Wolf killed at Moose Research Center

Posted: Friday, July 28, 2000

A wolf that got inside a moose pen at the Moose Research Center near Soldotna was trapped and killed Monday.

Officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said the year-old female wolf had gotten inside the 4-square-mile enclosure through a hole dug under the fence by a black bear.

"The only thing the fence keeps out is moose," Kris Hundertmark, director of the MRC said.

Hundertmark said the 10 miles of perimeter fencing prevents no other animals from traveling. Lynx, coyotes and bears are able to get past the fence by digging holes.

Hundertmark said that in the past, wolves had been leery of the fence, but on July 10, a pack of wolves broke into the MRC and killed a cow moose. Wolves also are suspected in the deaths of three calves and the wounding of three adult moose at the center last August.

Wolves often revisit a kill site, so Fish and Game officials set snare traps around the carcass of the moose that had been killed and waited for the animals to return. Summer ground conditions and vegetation made it impossible to tell whether the wolf caught Monday was alone.

Hundertmark said the incidents mark the first time in the 32-year history of the MRC that wolves have become a significant problem.

"This pack of wolves has realized there is no damage to them if they cross the fence, and to a wolf, there seems to be a lot more moose on our side of the fence," he said.

The Moose Research Center is internationally recognized for its long-term studies on the nutritional and habitat needs of moose. Much of what scientists know about moose physiology and nutrition comes from MRC research. Scientists working at the center have published hundreds of papers on their research there over the past four decades.

The MRC houses 30 moose. Most of the animals were born at the center, but orphaned moose also are brought in. Hundertmark said the research center's moose are healthy.

Because they are used for long-term research and are tolerant of humans, the MRC's moose are not easily replaced. They are never returned to the wild.

"We have often brought in animals from other parts of the state," Hundertmark said. "We have a bull from Fairbanks and orphans from Galena. We don't want to introduce different breeds of moose to the area. When dealing with great differences in land you get different genes."

Hundertmark said there is only one species of moose in Alaska, but that subspecies differ throughout the state. Such differences are noticeable in the moose's antler form.

The wolf hide collected by the MRC will provide a rare scientific opportunity. For at least two decades, Kenai Peninsula wolves have been infested with a biting louse that causes significant hair loss. Most of the infested hides studied have been from wolves taken by hunters and trappers in the fall and winter. It is rare to get a look at a summer wolf hide.

Hundertmark said the wolf was heavily infested with lice. He plans to work with Nixon Wilson, a parasite expert at the University of Northern Iowa, to see if knowing the condition of a summer pelt might offer some clues into the life cycle of the lice and the unexplained and disproportionate effect they have on Kenai wolves. The lice are common to domestic dogs and have little effect on wolves and coyotes in the Lower 48.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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