Wildlife biologists opened the gate of a pen holding six Canadian gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park on Tuesday, but the predators were slow to make a break for freedom.
Biologists opened the gate of the pen in the park’s Lamar Valley shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday, but the wolves had not headed for the opening as of 8 p.m., according to Yellowstone spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews.
“They’re going to do their own thing,” she said. “It’s kind of like one of your kids, you know. You can’t outguess them.”
Reintroduction projects involving similar animals have worked both ways - either the animals make a quick break or they pace around for a while, she said.
The six wolves are among 14 that have been held in pens in the Lamar Valley since January and are among 29 brought to America’s northern Rockies from Canada as the first step in a 10-year effort to restore the predators in the region.
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 controversial 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 pens in the Lamar Valley so they could become accustomed to their new surroundings.
Biologists walked to the pen from a nearby road and opened the gate, leaving The wolves treated the activity as a regular feeding, spokeswoman Sue Consolo-Murphy said, and congregated at the opposite end of the pen from the humans.
Biologists expected the wolves to discover the open gate after humans left the area, she added.
“It will take a while for them to figure ‘Well, the humans are gone,’ to start re-patrolling the perimeter, to notice the gate is open and take advantage of it,” she said.
The eight wolves remaining in pens will be released after the first pack leaves the area, said park spokeswoman Marsha Karle said.
The wolves have been fed by park workers and biologists since arriving in January, but Karle said biologists were not concerned that the wolves may choose to remain in the pen.