Within a matter of hours after the devastating murder of her beloved mate, Wolf #9 found herself isolated and alone in hostile territory with 8 newborn pups.
Without the help of her mate Wolf #9 would eventually have to leave the den while she went in search of food. This would mean leaving the pups completely unprotected for prolonged periods of time. The pups would then be vulnerable to any number of predators, including the notorious wolf-haters of nearby Red Lodge. Wolf #9 and her pups were in serious trouble.
The magnitude of #9's situation became a major concern for all involved. What should they do? The survival of the pups and their unquestionable significance took on top priority. Not only were these pups the progeny of magnificent Wolf #10, they were also the first wolf pups to be born in Yellowstone National Park in over 60 years! They represented approximately 43% of the total Yellowstone wolf population.
The decision was clear. The team would have to formulate a plan to rescue Wolf #9 and her pups.
The decision to rescue Wolf #9 and the pups was not without controversy. Some felt that the future of #9 and her pups should be left to fate. But project leader Mike Phillips
and wolf biologist Doug Smith, as well
as others, believed that because the den site was so close to the town of Red Lodge, the chances of the pups surviving would be very low. This was the same town that Chad McKittrick, murderer of their father was from.
The team believed that it was their responsibility to do whatever they could to protect Wolf #9 and the pups. They also believed that they owed it to Wolf #10.
In the words of Mike Phillips, "We had a big task before us and #10 deserved that we do it well."
On the morning of May 4th U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Joe Fontaine discovered the den site of Wolf #9 and the pups after several hours of ground tracking. It was decided that food would be trucked in and left a safe distance from the den site until #9 could be safely trapped. The team didn't want to cause #9 any unnecessary stress or possibly displace her from her pups.
And on the morning of May 18th, almost exactly according to plans, Wolf #9 was successfully captured. But when the rescue team got to the den site it was empty! Wolf #9 had moved the pups!
Panic quickly set in amongst the rescuers! Where were #9's pups? It was essential that the pups be found before nightfall or they would surely perish! The team members hastily separated into groups of 2 and 3 and branched out. They carefully scoured every possible den site, including rock crevices and hollowed-out logs.
After several hours of searching with no luck a very weary team member thought he heard a faint rustling and what sounded like a whimper. He stood silently and listened, but heard nothing more.
But before proceeding he decided to let out one more long, loud wolf howl. And sure enough, this time he got an answer! From not more than 20 feet away a unison of baby wolf yelps rose up excitedly! As he neared the site he could see the tiny face of a wolf pup peering out at him from behind a rock crevice.