Anyone who has spent time close to wolves will be able to tell you that they are incredibly compelling animals with dynamic personalities. Every time I head back to the White Wolf Sanctuary I am greeted with a multitude of characters – some of whom I am familiar with, some of whom are new and are exciting to get to know. I have no doubt that even those who work more hands-off with wild wolves will still have noticed very individual behaviour within packs.
There is one wild wolf in particular who managed to grip the attention of people all over the world, and I think his story is worth sharing. Not only has he made history by being the driving catalyst for an entire state law change, but he defied all odds of location and distance on his instinctive quest to start a family. His name of identification is OR-7 (he was the seventh wolf in Oregon to receive a radio tag), but he has since been affectionately renamed as Journey. He was first radio collared in 2011 when he was about two years old.
Journey originated from the Imnaha pack, a pack of wolves inhabiting a north-east corner of Oregon. This pack was formally identified around 2009 when a video camera caught sight of a group of ten wolves, including a radio-collared female. This female had already made history herself when she trekked down to Oregon with her mate and became the first officially-identified breeding female in the state since the last wolf bounty was collected there in 1947. Journey is one of this female’s pups, and he went on to undertake an incredible expedition himself.
In roughly September 2011 Journey dispersed from his pack, which is something that is encouraged of wolves of this age so that they can find an outside mate and start their own family group. Instead of staying near the area, Journey wandered for miles… and miles… and miles… sometimes 30 miles a day (for metric users like myself that equates to almost 50km a day)! In not even three months, Journey had traveled over 1,200 zig-zagging miles (almost 2,000km) and found himself in California.
Here’s a neat map you can click on that shows how exactly Journey got to California and where he stayed over the years:
Once his collar signal was recognised in California, it caused quite a stir. This is because it had been almost a whole century since a wolf was spotted in the area. California, like Oregon, once ran a government-funded bounty program that successfully wiped out wolves from the entire state. The last confirmed wild wolf (before Journey) seen in California was identified in 1924. Wolf supporters at the Center for Biological Diversity took the opportunity to set up a petition to invoke state protection for all grey wolves. Fast-forward to June 4th, 2014, and the California Fish and Game Commission finally announced that grey wolves would be listed under the California Endangered Species Act; they would receive state protection.
2014 is getting a bit ahead of the story, though. After first arriving in California in late 2011, and causing such a stir with wolf supporters and those opposed to the protection of wolves, Journey then spent some time flitting between the states of Cali and Oregon with no real established territory of his own. While he was just a wolf doing what wolfies do, people were in awe of him and used him as a real focus-point for positive discussions about the importance of wolves in their natural environment. (If you haven’t already, check out this great video that demonstrates the positive impact reintroduced wolves have had on the environment.)
In 2013, after a couple of years of wandering around (more locally, this time), Journey found himself a mate. And then, only two days before California announced the inclusion of grey wolves on the CESA, US Fish and Wildlife Service biologists released information that they had visited Journey’s known location in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, and seen and heard two – possibly more – wolf pups. Below is the first photo taken, courtesy of USFWS, of Journey and his mate’s two pups – the first wolf pups in the Oregon Cascades in over 60 years! Check out the Center for Biological Diversity’s article tying Journey’s pups in with California’s state pledge of protection.
Since then it was confirmed that Journey and his mate had a total of three mouths to feed – three famous pups born in the Oregon Cascades. All the yearlings survived that 2014-2015 winter – and last year it was confirmed that Journey and his mate successfully produced a second litter! The family group have been named the Rogue Pack, due to their location. HERE is a gorgeous time-lapse video showing two of the three older pups hanging out near a trail-cam (thanks to The Oregonian).
Journey and his mate’s presence has sparked a lot of conversation around wolves and their place in the ecosystem. For the most part, though, people have been accepting of the Rogue Pack (they are keeping well out of the way of humans, which is good). And while the pack are not currently in California, the state protection has lasted in case any other wolves wander through. The status of wolves in California is, however, up for review – for recent updates you can head to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website.
I left out a small detail of this story, wanting to save it until last. Journey traveled hundreds upon hundreds of miles to finally find his mate and start his own pack. And which wolf did he end up finding to create a mating pair with? None other than a female who quite possibly originated from a neighbouring pack from northern Oregon or Idaho! Scat samples that scientists analysed last year show that Journey’s mate may very well have come from a similar region to him, indicating that each wolf wandered hundreds of miles to meet each other despite being potential neighbours. Why Journey decided to trek so far we will never know, but for now the growing Rogue Pack is safe in the Cascades, leading the way for future packs in the area.