To biologists, they were unique. To the community of wolves moving in and about Denali National Park, they were irreplaceable. Today, they are gone.
On the 11th of February 2005, the alpha female was trapped and shot. Two months later, on the 17th of April, a hunter accompanied by a guide shot the injured and exhausted alpha male.
The gratuitous killings of this pair, the leaders of Alaska’s Toklat wolf group, were followed worldwide. Scientists, nongovernmental organizations, and several U.S. senators —who called the wolves “a national treasure”— repeatedly urged an emergency halt to trapping and hunting, and a long-term extension of Denali National Park’s northeastern buffer of safety. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service, responsible for managing the Reserve, ignored pleas to press the State of Alaska to extend the buffer.
The male had been photographed thousands of times. His dark coloring and trusting nature endeared him to thousands of park visitors. Nevertheless, trappers and hunters baited the wolves, including a pup last seen just outside park boundary buffers, dragging a trap by the leg.
Denali National Park is an International Biosphere Reserve, a designation requiring appropriate buffers, protection of genetic continuity and scientific research. And the Denali wolves had been studied since the 1930s — first by Adolph Murie, then by pre-eminent wolf biologist Gordon C. Haber, whose work is supported by Friends of Animals. Haber, who has studied Denali wolves for 40 years, wrote:
“Toklat’s world-class scientific value as a source of information about the characteristics of a successful vertebrate society – at 40 years or more one of the oldest-known family lineages of any wild non-human species on the planet – has been destroyed. The wolves’ specific, traditional ways of using this central area of Denali National Park will have been largely replaced by different, almost certainly less-adaptive patterns (at least initially) in a highly unnatural way. This was an avoidable loss, scandalous for a national park and an international biosphere reserve.”
Friends of Animals, joined by the Center for Biodiversity, immediately contacted the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Culture Organization) Man and Biosphere Programme (MAB), which oversees international biosphere reserves, by telephone, overnight letter, and supporting materials requesting MAB intervention. On May 13, UNESCO wrote the chair of the U.S. -MAB Committee: “It is the usual practice under the MAB Programme that when an NGO draws the Secretariat’s attention to activities which appear to contravene the criteria and functions of a biosphere reserve, the Secretariat in turn requests the MAB National Committee of the country concerned to examine the matter and seek appropriate solutions.”
The world is a poorer place for the loss of these wolves. The United States MAB Committee must hear from people everywhere that surviving Denali wolves are of inestimable value in and of themselves, and must be protected from hunting and trapping by permanent buffer zones surrounding Denali National Park and Preserve. The wolves must be permitted to re-establish their role in the ecosystem.
Dr. Peter Roussopoulos
Chair, US-MAB Committee
c/o Deborah C. Hayes, Ph.D.
US MAB Coordinator
Forest Service R&D, WFWAR
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