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Thu April 7, 2011
Isle Royale's wolves to go extinct?
The wolves of Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior could be in trouble.
For 53 years, researchers from Michigan Tech have been studying the island’s wolf and moose populations.
This year... they found there are fewer wolves – just 16. And only a couple of females that can still have babies. Rolf Peterson has been studying the wolves for more than four decades.
He says it's not clear why some of the wolves are dying.
"In late 2009, six of the ten females we had in the population died. That was just an unusual, presumably a fluke. Only one of the females was radio collared and she died in a very unusual way, she died giving birth."
He says the outlook for the existence of wolves on Isle Royale is uncertain.
"It could be just a little hurdle they have to jump through. It also could mean the beginning of the end if those one or two females should die without giving birth to a female. And if neither of the two pups we thought we saw this year are female, then that's it. The population would go extinct because there are no females."
At this point, he doesn't think people should intervene. But he says there could come a point where the National Park Service might introduce new female wolves from the mainland. Peterson says the males on the island would readily accept new females if the existing females die.
The wolves keep the island's moose in check. The research team has found that the moose population is currently around 500 animals. If the wolves go extinct, Peterson says the moose would be in trouble too.
"They'd increase to the point where they'd starve to death catastrophically."
Peterson has spent most of every year for four decades living among the wolves and moose on the island with his wife Candy. But he says there's still plenty to be discovered.
"Almost everything that happens there surprises me. We're almost unable to predict the short term future. I guess the resiliency of wolves in general does usually surprise me. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they pulled out of this one. But exactly how they're going to do it is what's fascinating."
You can learn more about the research team and the wildlife here.