Her parents may have been killed by her mate and his family. Her daughter was shot. Now she’s dead and her killing is under investigation.
Although the details may sound like the story line for a soap opera, a Shakespearean play or even the historical dirty deeds of Europe’s competing monarchies, it’s actually the tale of one of Yellowstone National Park’s well-known wolves — the white alpha female of the Canyon pack. Now, details of the park’s individual wolves and their inter-relatedness can be found in one place: online at Ancestry.com, a website formerly reserved for rooting out human family trees.
“People love their wolves,” said Jim Halfpenny, the founder of the Yellowstone Wolf Genealogy Family Tree.
That’s a sentiment Yellowstone officials have recognized, as well.
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“I am amazed at the interest level in Yellowstone wolves,” said biologist Doug Smith, who leads the Yellowstone Wolf Project. “It’s insatiable.”
He noted that questionnaires distributed by the park in the early 2000s revealed that about 300,000 come to Yellowstone hoping to see wolves. Park interpreters annually talk to anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 people a year about wolves. It’s easy to see why there’s such an interest, Smith said.
“If you come to Yellowstone and put in a few days, you can see a wolf — and that’s pretty remarkable.”
The reason that wolves are such a draw is no surprise to Halfpenny.
“People love dogs, and wolves are the dog’s father,” he said. “For many people — like the dog lovers — that love extends to wolves.”
The popularity of his genealogy charts became apparent to Halfpenny, a Gardiner, Mont.-based biologist, after he started recording the lineage of Yellowstone’s wolves when they were first reintroduced to the park in 1995 and 1996.
“Through the years I’ve produced these laminated charts, selling about 4,000 a year,” he said. Now folks can order them online.
He updates the data yearly, using information gathered from multiple sources, including the Yellowstone Wolf Project. That’s no small task considering there can be more than 100 wolves scattered across the park’s 2.2 million acres each year. At their population peak there were more than 170 wolves inside Yellowstone.
“We started out trying to do it by volunteers, and it was too overwhelming,” Halfpenny said.
So using a Kickstarter project to fund development — 273 people contributed more than $26,000 — Halfpenny was able to “put online the lives, pedigrees and genealogy of the Yellowstone wolves for access of all fans,” according to the website. The digital information is “enormous in scope and the first of its kind in the world.”
Those interested can go to www.wolfgenes.info to learn more about the project. Perusing Ancestry.com requires the payment of a membership fee. The information is also now available on a cellphone app allowing wolf devotees to carry the data with them into the field.
Smith said he hadn’t been able to check out the website yet but noted that building family trees and genealogy for wolves that have never been captured and had their DNA tested — such as the white alpha female from the Canyon pack — means some of the data isn’t scientifically valid. Each year about 40 percent of Yellowstone’s wolves are captured and have DNA samples taken.
“For scientific purposes, this probably is not the place to go,” Smith said. “For avid wolf watchers this is great. And he’s probably right most of the time.”