OR-7: A Lone Wolf’s Story

OR-7,  photographed in May 2014

OR-7, photographed in May 2014

On a quiet Sunday morning last summer I saw my first wolf in the wild. I was near the end of a long trail run when I noticed him gazing steadily at me from a grassy clearing about 15 meters off the trail. Needless to say, he’d seen me first.

Captivated, I dared not break my stride or alter the rhythm of my breath, for fear any change would send him off. A few precious seconds elongated and passed in slow motion, the wolf looking at me as I looked at him. Then he turned away and trotted up the slope, into the trees, and out of sight.

Later, when I was trying to decide whether what I’d seen wasn’t an awfully big dog, I remembered the way he looked at me and how I’d been certain from his gaze that he wasn’t a domestic dog. Nor could it be a coyote, since it’s unheard of for coyotes to be more than 74 pounds, and they’re usually much smaller. (According to Wikipedia, coyotes generally range from 15 to 45 pounds.) But this canine was big, easily over 100 pounds. My German shepherd Aktis weighs in between 90 and 100 pounds, and this animal was considerably larger than Aktis. He just didn’t look or act like a domestic dog, and there’s no dog that lives within 10 miles that looks anything like what I saw.

Ultimately I persuaded myself that what I saw was the coyote’s closest relative, the gray wolf. In fact, it’s most likely that I saw the now famous gray wolf, OR-7, who was born into the Imnaha pack of wolves in northeast Oregon. He was among the 64 wolves living in Oregon that biologists counted last winter.

For the past three years he’s been wandering alone—”in search of a mate”, apparently. Since he’s wearing a radio collar, biologists have tracked those wanderings, which included time in northern California. (There’s a map of his route here.) As I learned later, he was known to be in our neck of the woods on the day I saw him.

OR-7's pups

Two of OR-7’s pups

On June 2nd, 2014, biologists looking for OR-7 in the southern Cascades found these pups, presumed to be the offspring of OR-7 and his mate. Amazingly, after years of wandering alone over a large territory in which there were very few known wolves, he got lucky and met a black female wolf. Her origins are as yet unknown.

So now we have the first known wolf pups born in the Oregon Cascades since at least the 1940s. It’s wonderful how robust wildlife can be, given a chance. (The “chance” in this case is the Endangered Species Act that protects wolves.)  I’m glad they’re back in the neighborhood. And given how close we are to California’s border, it’s likely that wolves will reintroduce themselves there eventually.

As recently as the 1600s, there were over 2 million wolves in North America alone; now there are less than 200,000 worldwide. In contrast, there are estimated to be over 525 million dogs worldwide. In a cruel irony, dogs were used extensively among early Americans (including some of the founding fathers) to hunt down and exterminate wolves. Pretty ungrateful way to treat your ancestors. But for better and worse, dogs, like most of us, live by the motto that the enemy of my friend is an enemy of mine. 

I’ve written several posts on wolves and their relation to dogs. This one in particular may interest the canine cognescenti among you; it also has links to other related posts. In my book, I explore how dogs split off from wolves, inheriting the wolf’s cooperative genius and using it to befriend human beings—again, at the expense of wolves. For a human being and a good dog are as formidable a pair of hunters as you will find.

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