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Decoding 302M

Obtaining genetic insight into one of Yellowstone's most unique wolves

by Dr. Nathan Varley
Dec. 19, 2010

The entire life of 302M is carefully documented in volumes of field observations over the course of his 9 1/2 years. This unusual male provided the Yellowstone Wolf Project with an incredible amount of knowledge by observing his unique behavior.  During his prime, 302M, also known as Casanova in popular films, was somehow able to travel through miles of Yellowstone's  northern range without harm, despite often traveling within established wolf territories.  He scavenged on pack kills--particularly the Druids and even bred with Druid females.  He was socially quite adept and able to maneuver around risks by displaying a combination of avoidance, persistence, and submission under attack.  Much of this unique behavior has been beautifully captured by producer Bob Landis in several motion pictures, including In the Valley of Wolves and The Rise of Black Wolf, which follows the entire life of 302M from a young playful pup to a strong alpha pack leader.  


Now, the Yellowstone Wolf Project has the opportunity to obtain the entire genetic code of 302M, or map his complete genealogy, to better understand the genetics behind what drove this unique wolf and how his genes may dictate behavior of other related wolves.  This is a rare and exciting opportunity whereby extensive birth to death field observations can be analyzed alongside an understanding of his genome. 

As a brief overview, 302M was born into the Leopold pack in 2000, yet, in the winter of 2003, he bred with several Druid females.  He consistently traveled back and forth between the two packs.  With the death of the legendary Druid alphas, 21M and 42F in 2004, 302M and his brother, joined the Druids, with his brother, 480M as the new alpha male.  The Druids in 2005, with only 4 members, became drifters, but they seemed to have the ability to travel unnoticed through rival pack territories.  In late 2008, 302M along with other Druid males, joined with four Agate females, forming the Blacktail Plateau pack.  302M was finally the alpha at 8 1/2 years old.  A complete circle of life occurred when one of the Blacktail females used the old Leopold den, the den 302M was born in during the 2000 denning season.  302M died in October, 2009 due to internal bleeding and wounds suffered through conflict with other wolves.  

The Yellowstone Wolf Project, along with The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at The University of California, Los Angeles is most excited to have this unique opportunity for this type of extensive genetic data.  The actual data would be generated and collected at UCLA, a longtime collaborator with the Yellowstone Wolf Project.  Presently, UCLA has some, but not all the funds necessary needed to obtain the genetic data.  To create the final stages of the genetic mapping, or the genome sequencing of 302M, UCLA is asking for your kind and generous financial support.  Please note that all donations are completely tax deductible and all donors will receive a confirmation thank you acknowledgment from UCLA.   

Any amount possible for a donation would be greatly appreciated.  To help support this important project with a generous donation, please send a check payable "UC Regents", with a cover letter indicating the donation should be directed to the research of Dr. Robert K. Wayne, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCLA.

The address for sending the check is:

Dr. Robert Wayne

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

621 Young Drive South

University of California

Los Angeles, CA 90095

With your generous support, this important new genetic data on 302M will further aid in the understanding of wolf behavior and how behavior is driven by genetic makeup.  Also, genes that directly impact disease, survival and reproduction fitness can be focused on to then be addressed through research and management.  Finally, the genome mapping of 302M will provide valuable data that can help to inform wolf management plans that allow for a genetically viable wolf population--which is a mandate under the Endangered Species Act.

 

Article by Dona Just


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