|Doug Smith and Joker survey the Hayden Valley, one of the best places to see wildlife, like wolves, elk, grizzly bears and bison, in Yellowstone.|
Photo courtesy of Doug Smith.
Yellowstone wolf biologist Doug Smith had to pinch himself his first day on the job in 1994. Yes – in fact he was getting to ride a horse for a good part of the work day, scouting a wolf den. Every year he gets assigned a horse (Yellowstone owns 120 horses plus mules). For most of the recent past, he’s been assigned a horse named Joker, a Quarter Horse/Percheron gelding that he trained from a colt. His best days at work, Smith says, have been on a horse. Sometimes he’s out trekking on horseback for a week in the wilderness with four pack horses.
His equine partners, he says, have better instincts than ATVs. Horses get to know the scent of a dead wolf, which is often what Smith is looking for. He’s in charge of the Yellowstone Wolf Project. If a wolf has died inside the national park, he figures out who, where and how the death occurred like a monumental-scale game of Clue (Wolf #305 / on the Blacktail Plateau / with the candlestick).
“At first they get freaked out,” he told me in an interview last week, about when a horse coming across the remains of a wolf. “But after that, they help me find it. I’m sure of it.”