She was just one more unnamed wolf. But when the life of 926F ended the last weekend in November, it meant something.
Wolves were complete about 1.8 million years ago, superbly adapted to their worlds and prey. They were once the most widely distributed land mammals on the planet. Humans came along much, much later.
One day in 1805, William Clark of the Corps of Discovery came upon wolves above the Yellowstone River that were “fat and extremely gentle,” he recorded – so much so that he approached one and killed it with a bayonet.
By the mid-1920s, those wolves had been hunted to extinction. In the 1960s, biologists, concerned with the destruction wrought by Yellowstone National Park’s ballooning elk populations, raised the idea of reintroducing wolves.
In 1995, 926F’s great-great-grandmother, Wolf No. 9, was one of 66 wolves brought by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from western Canada and released into the park.
In its vast bounds and with all those elk, she and the other wolves thrived. The elk were reduced. Willows, beavers and songbirds rebounded.
In 2006, 926F’s mother was born in the Lamar Valley, a part of the park crossed by a road, which made her pack visible to tourists. The lobos got used to seeing humans at a distance, peering through binoculars and spotting scopes.
Big and tawny, an alpha by virtue of her extraordinary elk-hunting skills, she chose her mates, built her numbers and became a star among the wolf-watchers. Her pack rarely left the park, but she did one day, when she was 6, and was shot and killed by a trophy hunter.
Like mother, like daughter – 926F, long and lean and russet, rallied her pack from dissolution and led it. This fall, at the age of 7, she had another litter, five healthy pups. She had a daughter with her, nicknamed Little T, an alpha-in-waiting.
Ten days ago, she, too, traveled just outside the park boundary.
Like her mother, she owed her success to her boldness. And like her mother, she was shot by a trophy hunter, who must have seemed to her like one more fan with a scope.
A recent World Wildlife Fund report finds that from 1970 to 2014, Earth lost nearly 60 percent of its nonhuman mammals, mostly because of human activity.
According to a new study in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” if you look at the world’s mammals by weight, 96 percent of that biomass now is humans and livestock. Just 4 percent is wild animals like 926F.
Her life had meaning if any does. Her pack and her blood are still strong. There will be more wolves, though never enough for some and always too many for others. And nothing can really be restored.
“We need another and a wiser ... concept of animals,” the naturalist Henry Beston wrote in 1928.
“We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained ...
“They are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.”