The Wolf: Icon Of The Wilderness
Yellowstone Food Fight - film by Daryl L. Hunter • A grizzly takes a kill from wolves but the wolves are reluctant to give it up.

On the Wildlife Safaris and Yellowstone Tours I lead in Yellowstone what my clients hope too see more than anything else is a wolf and I must confess during the best wolf watching times of the year I drop all I am doing too spend all free time photographing wolves and grizzlies.

Perhaps more than any other member of the animal kingdom, wolves have historically played the villain's role. Misperceptions about wolves have abounded for centuries, historically, cultures worldwide, believed that wolves were so aggressive that they posed a risk to humans but, ironically, wolves are wary of humans because man has been killing wolves for millennia. Folklore is littered with proverbs and metaphors about this fearsome carnivore, from Peter and the Wolf in Russia to the wolf’s mysticism in Native American culture; wolves have long been a powerful symbol. Even today, wolves engender excitement merely at the possibility of an appearance on the wilderness stage.

The wolves of the Greater Yellowstone Region are members of the Canidae family, the Gray wolf (canis lupus), can grow to 4.5 to 6.5 feet in length. Adult males average about 100 pounds, but can weigh as much as 130 pounds. Females weigh slightly less. Gray wolves live up to 13 years old and can range in color from black, gray, or nearly white. A wolf pack is an extended family unit that includes a dominant male and female, called the alpha pair. In each pack, the alphas are usually the only ones to breed. Most packs produce only one litter of four to six pups per year. Pack sizes vary considerably, depending on the size of the wolf population in a particular area, whether they are feeding pups and the quantity of prey available. In the northern Rocky Mountains, packs average ten wolves, but the Druid pack in Yellowstone once had 37 members. The Druid pack later split forming several smaller packs.

Wolves are sometimes mistaken for coyotes or domestic dogs, but a wolf’s large size, long legs, narrow chest, large feet, and wide, blocky head and snout distinguish it from the other canid species. Wolves hunt in packs for large animals like moose, bison, and elk; a wolf hunting alone will eat rabbits, beavers, and other small mammals.

Wolves nearly disappeared from the west by the early 1900s. In 1930, a federal agent killed the last indigenous gray wolf of Yellowstone. In 1933, the Yellowstone adopted a policy, limiting the unnecessary killing of predators in the park, but it was too late for Yellowstone’s wolf. Since then a conceptual evolution has taken place, in 1972, ideas of restoring the wolf to the Yellowstone eco-system, to restore endemic biodiversity, began to circulate. A new philosophy of wildlife management took root when the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, Consequently, wolves were listed as an endangered species in the United States. As part of a recovery plan the Fish and Wildlife Service, recommended introducing an experimental population of wolves into Yellowstone National Park. The plan included special regulations that took effect in November 1994, outlining how wolves would be managed as a nonessential experimental population under section ten of the Endangered Species Act.

After much litigation and compromise, in 1995, scientists began introducing wolves from Canada into Yellowstone National Park. Forty-one wolves were released in Yellowstone from 1995 to 1997. The goal of the officially adopted, and universally agreed upon (compromised), recovery plan was to reintroduce 30 wolves to Yellowstone and Idaho each year for the next three to five years, or until ten wolf packs were established and stable. A pack typically includes the alpha pair, the young wolves born that year, perhaps last year’s young, and sometimes a few older wolves that may or may not be related to the alpha pair. Once the population has stabilized at this pre-designated, and agreed upon, level, the wolf would be down-listed from “endangered” to the “threatened” category. In the compromise plan the possibility that once these minimum desirable population goals are achieved, regulated hunting of wolves would be permitted to control the population from becoming too large.

Two wolves traveling north ten miles north of Jackson Hole Wyoming in Grand Teton National Park. The mouth of Death Canyon of Grand Teton Range is in the background.
Two wolves traveling north ten miles north of Jackson Hole Wyoming in Grand Teton National Park. The mouth of Death Canyon of Grand Teton Range is in the background.
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Since reintroduction the wolf population of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is thriving. In the ensuing years the wolf population grew to 650 wolves by 2002 and more than 1,500 today (January, 2008). The wolves are growing at a rate of about 24 percent per year, according to federal counts. This prolific animal population has grown exponentially beyond the wildest dreams of environmentalists and fulfilled the nightmares of the regions hunters, and ranchers.

Populations of wolves have been increasing in the states around the Yellowstone area, and their fate continues to be debated among researchers, ranchers, environmentalists, and other public citizens Hunting and other measures will keep the population between 880 and 1,250 after delisting, according to Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Environmentalists argue 2,000 or more gray wolves are needed before protection should end. A proposal from Ed Bangs, and the Fish and Wildlife Service would allow ranchers and trappers to obtain permits to kill wolves so that livestock depredation from wolf over population, will stay minimal. Protection would resume if wolf populations decreased to fewer than 450 wolves in the region; if the number goes down to 300 the species would be reinstated to the protected list.

grey yellowstone wolf
A grey wolf appears to pose for camera in Jackson Hole Wyoming.

Research is revealing that wolf reintroduction is slowly changing the balance of the Yellowstone ecosystem: elk no longer casually wander in the open, and the dominance of the coyote has been reduced. Other studies find wolves may also be restoring Yellowstone's natural equilibrium, streamside cottonwood and willow are growing vigorously again in areas overgrazed for much of the last century, aspen trees are surviving winter elk browsing for the first time in decades. Another study shows that a process called "the ecology of fear" is at work, a balance has been restored to an important natural ecosystem, and. Unlike other top predators, Yellowstone's wolves, much to the chagrin of hunters, wolves routinely leave unfinished elk and moose carcasses. These leftovers provide scraps for scavenging coyotes eagles, and other animals. A feast of science has been unleashed about wolf population dynamics and how these divisive predators reshape an ecosystem.

A black wolf of Yellowstone's Druid Pack alternates his time between chasing off ravens and dining on his Trophy Bull Elk in the Lamar Valley.
A black wolf of Yellowstone's Druid Pack alternates his time between chasing off ravens and dining on his Trophy Bull Elk in the Lamar Valley.

The wolf controversy among environmentalists, ranchers, and other stakeholders remain the same: is there a plan that is both economically and ecologically beneficial, and how is it to be achieved?

Wolves also play an increasingly important role in the Northern Rocky Mountain region's economy. According to a recent study, the roughly 151,000 people who visit Yellowstone National Park each year to see wolves generating $35 million annually to Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Nearly four percent of Yellowstone National Park's 3.15 million annual visitors (2007) say they would not have visited the nation's oldest national park if wolves weren't there.

Wolves operate in an open landscape as a social group and team, this facilitates observation of interaction between individual wolves, packs and their prey. They often hunt in the open, where people can watch them. The key to differentiate them form coyotes is individual wolves may be white, black, brown, or grey and wolves are much larger and coyotes are always grey.

The wolf controversy among environmentalists, ranchers, and other stakeholders remain the same: is there a plan that is both economically and ecologically beneficial, and how is it to be achieved? The jury is still seated on this question.

Black Wolf, Agate Pack, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone
Black Wolf of the Agate Pack during spring storm in the Lamar Valley fo northern Yellowstone.

The wolves have begun howling in Yellowstone again. Two, three, four at a time, all at different pitches, Wolves howl for a variety of reasons. Pack members will chorus howl to defend their territory and rally the pack together. Most howls heard in the pack are chorus howls. They may be a response to the howling of a neighboring pack of wolves or a coyote. Wolves will even howl to something that even sounds similar to a train whistle, fire or police car siren or even a human. Such howls, though social in nature, also serve to defend the pack's territory against other wolves. Wolves can recognize the voices of others. The responses of a pack mate, of a neighboring wolf pack or a complete stranger, all solicit different responses. Contrary to popular belief, wolves do not howl at the full moon any more often than at any other time of month. They also do not howl only at night. They do howl more frequently during the hours around sunrise and sunset, for they are more active then. Wolves also howl more often in the winter months than in the summer, however, they can be heard howling any time of day any time of the year.

Yellowstone wolves are howling, chagrinned ranchers and hunters are howling with anger, tourists and environmentalists are howling with delight, wolf entrepreneurs, delightedly, are howling all the way to the bank. Regardless of your position at this contentious table, all are excited when they see this remarkable creature in the wild.

There are numerous companies happy to facilitate the aspiring wolf observer on a guided trip, but as a Safari leader myself you must realize that, like fishing, some days you are going to get skunked. You greatly increase your chances of seeing wolves if you are in wolf territory before the sun comes up as this is prime hunting time.

 

This was a fun encounter, I was driving a dirt road in the Jackson Hole backcountry knowing wolves were in the vicinity, cruising slowly I saw a cow elk on the treeline of a meadow. She suddenly broke into a run, I know the wolves were on her tail. I bailed out of the car, camera in hand, dropped to the ground in the hope of including the tops of the mountains in a telephoto shot and as I sat there in a pile on the ground the wolves stopped their chase to inspect the pile of human on the ground. These wolves see people all the time but not on the ground. They took several steps toward me sniffing and starring until the finally figured out I wasn't food and would probably leave a bad taste in theri mouth.
Wolves Reflection

Gibbon Pack wolves feeding on Bison beside the Gibbon River of Yellowstone National Park. I was photographing these wolves for twenty minutes before I saw their reflection in the snowmelt pool in front of them.
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wolves chasing elk
Confused elk chasing wolves in the Swan Lake area of Yellowstone?

Grey wolf chasing elk near Swan Lake in Yellowstone National Park

Three elk and a wolf

Black wolf circling around to chase elk to the pack

Grey Wolf in hot persuit of an elk dinner.

black wolf bull elk black wolf chasing elk
While photographing this bull elk the black wolf made a surprise appearance in my view finder.

Black Wolf chasing elk south of Mammoth Springs.

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A grey wolf appears to pose for camera in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park. A grey wolf howls after awakening from a nap. I couldn't help but wonder if he was trying to wake up his buddies so they could go back to work.

Black Wolf
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Grey Alpha female of the Pacific Creek Pack that roams northern Grand Teton National Park. Black Wolf, part of the Pacific creek pack that roams northern Yellowstone.

bison wolf gibbon meadows

Animals of the Greater Yellowstone Region

Yellowstone's abundant and diverse wildlife are as famous as its geysers. Yellowstone Park is home to the largest concentration of large and small mammals in the lower 48 states. Most of the animals that live in Yellowstone Park also inhabit regions of Grand Teton National Park and the surrounding states of Wyoming.

Wild animals, especially females with young, are unpredictable. Keep a safe distance from all wildlife. Each year a number of park visitors are injured by wildlife when approaching too closely. Approaching on foot within 100 yards (91 m) of bears or wolves or within 25 yards of other wildlife is prohibited. Please use roadside pullouts when viewing wildlife. Use binoculars or telephoto lenses for safe viewing and to avoid disturbing them. By being sensitive to its needs, you will see more of an animal's natural behavior and activity. If you cause an animal to move, you are too close! It is illegal to willfully remain near or approach wildlife, including birds, within any distance that disturbs or displaces the animal.

Montana and Idaho.Habitat preferences and seasonal cycles of movement determine, in a general sense, where a particular animal may be at a particular time. Early morning and evening hours are when animals tend to be feeding and thus are more easily seen. But remember that the numbers and variety of animals you see are largely a matter of luck and coincidence. Check at visitor centers for detailed information.

Elk

 
bull Elk Black wolf

Bull elk watches black wolf in Yellowstone National Park

Elk were named by the early settlers, but some people prefer to call it by the Shawnee name wapiti (WAA-pi-tea) meaning "white rump." The name "elk" is a bit confusing because in Europe, moose are called "elk." and the European "red deer" is the same as the North American elk, which muddies the water even further. Evidently the same naming scheme that called for the American bison to be called a buffalo.

Elk were valued by the early settlers and Native Americans as a valuable food source, hides and fur for clothing, and antlers for utensils and trophies. Today elk are economically valuable for hunting and tourism they bring to the mountains of the west.

At the turn of the century, commercial game hunters, hired riflemen and subsistence hunters had killed off most of the elk in the west. In 1910, the U.S. Forest Service estimated that fewer than 1,000 elk remained in Colorado. A 1918 survey of Forest Service lands in Idaho showed only 610 elk remained. Places where elk had been protected, these prolific animals rebounded quickly. The winters of 1897, 1909, 1911 and 1917 all coinciding with the loss of their traditional wintering grounds to cattle ranching were also very tough on them. About 10,000 elk starved in Jackson Hole during the winter of 1897, a decade before Jackson Hole became the home of the National Elk Refuge.------------------------> More.....

 

Mule Deer
 
Trophy mule deer buck in snowstorm

Trophy buck mule deer on his winter range north of Jackson Hole Wyoming

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Mule deer can be found throughout the entire western United States, including the deserts of the American Southwest, Mule deer have large ears that move constantly and independently, as do mules, hence the name, "Mule Deer." This stocky deer has sturdy legs and is 4 to 6-1/2 feet in length and 3 to 3-1/2 feet high at the shoulder. Most Mule deer are brown or gray in color with a small white rump patch and a small, black-tipped tail. Mule deer their fawns have white spots at birth. Buck deer have antlers that start growth in spring and are shed around December, these antlers are high and branch forward and reach a spread up to 4 feet in width bucks are larger than does. The life span of a mule deer in the wild is 10 years, but mule deer have lived for up to 25 years in captivity.

Mule deer can thrive nearly anyplace; their habitats include woodland chaparral, Sonoran desert, semi-desert, shrub woodland, Great Plains grasslands, shrub land forest, sagebrush steppe, and boreal forest. Mule deer are remarkably adaptable, of at least sixty types of habitat west of the 100th meridian in the United States, all but two or three are or once were home to mule Deer.

Mountain mule deer seasonally migrate from the higher elevations of the sub-alpine forests they inhabit during summer to lower elevations of the mountain valleys and desert lowlands. Deer prefer rocky windswept buttes where it is easier for them to find food during the winter and that provide escape from predators as needed. ----------------------> More.......

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
 
Fighting Bighorn Sheep in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep make their homes in the highest parts of the mountains, where people find it difficult to go. The Grace and beauty of the Bighorn Sheep is a treasure to see if you are lucky enough to come across any. Their agility and grace in their steep and rocky home is a marvel to watch. Bighorns are considered to the most regal of all big game animals.

Native Americans and early settlers prized bighorn meat as the most enjoyable of All-American big-game menu choices. The Native Americans also used the horns to fashion ceremonial spoons and handles for their utensils. Horns have also been popular for many centuries as trophies for proud hunters.

The natural range of The Rocky Mountain Bighorn is from southern Canada to Colorado. During the summer they inhabit high elevation alpine meadows, grassy mountain slopes and foothill country, all near rugged, rocky cliffs and bluffs, allowing for quick escape from mountain lion, wolves or bears. In winter, Bighorn prefer south facing slopes from 3,000 to 6,000 foot elevation where annual snowfall is less and the sun and wind help clear off the slopes, because they cannot paw through deep snow to feed.-----------------> More........

 

Shiras Moose

A large bull moose in Grand Teton National Park.

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The Shiras moose also known as Wyoming moose, is the smallest of North America’s moose however it is still quite large. The Shiras moose are found in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, British Columbia, and in isolated areas of Utah, Colorado, and Washington.

The Shiras Bull Moose has smaller antlers than the Canada moose. Its body color is a rusty-brown to black with pale-brownish saddle and its legs are gray to white. The Shiras cow moose are slightly smaller than the male and does not have antlers. The bulls can grow to seven feet tall at the shoulder and can reach10 feet in length. Mature Shira's moose weigh 600 to 1400 pounds. The cow moose weigh between 500 and 1200 pounds. Bull Moose have antlers that can span five feet and weigh up to 50 pounds. It has smaller antlers than the Canada moose and the antlers are shed between November and January.

Breeding occurs from mid-September through mid-October. Cow moose attract males with both calls and the scent of estrous. Bulls as do all ungulates engage in fights with other bulls to win the right to breed the cow moose. Bull moose behavior during mating season includes scraping their antlers on trees, creating wallows to roll in, not eating causing large weight loss and they become more aggressive than usual and may charge at people and cars.--------------------------------------------> More.....

Grizzly Bears
 

Grizzily in northwest Yellowstone

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The grizzly bear population within the Yellowstone ecosystem is estimated to be approximately 280-610 (Eberhardt and Knight 1996) bears. The park does not have a current estimate of the black bear population; black bears are considered to be common in the park.

During the last 23 years (1980-2002), bears have injured 32 people within YNP. Grizzly bears and black bears were involved in 25 (78%) and 4 (13%) of the injuries, respectively. The species of bear could not be determined for 3 (9%) of the injuries. Three injuries occurred within a developed area, 2 occurred during a bear management handling accident, and 27 occurred in backcountry areas. Of the people injured while hiking, 57% were hiking off-trail. All (100%) backcountry hiking injuries involved people hiking in groups of less than 3 people. Bear Management Area restrictions reduce the chance of bear/human encounters and the risk of bear-caused human injury in areas with known seasonal concentrations of grizzly bears.-------------------------------> More

Wolves
 
Wolf chasing elk down for a kill

Wolf chasing elk down for a kill

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Perhaps more than any other member of the animal kingdom, wolves have historically played the villain's role. Misperceptions about wolves have abounded for centuries, historically, cultures worldwide, believed that wolves were so aggressive that they posed a risk to humans but, ironically, wolves are wary of humans because man has been killing wolves for millennia. Folklore is littered with proverbs and metaphors about this fearsome carnivore, from Peter and the Wolf in Russia to the wolf’s mysticism in Native American culture; wolves have long been a powerful symbol. Even today, wolves engender excitement merely at the possibility of an appearance on the wilderness stage.

The wolves of the Greater Yellowstone Region are members of the Canidae family, the Gray wolf (canis lupus), can grow to 4.5 to 6.5 feet in length. Adult males average about 100 pounds, but can weigh as much as 130 pounds. Females weigh slightly less. Gray wolves live up to 13 years old and can range in color from black, gray, or nearly white. A wolf pack is an extended family unit that includes a dominant male and female, called the alpha pair. In each pack, the alphas are usually the only ones to breed. Most packs produce only one litter of four to six pups per year. Pack sizes vary considerably, depending on the size of the wolf population in a particular area, whether they are feeding pups and the quantity of prey available. In the northern Rocky Mountains, packs average ten wolves, but the Druid pack in Yellowstone once had 37 members. The Druid pack later split forming several smaller packs. --------------------------> more

Black Bear - Ursus Americanus
 
black bear crossing creek

Black bear crossing creek in Yellowstone

The black bear (Ursus Americanus) ranges across forested Canada from Newfoundland to British Columbia as well as much of the United States. A solitary animal most of the year, they pair up briefly during the mating season. Cubs remain with their mother for about a year, who protects which prevents them from being killed by the adult males. 

Black bears swim well and often climb trees to feed on buds and fruit. They have a keen sense of smell, acute hearing, but poor eyesight. They can be seen at any hour of the day, but are most active at night. When very young, the cubs cry when afraid and hum when contented. 

Black bears are omnivorous; their diet consists of about 75 percent vegetable matter, 15 percent carrion, and 10 percent insects and small mammals. Their love for honey is well known, and sweet, ripe corn in autumn also attracts them. 

They have few enemies, but the one they fear the most is the Grizzly. Whenever their territories overlap, the latter is given a wide berth.---------------------------> More 

Bison
 
American Bison standing on bluff west of Grand Teton Park's Kelly road. The Grand Teton Mountain Range is in the backgrouns

The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem is the only place in the lower 48 states where an endemic population of wild bison has survived since prehistoric times. Perhaps no other animal symbolizes the American West like the American bison. In prehistoric times millions of these quintessential creatures of the plains roamed the North America from northern Canada, south into Mexico and from Atlantic to the pacific. No one knows how many bison were in America before Columbus arrived but the guesstimate is about sixty million. They were the largest community of wild animals that the world has ever known. For a good part of the 1800s bison were considered to be in limitless supply.

After the Civil War the push to settle the west was on, new army posts were established, coinciding with the westward push of the railroads. The army and railroads contracted with local men to supply buffalo meat to feed the troops and construction laborers.

Bison were hunted nearly to extinction in the late 1800’s--------------------------------------------> More

Pronghorn Antelope
 
Pronghorn antelope, yellowstone
Yellowstone region Pronghorn in Grand Teton National Park

When Yellowstone became a national park in 1872, the pronghorn population was reported to be in the thousands. However, the number of these animals declined as the Yellowstone area became settled. In addition, hunting continued in the park until 1883. By 1886, when the U.S. Cavalry arrived to administer the park, the pronghorn had been largely decimated. The Cavalry took measures to increase the number of these animals. Their tactics, controlling predators and providing supplemental feed, proved successful almost immediately.

The Pronghorn is a species of artiodactyl mammal native to interior western and central North America. Though not a true antelope, it is often known colloquially in North America as the Prong Buck, Pronghorn Antelope or simply Antelope, as it closely resembles the true antelopes of Africa and fills a similar ecological niche due to convergent evolution. The pronghorn is the ‘real' Great Plains large mammal. Although we often associate bison with rolling prairies, they are more adapted for living in woodland habitats than the American pronghorn. In fact, the pronghorn has never found subsistence outside the High Plains and sagebrush flats of the American West.------------------> More about Pronghorn

Mountain Goats
 
mountain goats
Mountain Goat nanny and kid browse and play on the snowy cliffs just north of Alpine Wyoming

The Mountain Goats of the Greater Yellowstone eco-system make a home on the vertical planes of the Rocky Mountains where they cling and move around on the impossibly steep slopes of this unforgiving and barren terrain, Mountain Goats can survive on scant food in incredibly hostile environs. Mountain goats fit perfectly into the category of "charismatic mega-fauna." Their beauty, grace, and athleticism, is a treat to watch and their cute faces are always a thrill to see. The kids are precocious, able to move on steep slopes within hours of birth, an awe-inspiring site in itself.

Although the Yellowstone Ecosystem has an abundance of Mountain Goat habitat, Goats are not endemic to the region. Between the 1940s and the 1960s, there were several hundred of the shaggy cliff dwelling creatures transplanted from western Montana to the Beartooth, Absaroka, Madison, Bridger, and Crazy mountains and the Snake River Range. Hundreds of them now inhabit the high country. Some of those animals are willing to leave their preferred high-elevation habitat to cross rivers, and valleys too colonize new places. There haven’t been any transplants in the Gallatin Range, for instance, but goats thrive there today. -----------------------> more

Mountain Lion - Cougar (Puma concolor)
 
Mountain Lion in Snow, Jackson Hole Wyoming
Mountain lion returning to kill outside of Jackson Hole Wyoming

The Mountain Lion cougar (Puma concolor), also puma, cougar, or panther, is a member of the Felidae family, native to the Americas. This large, solitary cat has the greatest range of any wild land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, extending from Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes of South America. An adaptable species, the cougar is found in every major North American habitat.

The Mountain lions of Yellowstone region were significantly reduced by predator control measures during the early 1900s. It is reported that 121 lions were removed from the park between the years 1904 and 1925. Then, the remaining population was estimated to be 12 individuals. Mountain lions apparently existed at very low numbers between 1925 and 1940. They maintain a secretive profile in the Yellowstone region. Although the cougar population numbered in the hundreds during the early 1900s, controlled hunts between 1904 and 1925 decimated the population. Today, twenty to thirty-five mountain lions reportedly inhabit Yellowstone Park, but sightings are rare.

Shy and elusive, mountain lions live solitary lives and practice mutual avoidance. Males and females interact for breeding when females are about 2 1/2 years old. Giving birth throughout the year, females can have litters of up to four kittens, but usually only one or two survive. Born spotted, the kittens stay with their mothers for about 18 months, after which time they will leave in search of their own home range.---------------------------------------> More