We'll cut right to the quick here -- there's not a ton of gray wolves in the wild in the American West, so when one dies, it's kind of a big deal. It's setting wolf conservation efforts back, and there's a bunch of reasons why that's sad. But a wolf named OR-54 was just reported in as dead in California, and this is one worth talking about in particular.
OR-54 (God, I want to give her a real name so badly here) was the 54th wolf to be collared for tracking in the state of Oregon, thus the name. That GPS collar helped scientists track her for over 8700 miles since 2018, which is way more miles than your Apple Watch has recorded for you in that time frame. Presumably during that time frame, she was looking for either a mate or a new pack, and was unsuccessful at both.
The hopes, however, were higher than the Sierra Nevadas. Because they'd had a GPS collar on her for so long, OR-54 was going to be one of the animals that we could point to as a success story with an actual narrative. That collar was on her for 8700 miles through Oregon, California, and even Nevada -- that's an incredibly rare journey. The narrative would've included some footnotes about snacking on cattle, which is a very real fear people have about the reintroduction of wolves in the American West. But the big hope was that she'd be the catalyst of a new pack, bringing a bunch of baby wolves into the world and bringing some natural order back the way the reintroduction of wolves did in Yellowstone.
And so here's the reality of this situation for us as people. Our immediate tendency is to ascribe human emotions to this wolf's story. When you hear that a wolf traveled 8700 miles and died unsuccessfully looking for a mate, it's really easy to think, "ugh, that's a mood." We could sit here and remind you how that's roughly 13 miles a day, and how many of us would run a half-marathon every single day just to find love?
And worse, think about how popular the phrases "lone wolf" or "one-man wolf pack" have become in recent years. Some people might want to put a twist on this story, and suggest that OR-54 didn't need a mate; she was a strong, independent wolf who didn't need no man. In case it's not common knowledge at this point, lone wolves die without packs, and it's never pretty. OR-54 was only about 3 or 4 years old at the time of her death, and we may never know for sure how she died. It could've been anything -- a poacher, maybe another animal, or even disease. Wolves in the wild usually live about double that length when in groups.
I don't say all this to make you sad, or fearful. Think about the type of hope for the future that OR-54 must have had, right up until the end, and maybe give a little howl out into the world. See if you can't form some packs of hope in your own world.
Isaac fell in love with wolves as a boy when they were brought to the Cleveland Zoo for the first time, and that love will never die. Please consider making a donation to their conservation efforts.