Follow the Pack - March 20, 2010
Follow the Pack just returned from five nights camping in the territory of the Middle Fork Pack near Beaverhead, in the Gila National Forest, New Mexico. We didn’t see any sign of the Middle Fork alpha pair or their almost year-old pup, but deep, melting snow, mud, and rushing streams made it difficult for us to either drive or hike very far into their territory. Both the alpha male and alpha female of Middle Fork have only three legs. You can read more about this pack in the story “Wolf Tales,” on this website.
Although we didn’t see or hear the wolves, or find any tracks or scat, we did observe lots of wildlife. We saw four different herds of elk during the trip, including one group of at least sixty animals. The total number of elk we saw was at least 120. We also saw a small herd of pronghorn in the wide open grasslands east of our camp.
It was interesting to observe what happened when the herd of sixty elk approached a barbed-wire fence. The herd came up to the fence and waited a few minutes. They appeared to be deciding whether or not to try to jump over the fence. They turned around and moved away from the fence, but soon approached it again. This time they again appeared to be trying to figure out whether to cross. Eventually they gave up, turned away a second time, and disappeared into a small valley.
Herd of elk looking for a way through a fence. They are over a mile away and are magnified 20 times. Photo 3/17/10
Herd of elk moving away from fence a second time and returning the way they came. Magnified 20 times. 3/17/10
The next day we watched another, smaller herd of elk approaching a fence. They checked it out, and then walked for several hundred yards along the fence. Eventually, they found a place where the top wire of the fence had come loose and was right on top of the second wire. The fence was only about three feet high at this spot. All of the elk eventually jumped the fence, but one fell down on her back, and had to scramble to get up. The young bull elk with the herd got his foot caught the first time he tried to jump and had to try again. Fences may not stop elk for going where they need to go to find food or escape predators like wolves, but they certainly appear to make it more difficult.