There’s a unique population of wolves in Michigan. They live on an island in Lake Superior called Isle Royale. And, they are almost gone.
Researchers from Michigan Technological University observed just three of the wolves at Isle Royale National Park during their annual survey. That was down from nine wolves seen last winter.
The report, released last week, is the longest running predator-prey study in the world. It’s not just wolves the researchers are interested in. They also keep tabs on the moose population on the island. While only three wolves were observed, researchers spotted an estimated 1,250 moose roaming around the island.
Two additional wolves were observed, but they came across an ice bridge from the mainland and went back.
Last year, the Isle Royale National Park said, “there is still a chance of nature replenishing the gene pool as wolves are able to move to and from the island when ice bridges form.”
John Vucetich, an associate professor of wildlife ecology who helps lead the study, says it’s likely “too late to conduct a genetic rescue.”
The press release explains the plight of the Isle Royale wolves.
To understand Isle Royale wolves, you have to understand their genetics. Inbreeding has greatly impacted the packs over the past half century, which is clear with the three remaining wolves.
Researchers believe the last three wolves are made up of two adults and a nine-month-old pup. It’s the pup that has researchers worried the most. It has a hunched posture and narrow waistline.
What will happen to the wolves?
Inbreeding has taken its toll on the wolf population on Isle Royale. Researchers say the only chance they have to surviving is reintroducing wolves to the island. But, even that’s not a guarantee.
With no natural predators, the moose population is soaring.
With the wolf population nearly gone, the moose population is exploding. Researchers see the population grow annually at 22% in each of the past four years. This massive increase could bring problems. Current trends could have the moose population eclipsing record highs in 1996.
“At that time the moose population had considerable impact on forest vegetation,” Vucetich writes in the annual report.
If the moose population reaches this point, the Isle Royale National Park is open to reintroducing wolves to the island.
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