Saturday, June 1, 2013

Wolves and Horses; Horses and Wolves

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.
By Kitson

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.”

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