragile and can’t withstand even a little wolf-style roughhousing. It didn’t take long for Druid’s exuberance to give him a bad reputation for toothy greetings and fat lips. By the time Druid’s grumbles and squeaks were aimed at me, he hadn’t been able to visit with any of his human friends in three years. He wasn’t trying to intimidate me, or eat me… he was desperately trying to get me to come over and play with him. From that day on, the Big Bad Druid in my mind morphed into goofy Dewey, the comedian of Mission:Wolf. Sure, we had our adventures and differences (like the day I had to push his head back through a hole in the fence with my foot; or when he started bullying and stealing food from Ned, his cancer-stricken pack-mate) but I could always count on Dewey to wear his invariably strong emotions on his proverbial sleeve. Druid’s frustrated, high pitched rants about the obnoxious fence that inexplicably kept him away from his favorite humans and his daily bouts of unadulterated joy while playing catch-the-water-spout as I filled his water tub gave me a peak into the heart of a wolf.

Druid was also featured on the February 2010 Weekly Wolf page.

January 14, 2013



Jasmine always seemed to have a perpetually surprised look on her face - it was definitely emphasized by her pale yellow eyes and surprisingly dark coat, but I think it was really that she was continually startled and confounded by us humans. Jasmine’s parents were wild-born wolves, and it seems that they passed their shy, secretive natures on to their daughter. Even though Jasmine grew up at Mission:Wolf and knew some of the staff members her entire life, she was always rather jumpy whenever people were close by. It was only in her last few years that Jasmine’s new mate, Merlin, taught her how to be brave enough to stick around for photos during tours and feedings. I always appreciated her wild ways and loved playing the “Where’s the wolf?” game with my tour groups.

Now, looking back at this photo – taken just after sunrise on a bitterly cold and snowy morning when everyone else at the refuge was still fast asleep – I can’t help but get a bit teary. This was one of the first times Jasmine didn’t run away from me. She still watched me closely, but from then on, she’d come up each day to curiously watch me as I walked by. Then, one morning just a few months later, Jasmine wasn’t at the fence. Full of worry, the refuge director and I entered her enclosure to see what was wrong. We found Jasmine lying in an aspen grove, unable to stand. For the first time since she was a puppy, wild Jasmine found herself surrounded by people. Amazingly, she stayed calm and seemed to know we were trying to help her. We carried her down to our vet building and I spent the next day and night sitting with her. As she was 13 years old, it shouldn’t have come as a shock that she’d suffered a stroke, but I will never get used to the idea of Jasmine laying calmly by my side. That day was the first day I ever touched her soft fur, the first time I held her head in my lap, and the first time she ever reached out to me. It will always be a bittersweet memory – for she passed away in her sleep that night. We buried her atop the Mission:Wolf ridge, right next to her brother, and said goodbye with tears in our eyes but hope in our hearts. Jasmine was gone from our lives, but at least now she was really and truly free.

Jasmine was also featured on the January 2010 Weekly Wolf page.

January 7, 2013



The Weekly Wolf is back!

Last fall, I began a graduate MFA program in Science and Natural History Filmmaking at Montana State University. It has been a wonderful, eye-opening experience… but because of this field’s intensive nature, I have had no time to spare for Gray Wolf Conservation. To my loyal followers, thank you for your patience and understanding. Now that my course load is a little more manageable, and conservation issues in the wolf world seem to be coming to a head in the media and policy spheres, I am going to do my best to carry on with the Weekly Wolf. So, check back each Monday for a new photo of gray wolves or the other species that share their habitats. And keep an eye out for news about my upcoming film project on wolves and the trophic cascade in Yellowstone. If you would like to check out some of my other film work from the past year and a half (quite a few about wolves), then please visit Now, on to this week’s photo!

Thirty species of rattlesnake, including the red diamond rattlesnake pictured above, are found in North and South America. They vary in size (from 1-8 feet long, and 3oz – 10 lbs) depending on the specific species and habitat. These venomous pit vipers get their common name from the ‘rattle’ found on the end of their tails. A new ring of keratin (the same material as our fingernails) is left on end of a rattlesnake’s tail each time it sheds its skin, adding a new segment to the rattle. If alarmed, the snake shakes its rattle-tipped tail back and forth, making a distinctive hissing sound.

Rattlesnakes can be found in grasslands, scrub brush, rocky hills and mountainsides, deserts, woodlands, swamps and meadows across the Western Hemisphere. They are primarily nocturnal or crepuscular during summer months, but can also be active during daylight when temperatures are moderate or in shaded areas. They are chiefly terrestrial, but can climb shrubs and trees. They hibernate throughout the winter months, always returning to their natal den to huddle with up to a hundred relatives for warmth.

Rattlesnakes display several specialized adaptations when hunting their prey. Distinctive heat sensing pits on the side of the head allows the rattlesnake to ‘see’ their prey’s body heat. The Jacobson’s organ on the roof of the rattlesnake’s mouth allows them to ‘smell’ odor particles picked up on their tongue and track their prey. Rattlesnakes lay in wait for their prey, ambush them with a quick strike, withdraw while the unfortunate animal escapes to wait for the venom to take effect, then track it down again and swallow it whole. It typically takes them two weeks to digest the meal before hunting again. Rattlesnakes have long, hollow, moveable fangs (that are quickly replaced when broken) that inject hemotoxic venom into their preys’ bloodstream – destroying tissue and causing swelling and internal bleeding. Some species inject neurotoxic venom at the same time, causing paralysis and other nervous system problems. Their common prey includes mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, lizards, birds and other snakes. Interestingly, adult California ground squirrels are immune to rattlesnake venom and will aggressively confront a snake if they feel threatened.

Rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous – meaning that they give birth to live young. While most snakes lay leathery eggs in nests, female rattlesnakes hold their eggs inside their bodies for 90 days before fully developed hatchlings emerge. Most rattlesnakes only reproduce once every two years, but they have a longer than average lifespan of up to 25 years.

Humans and rattlesnakes have a complicated relationship. The snakes are highly valued for their crucial role in controlling rodent populations, but most people are terrified of them. Rattlesnakes do not hunt humans and generally try to avoid contact. However, if a rattlesnake is cornered or threatened, it will shake its rattle in warning and then strike if you do not back off. Rattlesnake bites are potentially dangerous to humans without immediate medical treatment. Symptoms include: massive tissue swelling, pain, bruising, necrosis of tissue, nausea, vomiting, and the inability to form blood clots. When in rattlesnake territory keep a close eye on where you’re stepping, as juvenile rattlesnakes don’t yet have rattles.