Guest Author

July 15, 2008

Andy Harper - A Journey With Carl Swoboda of Safari Yellowstone

I recently read your interview with Carl Swoboda of Safari Yellowstone posted on April 16th. Since I was heading to Yellowstone in June with my family, I decided to give him a call and set up a wildlife safari. My wife and I had been to Yellowstone 10 years ago and did not see any wolves. I wanted to make sure that did not happen again. When I talked to Carl, he said that he had seen wolves more than 1000 days in a row and expected to find wolves for us, no problem.

Elk and Wolf on a ridge (Photo: Andy Harper)

Our experience with Carl was fantastic. Although we had been fortunate to see wolves the night before in Lamar Valley, we were anxious to go out again.

Our day with Carl began with a grueling 4:30am wake up call and early morning drive to Mammoth Hot Springs. On the way, we had a rare opportunity to see a grizzly at close range. Of course, it was one of the only times my camera was beyond my reach in the back of the car.

Once we reached our rendezvous point with Carl, we traveled about an hour to the Lamar Valley. We were fortunate enough to see about 12-14 wolves, the majority from the Druid pack, and 1 or 2 outsiders. According to Carl, a bison had died a few days ago of natural causes and the Druid's had been feeding on it on and off for days. The diversity of wildlife this bison carcass attracted while we were there was amazing. At one point, a lone black wolf was feeding when a huge grizzly came lumbering across the valley floor straight for the carcass. We expected the wolf would be chased off, but surprisingly the griz and the wolf simply shared the carcass, along with numerous hungry ravens. Once the griz had its fill, numerous other wolves from the pack showed up for breakfast. Dozens of us were perched next to the road, nearly a mile away, peering through spotting scopes and binoculars at this incredible show. Then Carl told us to turn around. He had heard the howls of the rest of the Druid pack behind us. They were up on a ridge, chasing an elk as she defended her young one. She was very aggressive with the wolves and they finally gave up, realizing they had an easy meal waiting for them across the road.

Wolf in Yellowstone (Photo: Andy Harper)

The Druid's on the ridge howled and those on the valley floor at the carcass returned their calls, one of the most beautifully haunting sounds I have ever heard. A few moments later, we found ourselves in a awkward position. As the remainder of the pack suddenly emerged from the brush and were standing about 100 yards from our vehicle. They wanted to cross the road near our parked vehicle. Carl packed us up and moved us out of their way so they could cross the road. 

I was able to capture a few precious shots of the pack at close range before we moved. We watched in awe, as the wolves crossed into the valley, easily navigated the river and came out on the far banks shaking the frigid water from their fur. We laughed as they chased each other, while they dashed up the hillside towards the rest of the pack. They were warmly greeted at their feeding site. They were together again, secure with their pack. It was clear they enjoyed their life in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley.

We watched for most for the morning through Carl's spotting scopes. We thoroughly enjoyed their antics. Then towards the end of the morning we packed up as the wolves slowly made their way for a mid-day nap.

Although they are wild animals, they reminded me at times of my two dogs at home and how they love to run, hunt and play. I was surprised to see first hand how skittish they are of humans – they are definitely not the ruthless killers portrayed by some. Sure they take what they need to eat, but they are an important part of the ecosystem. There are times when weaker animals are taken by wolves. It's sad, but life in Yellowstone is not a Disney Movie. As humans, it is not up to us to upset the balance of nature because some may fear wolves or feel they are competing for trophy species like elk. Now that the wolves are back, we are seeing a more balanced ecosystem.

Wolves are amazing animals that need to be protected. Through my experience in June, I feel I have been initiated into the coolest fraternity on the planet and now I'm a wolf lover too! Let's manage them and learn to live together. Thanks for introducing me to Carl. It was an experience of a lifetime!

-Andy Harper


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