The Wait: Life and Death in Yellowstone

The coyote is waiting.


The eagles are waiting.




The wolf-watchers are waiting.


Even the wolves are waiting, off in the distance beyond the trees.


It’s a death-watch.  We’re all watching a wounded bull elk, waiting to see what will happen next.  He’s bedded down in a patch of willows in the Lamar Valley, and he’s been there for days.  Three days earlier the Lamar Canyon pack chased him, and one of them caught him on his hind end, wounding him.    Coyotes circle the elk, but don’t come too close; he’s still dangerous.  We can just see his antlers sticking up above the brush.


One wolf comes closer, accompanied by a greedy raven.


But he retreats back behind the trees.


We join the waiting wolf-watchers.  It feels morbid, but none of us want to look away.

Late in the afternoon another bull elk appears over a ridge.


He seems to know that his comrade is in trouble below him, and he beds down on the ridge to join the wait.

The sun is sinking, and it’s getting colder by the minute.  Eventually the wolf-watchers leave, and we’re left alone with the coyotes and the eagles and the wolves…watching and waiting.

And…as darkness falls, the elk is still hanging on.    We can’t come back in the morning, so this is one nature drama that we’ll have to leave unresolved.


(UPDATE):  I checked Yellowstone Reports, a wildlife blog that I subscribe to, and discovered that the elk hung on for nearly a week after we saw him.  The Park Service moved the carcass because it was too close to the road, and the Lamar Canyon Pack finally got their meal.



About westerner54

Hello. I'm Cindy, and I love to hike, bike and explore the outdoors - particularly the western U.S.
This entry was posted in Montana, Nature, Wildlife, Yellowstone and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The Wait: Life and Death in Yellowstone

  1. plaidcamper says:

    This was so compelling – what a drama! All the competing different characters, and each with a similar motive. Wonderful! And thanks for the resolution!

    • westerner54 says:

      I had let my membership to Yellowstone Reports lapse, but paid up just to see what happened to the elk. I was surprised that he held on for so long and then ended up not making it.

  2. Lyle Krahn says:

    Ah yes … you told the story so well. And it continues to unfold every day.

    • westerner54 says:

      Yellowstone Reports posted a photo of the elk. I was sorely tempted to use it, (with a credit of course) but I know they don’t want folks doing that, so I followed the law!

  3. de Wets Wild says:

    Amazing that the predators were so patient!

    • westerner54 says:

      That’s what I thought, too! Would they be that patient in your part of the world?

      • de Wets Wild says:

        I doubt it. A single predator might have waited for nightfall, but a pride of lions, or a pack of hyenas or African wild dogs would probably have moved in very swiftly, especially if they had known that the prey animal has already been wounded. Competition between the top predators is intense, if they don’t make the most of every opportunity they won’t make it at all…

  4. a beautiful glimpse of the wild!

  5. Jet Eliot says:

    Your description of the Lamar Vly drama was superb and compelling. I have been in this area and stood with the wolf-watchers in Sept. snow and cold, and was not surprised to see this love and attentiveness even in the bitter cold. Most of all, I am appreciative of your astounding photos; that coyote in the snow is breathtaking.

    • westerner54 says:

      Thanks, Jet. I wish I could do a better job of expressing the life and death drama that was taking place – there are always amazing stories taking place in Yellowstone. I totally understand how the wolf watchers are so hooked on it!

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