Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Michigan's Gray Wolves Endangered by Shortage of Females

Wolf pack

A recent report by the Michigan Tech University has shown that the gray wolf population in the state's Isle Royale National Park has plummeted drastically to sixteen animals over the past year. This sudden plunge in population is nothing new to an island national park, which sits in the middle of the mighty Lake Superior. Since 1998, Isle Royale's wolf population had hit its lowest to fourteen animals due to a major food shortage of their favorite prey: moose. Ten years earlier, a parvovirus epidemic decimated the population to twelve after it reached its peak to fifty animals in the early 1980s. However, during those times, the wolf population always bounced back since their ancestors had migrated across an ice bridge from Canada more than sixty years ago and producing new generations which defied the odds of harsh climate and geographic isolation. But this time, the animals are facing a new threat which scientists predict could cause a possible extinction: shortage of female wolves. A recent genetic analysis has shown that of the sixteen remaining, just one or two are adult females. According to John Vucetich, a wildlife biologist for Michigan Tech, the loss of two female wolves would definitely signal the end to Isle Royale's wolves once and for all. This crisis has even drawn up question that has been debated for several years: whether to bring more wolves from the mainland. Mr. Vucetich and his colleague Rolf Peterson believe that time has come to consider this idea more seriously after a recent recovery in the late 1990s. At that time, a male wolf crossed to the island from Canada and sired 34 offspring which reinvigorated the gene pool. More than half of the genes in Isle Royale's wolves trace back to this alpha male.

I feel that the current wolf population in Isle Royale is in a great need of help, and the best way would be to introduce more wolves from the mainland. At the same time, I personally believe that it is important to first think about where specifically to find wolves in the mainland to bring them to Isle Royale. The reason is because majority of wolves in North America are divided into subspecies, and they all differ based on appearance and location. For example, wolves which live in and around the famed Yellowstone National Park inhabit north of the Rocky Mountains. Hence, they are called Northern Rocky Mountains wolves. The ones that live on Isle Royale are known as Great Plains wolves. Their range covers majority of the Great Lakes region in U.S and Canada, with populations in the neighboring states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. I believe the best solution would be to look around this region, in order to help reboost Isle Royale's population. This would be beneficial both for the wolves and people. That is, not only would it save the national park's tourist industry but also the region's livestock industries to some extent. Right now, I feel it is best for Isle Royale's staff to limit the flow of tourism in the park since wolf numbers are critically low and that increase in tourism would lead to increase pressure on the animals' lives thus pushing them faster to the brink of extinction.

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