Wildlife biologists opened the gate on a pen holding six Canadian gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park on Tuesday, but the predators were in no hurry to leave.
Biologists opened the gate on the pen in the park’s Lamar Valley at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday, but the wolves had not headed for the opening as of 10 p.m.
“They’re going to do their own thing,” said Yellowstone spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews. “It’s kind of like one of your kids, you know. You can’t outguess them.”
Reintroduction projects involving similar animals have happened both ways, either the animals make a quick break or they pace around for awhile, she said. Officials said they would continue to monitor the predators through the night.
The six wolves were among 14 that have been held in pens in the Lamar Valley since January and among 29 brought to America’s northern Rockies from Canada as the first step in a 10-year effort to restore the predators.
Wolves once roamed widely in the region but were wiped out in the 1920s and 1930s in a federal eradication program. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan to reintroduce wolves is designed to build up a population of 200 of the animals in Yellowstone and central Idaho.
The 15 wolves taken to central Idaho in January were released directly to the wild, while the 14 wolves taken to Yellowstone have been held in the pens in the Lamar Valley to allow them to become accustomed to their new surroundings.
Biologists walked to the pen from a nearby road and opened the gate, leaving food both inside and outside of the pen.
The wolves treated the activity as a regular feeding, spokeswoman Sue Consolo-Murphy said, and congregated at the opposite end of the pen.
Biologists expected the wolves to discover the open gate after humans had left the area, she added.
“It will take awhile for them to figure ‘Well, the humans are gone,’ to start repatrolling the perimeter, to notice the gate is open and take advantage of it.”
The eight wolves remaining in pens will be released after the first pack leaves, said park spokeswoman Marsha Karle.A storm that had threatened to postpone the release failed to materialize, allowing the operation to continue as scheduled.
After the pen had been opened, biologists retreated to a spot about three to four miles away to monitor the movement of the wolves, each of which was wearing a collar equipped with a radio transmitter.
Specially equipped cameras were set up at the pens to photograph the wolves when the predators crossed an infrared beam in front of the gate.
The wolves have been fed by park workers and biologists, but Karle said biologists are not concerned that the wolves may choose to remain in the pen.
“It’s a pretty good living, but they’ve shown an interest in getting out of those pens since they’ve been in there,” she said.