‘Canadian wolves are airdropped into Michigan to complete a special mission’ – no, not the plot of an upcoming Tom Cruise action film, but rather the solution to Isle Royale National Park’s population problems.
Before your imagination runs away with you, let me just clarify that the wolves aren’t raining from the sky or floating down on parachutes ready to take over the state – but they are making a pretty sleek entrance into the US by being flown in on helicopters.
Four Canadian wolves were captured by specialists at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) recently, and last week they were transferred to the Isle Royale National Park, a wildlife preserve on an archipelago in Lake Superior.
The relocation is part of an ongoing joint project with the US National Park Service, and the wolves’ mission, which I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to accept, is to hunt moose and make babies.
The new recruits are joining four other wolves on the island; two which were part of the original pack, and another two which were introduced in 2018. There are an equal number of male and female wolves on the island.
Isle Royale’s wolf population has been declining for years; according to Vice just a decade ago there were 24 wolves in the pack, but as ice bridges which historically connected the archipelago to the mainland have been receding, mainland wolves aren’t mixing with the island’s population as much, resulting in population loss and inbreeding.
If the mission goes to plan, the wolves will restore the population on the island while also culling the booming moose population, which is damaging the island’s ecology.
The four chosen animals were specially selected to be over two or three years old, when wolves become sexually mature enough to breed, but still young enough that they’ll hopefully survive multiple breeding seasons.
In order to transfer the animals from Canada to Isle Royale, OMNRF teams trapped the wolves before sedating them and having them examined by vets.
They were examined again after their helicopter trip to ensure they were healthy enough for release, and the wolves are all collared to allow researchers to track their movements.
According to The Guardian, John Vucetich, an ecologist at Michigan Technological University and leader of the Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale project, admitted the sudden change of scenery would have been strange for the wolves.
They live in families, so imagine what happens to a dog when they’re plunked into a foreign place. They are being introduced to each other. It’s tense and nervous, and it’s tough to find food in a new place. It’s stressful.
However, they seem to have adjusted fairly quickly, as project manager Mark Romanski said in a statement:
Within hours after undergoing capture and handling and arriving on Isle Royale, [the wolves] immediately got on the trail of their pack mates.
These large males, all around 90 pounds, will almost certainly know what to do when they encounter a moose.
Hopefully the wolves will manage to succeed in their mission!
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