YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — At first light, Big Blaze, a black wolf with a white chest, trotted across a distant slope, following the scent trail of the Blacktail pack.
Karen Webb and her husband, Alan, came from England to see Yellowstone’s wolves. Wolves were their only reason for visiting America, Karen Webb said.
“I never understood why Americans use the word ‘awesome.’ It seemed like the strangest of words, until the first time I stood here in the silence on a cold icy morning,” she said.
A pack’s composition often dictates whether it will accept a new member. A pack with three or more older adult males is unlikely to tolerate another male joining the pack.
“Big Blaze is the great exception,” Varley said.
The black wolf was born into the Druid pack, became one of the founding members of the Blacktail pack, then led the Agate Creek pack. Deposed as the Agate pack’s leader and nearly killed, Big Blaze managed to rejoin the Blacktail pack.
The alpha male, or pack leader, doesn’t necessarily lead a hunt, Varley said. The big, burly alpha male’s body type is great for fending off other wolves, but makes it tough to sprint after prey.