When Joe Allen leads his classes of UB students through Yellowstone National Park, the iconic grizzly bear is not one of his top worries. "More than likely we will have closer encounters with bison. When we're there, the bison are in the rut. The males are very amorous and very competitive. They walk wherever they want."
With that safety disclaimer extended, Allen and the UB College of Arts and Sciences have organized another Yellowstone program this summer.
This year, it's open to the general public.
"It's (called) 'Mega Fauna and Predation in Yellowstone National Park.' Mega Fauna usually implies the large animals from coyotes, wolves, bears. Up to varieties, including elk, deer and Bighorn sheep. The larger animals," Allen said.
"The mountain lion is one we haven't seen yet."
Mountain lion aside, Allen says his classes see plenty of wildlife and it's not left to chance encounters. They communicate with officials with the Parks Service and other locals who keep tabs on the wildlife, especially wolves.
"Last year, we watched a wolf kill for 14 hours. And one pack came in and fed on that. We watched the entire pack dynamics--the Alpha female, the Alpha male, the Beta female, the Beta male--and the entire hierarchy of the pack ate in a particular sequence. The Alpha female had pups at that time and she made three, 12-mile trips with food back to the pups during the time we watched."
The wolves have established their own territories. Allen and a group of students witnessed that first hand when some of the Mollie's Pack began feasting on a kill too close to the Lamar Canyon Pack.
"And sprinting up the Lamar Canyon by the Lamar River were eight of the Lamar Canyon Pack and they were running full bore. They came up the hill where these four Mollies were and the Mollies scattered. They cornered one, ran it across the Lamar River, ran it across the road, and 75 yards from where we were standing, they killed that wolf," Allen said.
"It was absolutely amazing. Not many biologists have seen pack-on-pack aggression."
Allen and his group have access to high-performance digital camera equipment and other technology to enhance their experience.
Fly fishing, hiking and visits to Yellowstone's geyser basins are part of the itinerary for this year's trip, which runs from July 28 through August 7. Organizers have set a June 15 deadline for registration.
"In Yellowstone, we're actually staying right inside the park. We're staying in cabins, rustic cabins with kitchens and baths, it's very nice."
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