Wolves support each other in times of danger: Triangle saves his sister

The following account is from Kira Cassidy a research associate with the Yellowstone Wolf Project.

We called him Triangle, for the shape of the white blaze on his chest. Born into the last litter of the Druid Peak pack—he was smaller than his brothers, and even one of his sisters. One cold morning in 2009 he and an older sister encountered three members of the Hoodoo pack, deep in Druid territory. His sister was immediately attacked but instead of running to safety, Triangle jumped into the melee twice, bit one of the Hoodoo wolves and distracted the opposition long enough for his sister to escape. As he turned to run he was bitten hard on a back leg but outdistanced the attackers, finally out of harm’s way.

Why would he take such a risk? In Yellowstone 68% of natural death occurs when two packs fight. And of the 34 attacks we witnessed and analyzed, in six cases a wolf attempted to rescue their pack mate. So why didn’t Triangle run for safety, saving himself? It may be because the pack, the family, is a crucial part of a wolf’s life.

Yellowstone wolf photo credit NPS

Wolves are rarely alone. They are born in a litter and with pack mates while they hunt, travel, and sleep. If a wolf does leave its pack it is usually to start their own, have their own offspring, and once again, be surrounded by family. It is beneficial to live in a big family, too. It helps every member of the group survive longer, recover from injuries and infections more easily, raise more pups, and hunt larger prey. Wolf packs are also territorial and aggressive with their neighbors; and big packs—especially ones with adult males for fighting power and older adults for their knowledge—are more likely to defeat their opponents.

Risking death or injury to aid a pack mate during an attack may have important evolutionary benefits. This behavior fits with the kin selection theory because helping close relatives promotes your shared genes. Or the pack mate you saved may reciprocate and help you in the future.

As scientists and naturalists fascinated by this behavior, maybe we shouldn’t be that shocked. The news is inundated by stories of a dog saving its family from a burning building, or a person saving a neighbor stuck in a raging river or even a wild animal entangled in a fence. Instead of seeing these acts of selflessness as a human anomaly, maybe we should start viewing them as the bridge that connects us to other animals. Animals like the gray wolf who see family as the most important part of life. Source Yellowstone Forever

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Gray wolves support each other in times of danger: Triangle saves his sister.

The following account is from Kira Cassidy a research associate with the Yellowstone Wolf Project.

We called him Triangle, for the shape of the white blaze on his chest. Born into the last litter of the Druid Peak pack—he was smaller than his brothers, and even one of his sisters. One cold morning in 2009 he and an older sister encountered three members of the Hoodoo pack, deep in Druid territory. His sister was immediately attacked but instead of running to safety, Triangle jumped into the melee twice, bit one of the Hoodoo wolves and distracted the opposition long enough for his sister to escape. As he turned to run he was bitten hard on a back leg but outdistanced the attackers, finally out of harm’s way. 

Why would he take such a risk? In Yellowstone 68% of natural death occurs when two packs fight. And of the 34 attacks we witnessed and analyzed, in six cases a wolf attempted to rescue their pack mate. So why didn’t Triangle run for safety, saving himself? It may be because the pack, the family, is a crucial part of a wolf’s life. 

Wolves are rarely alone. They are born in a litter and with pack mates while they hunt, travel, and sleep. If a wolf does leave its pack it is usually to start their own, have their own offspring, and once again, be surrounded by family. It is beneficial to live in a big family, too. It helps every member of the group survive longer, recover from injuries and infections more easily, raise more pups, and hunt larger prey. Wolf packs are also territorial and aggressive with their neighbors; and big packs—especially ones with adult males for fighting power and older adults for their knowledge—are more likely to defeat their opponents.

Risking death or injury to aid a pack mate during an attack may have important evolutionary benefits. This behavior fits with the kin selection theory because helping close relatives promotes your shared genes. Or the pack mate you saved may reciprocate and help you in the future.

As scientists and naturalists fascinated by this behavior, maybe we shouldn’t be that shocked. The news is inundated by stories of a dog saving its family from a burning building, or a person saving a neighbor stuck in a raging river or even a wild animal entangled in a fence. Instead of seeing these acts of selflessness as a human anomaly, maybe we should start viewing them as the bridge that connects us to other animals. Animals like the gray wolf who see family as the most important part of life. 

Source Yellowstone Forever

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Yellowstone wolf researcher Kira Cassidy highlights the value of what old individuals can teach us…


Aging in the wild: lessons from animals about the value of growing old –  Kira Cassidy – TEDxBozeman

What do wolves and societal attitudes toward elderly humans have in common? Kira Cassidy relates her research on Yellowstone wolves with other wildlife studies focused on understanding the value of older individuals in group-living species. Cassidy explains how these studies highlight the value of what old individuals can teach us: where we’ve gone wrong, what we might be missing, and what we can do to fix it. Kira Cassidy was raised in Illinois where she developed a deep respect for wildlife and the outdoors through a childhood of (purposely) getting lost in the forest, raising three baby raccoons, and gardening for subsistence with her family. Kira holds her M.S. degree from the University of Minnesota, with projects focusing on territoriality and aggression between packs of gray wolves. Now working as a Research Associate for the Yellowstone Wolf Project, Kira’s scientific interests include territorial dynamics, the evolution of sociality, and the value of the individual in group-living species. Kira has assisted film crews in Yellowstone National Park and on Ellesmere Island, living with an arctic wolf family during the summer of 2014 in the effort to help communicate science to the public through different forms of media. Kira lives in Gardiner, Montana and can be found painting, reading, flying a kite, or exploring with her two distant wolf-descendants (hound dogs Badger and Wyatt). This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

“A wolf pack is truly a family.”  ~Kira Cassidy 


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Featured image by John E Marriott