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Denali wolf pup surviving on own after mother's death

Posted: Tuesday, March 27, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A wolf pup left to fend for itself appears to be surviving after researchers at Denali National Park and Preserve accidentally killed its mother.

Park Service officials had given the go-ahead over the weekend to an animal welfare group to drop meat to the young wolf. But wildlife biologist Gordon Haber, monitoring wolves for Friends of Animals, spotted the 10-month-old male feeding on a caribou carcass just off a ski trail near park headquarters.

Haber had been ready to air drop two quarters of a donated caribou to the wolf when he saw it had found its own food. He decided human intervention was unnecessary.

''It was just a stroke of luck for him that he found 30 to 50 feet off the trail a winter kill adult caribou,'' he said. ''Now we'll see if he's smart enough to stay around there.''

The discovery was good news for the young wolf, which had struggled since its mother died earlier this month after being tranquilized by researchers as part of a wolf study. The female was one of three wolves to die during the research project.

This brightening of the young wolf's prospects has done little, however, to quiet the controversy over the death of the Denali wolves.

The three were among 10 darted earlier this month and fitted with radio collars. The collars usually are replaced every three years and allow researchers to track the animals from the air, said Gordon Olson, who oversees research at the park.

Critics, including Haber and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, contend the Park Service should take more precautions when working with the wolves.

''These packs are the world's most famous wolf packs and among the most viewed,'' said Paul Joslin, who heads the wildlife alliance. ''Here we've got research that's hurting them.''

Researchers should not have darted the female, who was part of the sanctuary pack and was supporting three pups, he said. The Park Service said the other two young wolves have not been seen since.

Haber also criticized the researchers for not stopping the project after they discovered two wolves had died March 17. Instead, three days later, they darted wolves in the East Fork pack, including the alpha male, which later died.

''They should have said: 'Wait a minute. Let's stop. Let's call a conference. Let's find out what we're doing wrong,' '' Haber said.

But Park Service officials said they didn't consider the wolves at risk, noting that in the past 15 years, nearly 320 wolves have been tranquilized and only five have died in capture-related deaths.

Park Service officials don't know what caused the latest deaths, Olson said. One of the first two wolves died where it was darted, but the other, a yearling male, apparently survived for a while. The male from the East Fork pack was found dead March 21, the day after being darted.

''The circumstances surrounding the first two (deaths) were dissimilar with one another to the point of, well, who was to think there was any kind of potential pattern or anything like that developing,'' Olson said.

By the time the third wolf was found, the research was finished, he said.

The two adults, when necropsied, showed signs of an infection, which may mean their weakened systems were overwhelmed by the tranquilizer, Olson said.

Haber and Joslin, however, think it's more likely the biologists gave the animals too much tranquilizer.

The Park Service plans to convene a panel to review procedures for tranquilizing wolves. Its recommendations should be in by the end of April, said Ralph Tingey, acting Denali superintendent.

Denali park is home to about 100 wolves, in 12- to 15 packs, he said.



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