Denali Wolf Update
 
Some observations from a Denali research flight on February 7:  
 
• Margaret pair: Recall from earlier blog entries that the young adult Margaret female’s first mate was trapped in December 2008, that she has continued to range in the same dangerous northeast park boundary area, and that by January 21 another wolf of undetermined sex, age, and origin was with her there. That wolf was absent on February 7 (I can only guess why) and she was accompanied by a male (top of the page and below) who I think is about her age.
 
 
Above:  The Margaret female leads her (yawning) new companion, an adult male.
 
 
 
 
Left:  The Margaret female is only 2-3 years old but already seems pretty smart.
 
 
 
 
 
Below:  The new pair, with the female still leading.
 
  
 
The Margaret female and latest male probably represent the beginning of a new family group. During the recent observations, he already seemed quite assertive in checking existing scent marks (on rocks, etc.), in the typical manner of a male taking over a new area.  The annual courtship and mating period is almost here, in late February-mid March.  If there is a successful mating and neither of these wolves is killed, pups should appear in early-mid May.  Unfortunately it is legal to kill wolves in this area until May 31, which means that the adults could be shot even after pups are born.  The pups would be left to die alone inside the natal den, long before they are weaned, have emerged from the den yet, or have even opened their eyes.  
 
The female seems to be fairly “street-smart;” hopefully she is a natural survivor.  I know less about the new male.  He sure is nice-looking, though.  Note in particular from the photo at the top of the page that he has four white feet.  He looks like a younger version of the (almost) six-year-old Toklat alpha male, who started out mostly black and is now a silvery-charcoal coloration (like his father and uncle, the earlier Toklat and Toklat West/Grant Creek alpha males, who changed coloration the same way).  Perhaps one or both of the current Margaret wolves came from Toklat and/or Toklat West; DNA samples will hopefully answer that question eventually.          
 
• Stampede:  The alpha male of the Stampede family, shown in the photo at the top of the November 18, 2008 blog entry and in the caribou chase of the January 30 entry, was dead when we located his radio collar (beeping on mortality mode) in a brushy area on February 7. We could not see anything other than some reddened snow.  Whatever happened, it was almost certainly a natural cause (in a protected area, no evidence of any human presence, etc.). He may have been killed in a skirmish with migratory wolves attracted to this caribou wintering area (read the December 2007 paper on the Reports2 page).  There are also some moose in the area, so another possibility is that he was killed during a confrontation with a moose, then eaten by scavengers or other wolves.  He was a big wolf, weighing 130 lbs (59 kg) when radio collared in November 2008 (T. Meier, pers. commun.).
 
• Toklat:  At least 13-14 Toklat (East Fork) wolves were still together, including the alpha pair. Toklat continues to range extensively well to the east of the group’s traditional territory, almost all the way to the east park boundary, as in the latest observations.  Refer to the January 27, 2009 blog entry for additional comments about this shift and some of its implications.  I am not aware of any recent observations of the surviving adult male and pups from the new pair that was recolonizing this eastern area last spring, summer, and fall (Jan. 27 entry).
 
• Toklat West/Grant Creek:  This is the other high profile “road-corridor” park group.  It seems to be doing well.  The same six wolves (2 adults, 4 pups) were still ranging together within the established territory.  
 
Below is a February 7, 2009 photo of one of the western study groups, Boot Lake.  Like most of the Denali study groups, Boot Lake has its own interesting story.  This group also highlights concerns about the reach of the state’s ongoing aerial wolf-killing program, in this case the GMU 19D east (“McGrath”) program to the west of Denali.  It is commonplace for wolves to leave their established territory (as a group) unpredictably on temporary winter forays of up to 50 miles (80 km) or more.  State biologists generally do not seem to understand or care about this fascinating aspect of wolf behavior and its implications.  Thus groups like Boot Lake could get wiped out by state-permitted aerial hunters in a nearby killing area, even though they live primarily outside and exert little if any impact on the moose that state biologists think they are saving.  In the photo below, the Boot Lake wolves are close to the aerial wolf-killing area, if not somewhat inside.  
 
Below:  The Boot Lake female (light tan wolf on the left) and her two surviving pups (top of the group) interact with a darker-tan adult, likely a male, who joined them recently.  They are at the scant, frozen remains of a moose - either a “winter kill” (died from a non-predation cause) or a wolf kill from earlier in the winter.  The female raised these pups on her own in a poor hunting area, apparently from birth last May after her mate disappeared.  We first saw the new wolf with her and the pups in January 2009. They are at risk from a state aerial wolf-killing program near the west side of Denali National Park.    
        
 
A resident Denali group to the north of Boot Lake, Castle, is similarly at risk from the nearby aerial killing program and could already be history.  Several times this winter and last we tracked Castle into the killing area during extraterritorial forays.  There are no longer any functioning radio collars, so further contact in this remote area will be difficult at best.  There were still five survivors when we last observed Castle in late November 2008, inside the wolf-killing area. There have not been any known Castle observations since them.  The alpha female’s radio collar was on mortality mode in a nearby area as of December 12 (and still is).  She probably died at that location, but heavy brush has prevented us from actually seeing her.
 
 
If you want to help Denali groups like the Margaret pair, Toklat, Boot Lake, and Castle that are seriously jeopardized by boundary-area traplines, nearby aerial-killing programs, and the like, go back to the November 18, 2008 blog entry (in the archive) and do what I asked in the last several sections.  To the list of line authority ADF&G biologist-managers I provided there, add the name of Patrick Valkenburg (pat.valkenburg@alaska.gov ;  907-465-4100).  In January, Valkenburg was appointed as the new Deputy Commissioner of Wildlife, in charge of all wildlife matters.  
 
A series on the state’s wolf-killing program begins with the February 18, 2008 blog entry (archive); and more is on the way. The problems facing Denali wolves particularly in the northeast park boundary area likewise are considered in many earlier entries, but the November 18, 2008 entry is probably the best place to go for a recent summary.                
 
Feb 13, 2009
The Margaret female’s new companion, a handsome male with four white feet.  Her first mate was trapped in this area in December 2008.  Another wolf was with her in the same area in January 2009, but on February 7 only the above wolf was with her.  If they survive the wolf traplines and wolf hunting of this area, there is a good chance they will be raising pups in May.