ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Three wolves in Denali National Park and Preserve died this month after being darted for collaring, and the park has suspended its wolf collaring program until an investigation is completed.
The decision was announced Friday by the park's acting superintendent, Ralph Tingey.
''We thought before we do anything else, we wouldn't have any more wolf darting or collaring,'' Tingey said in an interview.
Preliminary necropsies performed on two of the wolves indicate they had been weakened by infection, said Gordon Olson, head of the park's research program.
''They had swollen spleens and their heart valves were swollen as well,''' he said. ''That indicated to the staff at UAF there was some sort of infection.'' The necropsies were performed at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
In the third case, a yearling wolf was found dead with two adults it had been traveling with, according to Olson. The yearling was essentially consumed, so there was no way to do a necropsy to determine what happened to that animal.
The dead wolves were from three different darting efforts. Three wolves from the Otter Creek pack were darted on March 14 and one found dead March 17, apparently two days after it had died.
On March 16, two wolves from the Sanctuary Pack were darted. A tracking flight the next morning found one wolf had died at the release site, while the other was healthy.
The third incident involved two wolves from the East Fork Pack captured Tuesday near Savage River. One of the wolves was found dead at the capture site Wednesday.
The three wolves were among ten that were tranquilized this spring as part of a long-term research program at the park that currently costs about $350,000 a year. Biologists like to have two collared animals in each pack, so there area about 30 active collars at any one time, Olson said. The park is currently home to about 100 wolves, though the numbers fluctuate from about 90 to 130, Olson said.
Biologists monitor the population and shifts in territory, and also study the predator-prey relationship in the park, he said.
''We're looking at what is the role of wolves in the predator-prey relationship there, and we're also looking at the long-term aspects of
Over the 15 years of the wolf darting program, 327 animals have been captured, with the three deaths this year bringing total capture-related deaths to eight, park officials say.
The interagency review board was ordered by Rob Arnberger, the regional director for the National Park Service in Alaska. The panel will include Kirk Lohman, the agency's senior science adviser in Alaska, along with a representative from the Biological Science Center of the U.S. Geological Survey, which conducts much of the park research on wolves. Others on the panel will include park wildlife managers and members from outside the Interior Department.
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