I talk among my friends, guides, and travelers quite often of experiences I’ve had in places that haven’t seen many people or places that have seen a lot of people but still remain somewhat intact as a “wild’’ place. Its always an interesting topic as we discuss truly wild places that have never changed like central Alaska, northern Canada or perhaps the deep interiors of the South American or African jungles. Today I seem to notice that “wild’’ to most people is staying in a 4 or 5 star hotel, going out and seeing a few animals that they might forget in an hour or two and heading back to the hotel for the hot tub or the best evening entertainment of choice.
I often find myself wondering what my definition of “wild’’ is? This really hit home when I was in Chobe National Park, Botswana. I was scouting for an itinerary and it just so happens I had to take a game drive to see just how all the animals work. Now on this game drive I could hear some excitement in the guides radio in native tongue and knew we had something good coming up, and it was all that and a dead impala on top! We drove up and there was a HUGE male lion finishing an impala and the other guide said he had taken it from the wild dogs that just ran over the hill! We snapped a few pictures of this lion as the sun had not come up yet and everyone agreed to take off for the wild dogs as they are extremely rare to see, much less tag along for possibly a hunt! We cruised up and waited for the dogs to come off the small hill and into the 4x4 track we were on.
They grouped up with some at the flank, a couple in the middle and some more holding up the rear, all in all about 20 wild dogs! They cruised along as canines do looking and smelling for opportunity and as we followed they chased a wart hog until he backed up to his hole for a fight. With tail up and tusks on alert the dogs decided they would go after an animal that runs a little more with less defense weapons.
Then it happens, the lead dog goes on point, they crouch their ears and off to the races through the trees and lucky for us we are able to stay on our track and see impala doing their special “I’m healthy; move on” run to show the wild dogs they are not a good target. Now in Africa, when one animal runs, most don’t stick around to long to see why their running or what spooked them. We could see impala and kudu running out the hill a quarter mile away as fast as their legs would carry them and dogs in hot pursuit of impala in the small ravine we were tracking in! There were dogs working cutoffs of impala and dogs directly behind impala in the struggle for survival in every sense of the word! One bound to slow, one turn the wrong way and the impala would become the breakfast menu on the hot Botswana sand. And just as fast as it started, it was over, and the dogs were coming all back together panting heavily after a tough morning with no success. As they faded to an area we could no longer go we headed back for the lion who would still be enjoying his meal that the wild dogs had provided him.
As we pull up, 3 lionesses from his pride patiently waited as he fed. He was under some dense brush with a small window to photograph just his head and some of the impala as the sun came up. Every minute or so he would look into the vehicle and look right through you, his eyes so wild as he ate you could feel it. You could feel the look that put you in your place of one step down on the food chain. The look that has kept his pride in existence as long as he was there to defend it. The look that no doubt has kept his species on top of the fight for survival over other competitor species such as hyena and wild dog. That look, is the look of the wild. Its what makes the wild when there has been a highway put in place 5 miles away from the national park removing much of the remoteness we like to think of as wild. I often look for those eyes when I am guiding. Sometimes on a winter wolf trip in Yellowstone or an Alaska trip to see the brown bears. I must say that the three species that give it the most would be the wolf that looks right through you, the leopard who stares into you, and the confident male lion who knows without a doubt he owns everything around him, including you!
By BrushBuck Guide Trevor Bloom
Winter is one of the best times of the year to view wildlife in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. One may think that a blanket of snow, cold temperatures, and short days would prevent amazing animal sightings, yet the opposite is true. On any given Grand Teton or Yellowstone Tour, BrushBuck guides see greater numbers of animals in winter than we do in summer. Why is that? In the winter, large populations of elk, moose, mule deer, big horn sheep and bison congregate in the valley floor near good sources of food and running water. Subsequently, the wolves and coyotes follow the prey.
In summer, grazing animals are free to migrate high into the mountains and disperse widely across the 18 million acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. In winter, much of the terrain in the sub-alpine and alpine zone is inhospitable even for the toughest of creatures. Gusts of eighty miles per hour, wind chill of negative fifty degrees Fahrenheit, and 10 feet deep snow drifts force large mammals down to lower elevations and milder climates.
In Grand Teton National Park, this means that most animals spend the winter in the valley floor, some just minutes from downtown Jackson. In the winter, on a Grand Teton Tour it is not uncommon to view 5,000 elk, 200 bighorn sheep, 500 bison, and 20 moose in a four hour period. In Yellowstone, many animals concentrate in the Lamar Valley. Located in the northern reaches of the nation's first National Park, the Lamar Valley receives 1/8 the snowfall of other areas in the park. Thus, it is a refuge for thousands of elk and bison which continue to graze year round.
In the case of both Grand Teton and Yellowstone, a concentration of prey species in a single area leads to an increase in predators. Winter is the season of the wolves! Elk, buffalo, and all other grazing animals struggle to consume enough calories to survive the harsh winter. Any injury incurred during the fall rut, or mating season, will evolve into a life-threatening ailment in winter. Wolves take full advantage of their prey's weakness. Wolves have large paws in relation to their body weight, and like a sled dog, can run on the surface of deep snow. Meanwhile buffalo and elk post hole through the snow and cannot run for long distances before reaching complete exhaustion. This gives wolves a huge advantage, allowing them to hunt prey much larger than themselves.
Grand Teton and Yellowstone winter tours with BrushBuck are the best opportunity to see wolves in the wild. Winter tours are filled to the brim with wildlife sightings and unbelievable landscapes. Better yet there are no crowds, the roads are empty, and you will enjoy an experience that few others ever will. Join BrushBuck for a four-hour Grand Teton Tour or an all inclusive Five Day / Four Night Adventure through Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park.
Happy holidays and to a great new year! Our New Year's resolution is to continue to provide the best wildlife excursions Grand Teton & Yellowstone National Park have to offer! We'll start early by kicking off our multi-day wolf & wildlife adventure on December 23rd. Being one of the largest intact ecosystems in the entire world, Yellowstone is the best place on Earth to view wolves! The best time of year to observe these amazing creatures is now through spring. We still have some spaces left on some of our trips, so don't miss out on an adventure of a lifetime!
However, if you don't have the time for a week long adventure, we provide an incredible 4 hour adventure into Grand Teton National Park for some phenomenal wildlife viewing. Moose, bighorn sheep, elk, bison, bald eagle, mule deer, coyote, and wolf can all be observed on just a four-hour trip into this amazing winter habitat! If you're sore from skiing at Jackson Hole, the #1 resort in North America, relax and take a dawn or dusk trip with us that you won't soon forget!
In other great wildlife news, Adam has returned from his South African adventure and he and his clients had an awesome time! Check out our Facebook page for images from their incredible journey!
Stay tuned for updates on our wolf trips! Until then, may your 2014 be bright, merry and full of adventure!
The Staff @ BrushBuck Guide Services