It Takes a Family

Story told by Wolf Biologist Dr. Gordon Haber.  From the book Among Wolves by Gordon Haber and
                                                                                                                                                  Marybeth Holleman
Permission by author Marybeth Holleman given for story and images. Images available through
         Alaskawolves.org, a project of Friends of Animals

The following is an eye-witness story as observed from a helicopter on a late August helicopter flight. 
Dr. Haber studied the Toklat family group for 40 years and before him, Adolph Murie studied them. This family
was observed by these two scientists for a total of over 70 years.

The yearling sister in the story had a hurt rear leg, which made her walk with a limp. According to author Marybeth Holleman, this makes her actions in this story even more impressive. 
Story told by Wolf Biologist Dr. Gordon Haber.  From the book Among Wolves by Gordon Haber and                                                                                                                                      Marybeth Holleman  (pgs. 76 - 82)
Permission by author Marybeth Holleman given for story and images.
Images available through
 Alaskawolves.org, a project of Friends of Animals

The following is an eye-witness story as observed on a late August helicopter flight. Dr. Haber studied the Toklat family group for 40 years and before him, Adolph Murie studied them. This family was observed by these two scientists for a total of over 70 years.

The yearling sister in the story had a hurt rear leg, which made her walk with a limp. According to author Marybeth Holleman, this makes her actions in this story even more impressive. 
During a late Alaskan August 2009 in Denali National Park, three females of the Toklat family moved three pups to a new location within the group's territory. The images were taken during a research flight. Photo directions vary because the plane was circling. The following photo sequence shows highlights of the yearling female's attentiveness to the pups. According to Dr. Haber, they also convey a good sense of the wolves' intelligence, expressiveness and emotional depth.
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"The six Toklat wolves travel at a leisurely pace along a river. The four-month old pups (one black and two tan) are together near a pool of water, where two apparently see their reflections. On the far left, wearing a radio collar, is the dominant female"( the mother.) "In the middle is the larger female, and at the right is the yearling female. As the wolves travel, the pups generally remain closest to the yearling female and play with her more. She seems to enjoy their attention."
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"The three pups followed the older wolves across a shallow channel of the river. This channel poses little if any danger for the pups; nevertheless, the yearling female stops to watch over them closely as they cross, while the other two females continue on."
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"Somewhat farther upstream the three females cross the main channel, with the three pups just behind. This channel is a little deeper and swifter than the last one but still doesn't amount to much. But the pups are afraid to cross. A cloud passes overhead as they pace back and forth anxiously, trying to get the attention of the older wolves, who are distracted briefly with a dominance interaction between the two older females."
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"Within seconds the yearling turns her attention to the pups, trying to coax them across with playful crouches. The two older femals seem unconcerned."
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"As the sunshine returns, the black pup decides to give it a try. The yearling jumps into the river to reassure and encourage the pup, primarily with close eye contact and by leaping and pawing the water playfully, as if to put the pup at ease."
"The pup has only about six feet to go but seems to lose its nerve at this point, despite the yearling's intense urgings. The yearling sees that the pup is about to turn back. She makes a last attempt to bring the pup across, first by steadying it against the current with her paw (on the pup's downstream side), then by trying to grab the pup by the neck. However, the pup is too afraid and pulls away and returns to the other side."
The yearling encourages the pups to try again. After a few minutes, a tan pup crosses, followed by the black pup. The tan pup makes it across, but by not starting far enough upstream ends up having a little difficulty climbing out of the current along a cut bank. The black pup is about to do the same. The yearling rushes to their aide. She helps the tan pup climb out by placing her jaws around its neck and lifting while steadying it and holding it out of the current with her paw.

With the tan pup safely climbing the bank, the yearling immediately springs into action to help the black pup, who is almost across but still in the current. Note how laser-like she is focusing on the black pup.

What the yearling did next was impressive. She caught up to the pup within seconds and jumped into the river just ahead of it, to brace it against the current from the downstream side. The pup could then use her body to climb the bank fairly easily. 
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Meanwhile the third pup, who had watched the missteps of the other two, crossed the river on its own a little farther upstream, thus avoiding the cut bank entirely.
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"The dominant female ( outside the photo) starts the group off again and the large female turns to follow with  a bounce in her step. The yearling (right side) brings up the rear; all three of the pups immediately perk up and rush to her with obvious good feeling and affection."