TWISP — The mother wolf of the state’s first confirmed pack of wolves in Washington state in 70 years is missing.
At least, biologists don’t know where the alpha female from Twisp’s Lookout Pack has been since May 12, when the signal from her radio collar stopped giving them her location.
That’s likely to mean one of two things, said Scott Fitkin, biologist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Either her radio collar malfunctioned, or someone killed her and destroyed the collar, he said.
The collar on the father, or alpha male of the pack, is still sending signals, indicating he’s moved up to the higher elevations above Twisp for the summer, he said.
They are the only two wolves in the pack that were captured and fitted with radio collars during the summer of 2008, when DNA tests confirmed the wolves were not hybrids, and when remote cameras showed they had a litter of pups.
Biologists have used the radio collars to track their location since then.
There were at least seven wolves in the pack this spring, but now that they can’t locate the mother, they don’t know how many there are, Fitkin said. They haven’t seen more than three or four wolves together since spring.
Fitkin said the collars are supposed to work for four years, but it’s certainly possible the collar stopped working.
He said there are other possibilities that would explain the absence of a signal from the alpha mom, although they’re not very likely.
“It’s feasible she could have died in some spot where it’s tough to get a signal,” he said. But he has flown over the pack’s range a few times, and never was able to get her signal, although he picked up the male’s.
“I think it’s unlikely she left the area entirely,” he said, but he can’t be certain she didn’t.
Fitkin said that just doesn’t fit with the actions of an alpha member of the pack, even one who’s getting older
A remote camera captured a photo of the mother wolf in April, and she looked fat, leading biologists to believe she was pregnant.
But howling surveys in the same areas where they heard pups for the last two years yielded no responses this year, he said.
He said one person reported seeing two pups crossing a road this summer, but the sighting is not verified.
“We don’t really know if there are pups on the ground. It seems doubtful,” he said.
There are a variety of things a wolf pack will do when it loses its alpha female, Fitkin said.
He said the alpha male might find a new mate and continue to use the same territory.
Or a new alpha pair could form — one or both from the existing pack — and use the same home range.
Or the pack could break up, and eventually, other wolves could move in and use the habitat.
“Given that dad’s a pretty old animal, I’m afraid to make a prediction,” he said of the future of the Lookout Pack if the alpha female isn’t with them anymore.
He said judging from recolonization in other areas, wolves will likely continue to use this territory.
Fitkin asks that anyone with information call him at (509) 996-4373.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512