The B2 chronicles
Idaho’s oldest wolf passes
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
Of all the wolves roaming the American
West, an Idaho wolf named Chat Chaat was the oldest. In fact, the 13-year-old
ward of the Endangered Species Act was one of the oldest wolves ever documented
in the wild—anywhere.
B2, also known as Chat Chaat, was
Idaho’s oldest wolf. He died last winter in the White Cloud Mountains. He
was photographed in 2001 while biologists worked to put a new radio collar on
him. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wolf Recovery Coordinator Carter Neimeyer
helped re-collar the old wolf. Courtesy photo
In February, Chat Chaat’s legacy was
sealed when wildlife managers received a mortality signal from his radio collar.
Because of his age and because he was living in an area where wolves have
repeatedly clashed with ranchers, biologists feared he may have issued his last
On April 15, after winter snows receded,
three biologists trekked into a tributary of Herd Creek in the eastern White
Cloud Mountains to investigate the old wolf’s fate.
"There were no obvious signs of the cause
of his death," said Jim Holyan, a wildlife biologist with the Nez Perce Tribe
Wolf Recovery Project. "There was a bull elk that was dead near him. The
supposition is that he might have been kicked and died of internal injuries. Or
he might have just gotten old and died."
Although Holyan was not one of the
biologists who helped investigate the site, he is on a team of researchers who
is writing a paper about wolf longevity in the Northern Rockies. Chat Chaat is
the centerpiece for the paper.
"If we assume that he was four when he
came down from Canada, he would have been 13.8 years old when he died," Holyan
said. "I think as far as his age goes, he’s very noteworthy. He’s the oldest one
we know of in the Northern Rockies."
Chat Chaat, who occasionally visited the
Wood River Valley, was a large wolf accented with cream colors. His head was
large and blocky. Nez Perce Tribe Wolf Recovery Leader Curt Mack called him a
"big bruiser" with a "big, sturdy skeletal frame."
His name, given by Nez Perce students
before his 1995 release, means "Older Brother" in Nez Perce. Like the
stereotypical older sibling, he had a strong aura about him.
"He had a real strong presence," said
Suzanne Stone, Rocky Mountain field representative for Defenders of Wildlife and
a member of the team that helped capture wolves in Canada and release them to
the wilds of Idaho and Wyoming. "He was one of the unusual wolves that looked
through you rather than look at you. He wasn’t afraid. He seemed to be the most
sure of himself, the most confident of those first four wolves that we
Chat Chaat, Idaho’s oldest wolf until
last winte, covered a lot of ground during his 13 years. Most recently, he
lived in Central Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains, where biologists routinely fly
to monitor wolf activity using radio telemetry equipment. Express photo by
Last winter, Chat Chaat was one of roughly
four remaining wolves of the original 66 that were reintroduced to Idaho in 1995
and 1996. He was the only remaining wolf of those released the first year.
During his years as a Gem State resident,
Chat Chaat helped the wolf recovery program to prosper. He fathered no fewer
than 11 pups, and in the war of attrition that is subsistence in the wilds, B2
was a survivor.
His story embodies the successes and
failures of the Idaho Wolf Reintroduction Program. The very fact that he lived
to attain senior citizen status is a testament to the program’s prosperity. Wolf
recovery in the Northern Rockies is seen as a smashing biological success.
Conversely, B2’s interactions with livestock were evidence of the obstacles the
program has yet to hurdle.
Chat Chaat was the second wolf set loose
as part of the Idaho Wolf Reintroduction Program. The name given to him by
researchers was B2, and that name told the story of his citizenship. "B"
signified that he lived in Idaho, and "2" related to his place among the 66 gray
wolves captured in Canada and relocated to the American West.
When he was set free along the banks of
the Salmon River on January 14, 1995, B2 was 4 years old. He was released
immediately after a wolf called B5.
"I believe the first thing he did—he ran a
few hundred yards and peed," Stone said. He was set free with a radio collar
that had been anointed by the Nez Perce students with his name, Chat Chaat.
While some of the wolves quickly denned up
in easy-to-find locations, Chat Chaat was discreet. In the span of five years,
biologists picked up his radio signal only 11 times, including a year when they
didn’t find him at all. He was thought to have traveled widely, and he was
considered a loner.
"He was here, there and gone," Holyan
Mack put it this way:
"My impression is that B2 covered an
enormous amount of the country before he found a mate," he said. "We lost radio
contact with him for quite a while. There’s a big gap of information there where
we lost track of him."
Wildlife managers were at a loss to
explain where he had gone until the winter of 1998, when he was discovered in
the Boulder Mountains near Ketchum. He remained in the Sun Valley area until the
winter of 1999, when he resumed his cryptic behavior and vanished. In 2000,
however, he emerged on the east slope of the Pioneer Mountains along with a
female wolf, B66, and the pair began to form a pack. They produced a litter of
two pups in 2000 and five in 2001.
At that point in his life, B2 was 10 years
old, well over the hill in wolf years. When he was trapped that year and issued
a new radio collar, his age showed.
"When we last handled him in 2001, we
think he was pretty much blind," Holyan said. "His eyes were all clouded over
Despite his poor eyesight, B2 emerged as
the alpha male for the Wildhorse Pack, which roamed the Copper Basin and upper
reaches of the Big Lost River, just east of Sun Valley.
"For an animal to be taken care of by his
pack for so long, with his cataract problems and obviously not being able to
hunt for several years now, he must have been a pretty good wolf for the other
wolves to take care of him," Stone said. "We’ve certainly seen other old wolves
not be taken care of, and even been hurt or killed by their pack members."
During the summer, the pack’s territory
overlapped three livestock allotments on the Challis National Forest, and pack
members interacted with cattle on a daily basis throughout the grazing season.
In August of 2001, after some of the wolves were implicated in their first
livestock depredation, one of B2’s yearling pups was captured and relocated to
the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area in Northern Idaho.
But the pack was about to fall into even
greater disarray. In January 2002, B2’s mate died, perhaps from a kick by an
elk. The pack’s behavior grew increasingly erratic, and none of its females
ascended to the vacant alpha position. Devoid of pups, the wolves made extensive
movements beyond the boundaries of their usual home range.
They traveled south to Carey, west of
Hailey into the Smoky Mountains and into the East Fork of the Salmon River
valley on the east slope of the White Cloud Mountains.
At one point during their travels, the
Wildhorse Pack wolves followed a sheep band in Muldoon Canyon for three nights,
picking off 16 sheep before moving on to another location.
"The Wildhorse Pack, presumably because
they didn’t have pups that year, kept moving," said Mike Stevens, manager of
Lava Lake Land and Livestock. "We lost 16 sheep, but that was the end of it. It
was a wake up call for us that we better be ready for the presence of wolves in
After their extensive travels, the wolves
returned to their home range in Copper Basin. But without a firmly established
hierarchy, the pack structure broke apart, and each wolf began ranging widely.
"B2 kind of just started roaming around
and fell into the lap of his newest mate and started over," Holyan said.
The beleaguered B2 was 12 or 13 years old
and had a little more kick in him. Last June, B2 and an unfamiliar female wolf
were seen at a den site north of Railroad Ridge in the White Cloud Mountains.
There, amidst the late-spring snow and spotty spring wildflowers, the two wolves
were discovered with four gray pups. The so-called Castle Peak Pack was born,
with Chat Chaat, the "Older Brother," at the helm.
Although he was beat up, he continued as
the pack’s dominant alpha wolf.
"In his case, I think it was all just
fortuitous and by default," Holyan said. "But being the age that he was, he was
ripe for a fall eventually."
Nez Perce Tribe Wolf Recovery Leader
Curt Mack routinely flies the skies over Idaho to monitor wolf
activity using radio telemetry equipment. Express photo by Willy Cook
During a wolf monitoring flight on Feb.
10, biologists picked up the signal from B2’s radio collar, but the typical
once-per-second beep had doubled—the cue that the collar had not moved for more
than four hours. In wolf monitoring parlance, it’s called a mortality signal.
The subsequent four months cast increasing
doubt on his chances for survival. When the biologists found him April 15 along
an unnamed tributary of Herd Creek, there was no clear sign about how he died,
except the nearby elk carcass.
They cut off his head and left the rest of
the carcass behind. His skull will be used for education purposes, and one of
his teeth was sent to a lab in Montana to attempt to certifying his age.
"We’re finding out that B2 is one of the
oldest wolves on record," Mack said. "Thirteen is very old for a wild wolf."
"Boy, he lived for a long time for a wolf
in the wild," Stone agreed. "Average for a wolf is 7 or 8 years. He was
definitely a senior citizen for a wolf."
If B2 was 13.8 years old, as biologists
estimate, he was not only one of the oldest wolves ever documented. He was
undoubtedly the oldest actively reproductive wolf.
The key to his longevity is less clear.
"You’ve just got to have good genes,
predisposing you to that, but it’s also about setting up territory in places
where there won’t be trouble with humans and plenty of game," Holyan said. "Some
of it is luck."