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  • April 26, 2016

Capturing the Wildness of Wolves in Yellowstone

He gets up close and personal with some of the fiercest predators in Yellowstone. Or at least his cameras do.

For photographer Ronan Donovan camera trapping is an art, and designing the setups with animal behavior patterns in mind can require creativity, patience, and determination. On assignment for National Geographic‘s May issue on Yellowstone, he rolled up his sleeves, refused to give up, and captured amazing images of bears and wolves in their natural habitat.

Bears are naturally curious omnivores that tend to “lick everything,” Donovan says, and one of the biggest challenges in setting camera traps for them is what he calls “camera carnage.” Wolves, on the other hand, are much more elusive—and much harder to pin down.

Note: The video above features photographs that were made using a variety of techniques, including camera traps.

Picture of a wolf and bison carcass in Yellowstone
This bison drowned in the Yellowstone River over the winter when it tried to cross. Donovan says a grizzly bear had been feeding on this carcass for several days before he set up a camera trap.

According to Donovan, wolves are by nature more wary of anything new in their environment—even the slightest reflection from a lens could scare off an approaching wolf. Donovan spent months trying to invent ways to “trick” the wolves, building all sorts of structures to hide the traps and make them less conspicuous. One of the traps he built was disguised by a pile of river rocks and placed in the shallows of the Yellowstone River.

Not only did Donovan have the wolves’ wariness to contend with, but he also had to deal with ever changing weather patterns, which can cause a camera lens to fog or ice over. Out of the hundred traps he set in Yellowstone, only five produced viable pictures of wolves.

Picture of wolves in yellowstone
A group of wolves feed on the same bison carcass from the previous image. Condensation made this shot a near miss.

In one particularly heartbreaking instance, three wolves came to feed on a bison carcass on the Yellowstone River. Wolves are social animals, so photographing them together would be a coup. The camera fired a couple of thousand times, but because the lens had iced over, the shapes were rudimentary and the images unusable.

Though the wolves never again came back to that spot as a group, it wasn’t a total loss. After months of reformatting and rejiggering, Donovan’s hard work and persistence paid off with the amazing images shown in the video above.


View more of Donovan’s wolf photos in the story “Photographer Ronan Donovan on Yellowstone.”

There are 11 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Maureen Black
    July 23, 2016

    The wolves of Yellowstone are beautifully photographed and captured in this short film. Great composition all around.

  2. Altayr Braun
    May 22, 2016

    I love wolves, since I was a little child…

  3. cindra broenner
    May 20, 2016

    leave the wolves alone…

  4. Jen
    May 10, 2016

    Great pictures. We saw an incredible documentary on re-integrating wolves to the park and the tremendous positive effect that had on the whole ecosystem. Thanks for posting!

  5. ree990
    May 10, 2016

    Image is very wonderful, although the wolves terrify me

  6. Gail Bluestone
    May 6, 2016

    Hi I’m Gail : coolcatslady
    That wolf should tear into that buffalo he is too skinny.

  7. Angela Harvey
    April 28, 2016

    I was fortunate enough to witness seeing wolves interact during my visit to Yellowstone. I am all for their protection. They are a valuable asset to Yellowstone. They should be respected and appreciated not killed. I look forward to the May issue of NG. You captured great footage of the Wolves well done.

  8. Cynthia Hever
    April 27, 2016

    Beautiful, beautiful photographs and work. Let’s keep the wolves protected. So necessary to the health of the ecosystem.

  9. Nancy
    April 27, 2016

    Wonderful pictures. Looking at your pictures makes me want to go back to Yellowstone. We went a few years ago and were lucky enough to see wolves feeding. Your pictures really show the beauty of nature and circle of life. Wonderful job.

  10. James
    April 26, 2016

    Fantastic work! Please, please, please make a full documentary about these wolves – your photos are incredible!

  11. Jasmine Harker
    April 26, 2016

    I loved this article and the way it gave me a visual on how the wolves acted. It also gave me a close up on the fiscal actions done throughout certain points.

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