As Kathleen and I blissfully relaxed under the trees, many miles north of our position below Castle Peak towards the Canadian border, the huge black mass of muscle and sinew rose stiffly to its feet and sniffed the cold morning air. Since the arrival of the three youngest cubs there had been disastrous changes in their circumstances. While there had been four adults in the pack things had been hard enough but they had managed. But the two young brothers were gone now. One of them had shown signs of independence from an early age, taking after his father and displaying all the traits of an exceptional hunter and potential pack leader. Friction had developed between them and eventually, aged three he had left to find his own territory and hopefully form his own pack many miles away.
Not long afterwards the other had met a horrific fate when he was cruelly snared in an illegal trap. Despite his efforts and those of the remainder of the pack, he found it impossible to release his limb from the vicious wire which cut deeper and deeper into the flesh with every desperate struggle. He never complained or showed any sign of weakness as his strength waned, lapping up his own blood in a bid to avoid detection and the possible attention of a passing bear or coyote pack. Despite the pain he accepted inevitable death with dignity and courage. He suffered silently for two days and two nights before the callous hunter returned to check his traps, found his prize and shot it dead.
So now there was just the big male and his mate to provide food but age was beginning to affect him badly. Having reached his thirteenth year the effect of the old, crippling wound to his front paw had become more pronounced. He was a mere shadow of his former magnificent self. Still able to fight and kill effortlessly at close quarters but the ability to chase and wear down larger prey over long distances was a distant memory. He relied more and more on his loyal mate the white wolf but she had her new cubs to protect and sustain. It seemed now that all of them, pups and parents alike were constantly hungry and exhausted. There was no such thing as dying of old age in the wilderness. You just fought to survive for as long as you were able, battling with the elements and the worst that nature could throw at you. Ultimately though, nature always won.
Now, as winter began to dig its steely claws into the bleak but safer highest ground within his range the monstrous black wolf made the most serious mistake of his life. The poor condition of his once luxurious black coat, now pocked with scars and bare patches from the plethora of old wounds meant that he was suffering the effects of the intense cold more than ever before. It affected his better judgement and he took the decision to lead his mate and her cubs down to the lower, slightly less extreme country where winter would be comparatively less ferocious. A place where he expected prey animals to be more abundant and where he was confident that he would be able to provide for his diminished pack, even though the most feared predator of them all was more prevalent there.
The precious cubs were too young and weak to be moved under normal circumstances, it wasn’t safe for them to wander far from the protection of their mother for fear of being taken by a bear, a cougar or even one of the mighty bald eagles that patrolled the skies over the high ground. But all of the pack’s recent attempts to hunt had failed. The mountain goats and deer were too quick for the old wolf, escaping his ambushes and outrunning him. His pursuits were short lived and ineffective as his crippled paw continued to let him down. Neither he or his mate had eaten for many days. The cubs were desperately undernourished. In fact the entire pack was gradually starving to death.
So in a bid to survive he stood by his decision, fighting against his instincts and leading the diminished pack slowly south, scavenging what they could find. Driving a coyote from the meagre remains of its kill or bringing down a sickly deer fawn had helped to sustain them for a short while but it wasn’t enough. Stealthily they moved on into fresh but unknown territory. The black wolf believed that there were no others of their kind to fear in the vicinity. They had found no sign at all for their species was rare in these times. They felt free to roam and hunt as they pleased but still a good kill continued to elude them.