1995: Look Who's Back

Oct 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

A wolf in Yellowstone National Park.

The last native gray wolf died in Yellowstone National Park in the mid-thirties, the victim of a U.S. government eradication campaign that relied on everything from poison and traps to the stomping of wolf-pup litters. Fast-forward through six decades of slow enlightenment, to March 21, 1995. Despite a series of intimidating legal challenges, 43-year-old MIKE PHILLIPS—wildlife ecologist and Yellowstone Wolf Project leader—was preparing to reintroduce Canis lupus to Yellowstone. Two groups, captured in Alberta, Canada, had been placed in remote chain-link enclosures inside the park. After ten weeks, they were showing encouraging signs of acclimation. "Under enormous scrutiny, we had opened the gates . . . and nothing happened. Jokes circulated about the 'welfare wolves' that were content to lie around and be supplied with elk carcasses. Total bullshit. They just needed to do this on their own time. We were on our way to check the Rose Creek pen, where there were three wolves: a big, assertive alpha male, No. 10, his mate, No. 9, and her daughter, No. 7. Just as my field biologist, Douglas Smith, and I set off, a blizzard hit—we could hardly see our path through the trees. And then a wolf howled behind us. We turned, and there was No. 10, just visible through the snow, huge and free, the first wild wolf released into Yellowstone. We bailed out of there, but No. 10 followed us at a distance, howling frequently. He was just letting us know that this was his territory."

Interview by Jonathan Hanson

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Open a World of Adventure

Our Dispatch email delivers the stories you can’t afford to miss.

Thank you!