Lice found on wolves north of the Alaska Range

Posted: Friday, March 18, 2005

FAIRBANKS (AP) — For the first time, lice have been discovered on wolves north of the Alaska Range.

Lice were found on several wolves trapped in the Tanana Flats south of Fairbanks, said the state Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks. The discovery appears to be the spread of a problem that has infected wolves on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Matanuska Valley and the Copper Basin.

''We were kind of under the impression it was moving through the state, but this is the first time we've seen it up here,'' said Fish and Game spokeswoman Cathie Harms.

Lice were first found on wolves on the Kenai Peninsula in the early 1980s and were thought to have been transmitted to wolves from domestic dogs.

Since then, lice have appeared on coyotes and wolves in the Matanuska Valley in the mid-1990s and last year were found on wolves near Glennallen. In both the Kenai and Palmer areas, state wildlife biologists captured and medicated dozens of wolves in the affected areas in an attempt to stop the spread of the parasites.

How lice ended up on the Tanana Flats remains in question. But chances are they were introduced by other wolves, Harms said, though the lice could have come from coyotes or dogs.

''There is a great deal of interchange between wolf packs,'' she said. ''There's no reason to believe they wouldn't have been exchanged by wolves.''

It doesn't appear the parasite is killing wolves, and they seem to be recovering over time, said wildlife veterinarian Kimberlee Beckmen.

All six wolves diagnosed with lice came from the same pack over the past two years, she said. Three wolves caught last year were infested with the parasite, and the trapper brought in three more this year that were infested, Beckmen said.

While the wolves had damaged fur, they didn't have any wounds or odor, symptoms that have been seen in other wolves with the parasite, she said. It appeared the wolves were in the process of growing back their fur.

''What this goes to show is wolves can live with this and can recover,'' Beckmen said.

So far, it doesn't appear the problem is widespread. A trapper in the drainage next to where the infested wolves were caught didn't notice any problems with the wolves he trapped, Beckmen said.

Fairbanks fur tanner Al Barrette said he hasn't seen any evidence of wolves with lice at his shop.

''This is one of the better years I've seen for quality of wolves,'' said Barrette, who owns Fairbanks Fur Tannery.

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