ISLE ROYALE, Mich. — From what was over 50 just a few decades ago, researchers have now determined that there are likely only two wolves remaining on Isle Royale.
In the winter of 2014, nine wolves were identified by researchers on the island, but one year later that number had shrunk to three, and now to the lonesome two count. The population, while steadily on the decline for years, has had its ups and downs—though the population gains were seldom and short-lived.
The moose population, on the other hand, has continued to grow, largely due to a lack of predation from the wolves. From slightly more than one thousand in 2014, moose now number near the 1,300 mark.
The main factor that has caused such a rapid decline in wolf population has been inbreeding, or what Christine Mlot of ScienceMag.org called having “reached a genetic dead end.” While the two remaining wolves on the island are male and female, the amount of past inbreeding in the pack has led ecologist Rolf Peterson, from Michigan Tech, to determine, “There is no reason to expect this pair will flourish.”
Assistant Professor John Vucetich, also from Michigan Tech, stated in a 2011 interview (seen in the video below) that researchers from the university have been studying the dynamic between wolves and moose on Isle Royale for over 50 years. “It’s been four decades since Isle Royale has been reduced to just a single pack,” Vucetich said.
Though inbreeding is the dominant factor of population depletion, Vucetich notes that the altering habitat on Isle Royale, mainly due to climate change, has also been a root cause. “The federally-designated wildernesses—these are the places in our country where we are most proud about humans not intervening and humans not having an impact.” But, he says, changing conditions on the island have been negatively impacting both the wolf and moose populations, and added, “if humans are the agents behind climate change, isn’t that an occasion to think about intervening?”
This report about wolves on Isle Royale comes on the heels of a separate report about the thriving wolf population in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which stated that 125 packs now roam the U.P. In fact, the large wolf presence in the U.P. led to wolf hunting legislation being added to the 2014 state ballot, which failed to pass—though it showed strong support in counties with the largest wolf populations.
To learn more about the wolf population on Isle Royale, or to make a donation to their conservation, visit the official Isle Royale Wolf website.