Hunter Kills Well-Known Alaska Alpha Wolf
The dead wolf was the alpha male of Denali's Toklat family, a group of wolves that has been studied for more than six decades and often seen by visitors to the national park. The wolf was shot legally by a guided hunter after it ventured out of the park boundary, officials said.
"I don't think that there's any doubt that there'll be fewer Toklat wolf sightings," said John Toppenberg, executive director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance.
The 7-year-old wolf, which was identified by a radio collar that had been attached by researchers, was only one of several recent losses for the much-studied and frequently photographed Toklat group.
The alpha wolf had been behaving erratically and wandering near an area outside the park where two females, including the alpha's mate, were killed in traps over the past two months after they left the park in search of food.
A 55-square-mile (140 sq km) buffer outside of the park protects wolves from hunters and trappers, but conservation groups and animal welfare activists argue that it is too small.
Cathie Harms, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the alpha's death would not affect Alaska's wolf population.
"One wolf out of a statewide population of 7,000 to 11,000 has no biological impact," Harms said, "It is significant to people who have developed an attachment for a particular pack of wolves or an individual wolf."
But Gordon Haber, an independent biologist who has long studied the Denali wolves, said the "decades-old Toklat lineage has suffered a virtually complete social breakdown" as a result of the deaths.
Alaskans have long conducted an emotional debate over wolf management, one that pits sportsmen who hunt moose and other game against advocates of wildlife watching.