November 25, 2008
Yellowstone Staff Profile
Rick McIntyre, a Biological Technician for the Yellowstone Wolf Project, demonstrates a level of dedication rarely found in any profession; he hasn’t missed a day of Yellowstone wolf watching in 8 1/2 years. In fact, he recently marked his 3,000th consecutive day of observing the Park’s famous wolf packs.
At dawn each morning, he uses radio telemetry to determine where wolves can be seen, then sets up his spotting scope and searches for them. Once he locates wolves, he makes detailed tape-recorded notes on their behavior. After a mid-day break, he usually goes back out for the last few hours of sunlight.
It is through these consistent, daily observations that he contributes to the body of knowledge that now exists on wolves, and shares a wealth of information with Park visitors. Throughout each day, Rick speaks with a steady stream of visitors, assists them in spotting wolves, and explains wolf ecology and behavior.
We recently caught up with Rick to ask him about his unique daily routine, and what fuels his commitment to observing Yellowstone’s wolves.
YELLOWSTONE PARK FOUNDATION: What time do you get up each morning?
RICK MCINTYRE: I like to be in position by first light, so it varies by time of year. In June, when the days are long, I get up at around 3:40 am. Right now, in December, I sleep in until 5:00.
YPF: Wow, that’s early. Do you ever feel like turning off the alarm and going back to sleep?
RM: No. I would feel like I might miss something important. It would be like a parent missing his or her child’s big sporting event or music recital. I need to be there.
YPF: You recently marked your 3,000th day watching wolves. Don’t you ever get sick?
RM: I caught a cold once, in 1997. But I still went to work. Each time I spot a wolf, it’s just as exciting as it was the first time I saw one.
YPF: Do you ever have a day in which you don’t see any wolves?
RM: I see wolves close to 99% of the days I am out there. A lot of that is due to the teamwork that goes on each day among those of us looking for wolves. I use telemetry to locate wolves. Then I share potential locations with other Wolf Project staff members and Park visitors who are interested in seeing wolves. We all work together to find and observe the wolves.
YPF: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
RM: There are many. There are the observations themselves, which are always bringing to light fascinating wolf behaviors and pack dynamics. Then there are the visitors. It is very rewarding to share my own enthusiasm and knowledge about wolves with a visitor, and to see their excitement when they first see a wolf. Among wolf watchers, particularly those who have seen documentary films on Yellowstone’s wolves, some of the individual animals have achieved celebrity status. Pointing out Wolf #302 to someone who knows his dramatic background story makes me feel like I am a tour guide in 1964 London, pointing out some guys walking down the street who happen to be the Beatles.
YPF: What is a question about wolves you are asked frequently by visitors?
RM: Visitors often ask why there are bison or elk grazing peacefully nearby wolves. The grazers don’t look scared, and the wolves aren’t showing any interest in eating them. We believe that wolves that are experienced in predation take the ungulates’ behavior as a sign of strength and confidence that they can outrun the wolf. Generally, Yellowstone wolves prey on animals that are weak, old, or sick, since they know that the strong healthy ones can either outrun them, in the case of elk, or stand up to them, which is often the case with bison. But sometimes an inexperienced pup might run after a nearby elk, in the same way a domestic puppy will chase a car.
YPF: What is something unexpected a visitor might learn after viewing wolves in the wild?
RM: Often, after viewing a pack of wolves feeding on a carcass, they express surprise that the wolves are so civil to each other. They have seen documentaries, filmed outside of Yellowstone, of wolves being aggressive and fighting with their packmates in a competition for food. But many of these documentaries were filmed, unbeknownst to the viewer, with captive wolves. In these situations, there is more perceived competition for resources and violence may erupt more easily. Generally, we observe wolves peacefully sharing the bounty. In some cases the alpha male and female will walk away from a carcass right after a kill and let the members of their pack eat first.
YPF: What is it about Yellowstone wolves that attract so many visitors year-round?
RM: Word has spread that Yellowstone is the best place in the world to view wolves in the wild. Plus, there is the realization that you not only can see them here, but also can learn to identify specific wolves and track them over the years. People can watch, from afar, the individual wolves’ lives -- and in many cases the lives of their offspring -- unfold.
Rick McIntyre has been involved, in various capacities, with the Yellowstone Wolf Project since 1996. Learn more about the Yellowstone Wolf Project>>
Learn more about Rick's work for the Yellowstone Wolf Education Project>>