The population of wolves on Isle Royale, Michigan, may be down, but they are not out—yet. The site of the world’s longest running predator-prey study, Isle Royale hosts at least two new wolf pups born this season, the National Park Service announced today.
Wolf numbers plummeted to an all-time low of eight last year, as the consequences of inbreeding took an increasing toll, and last year there were no pups. But on 3 July, the welcome yips of two or three pups were heard by Rolf Peterson, the Michigan Technological University wildlife ecologist who has been studying the wolves for 40 years, and his wife Candy Peterson. The pups were part of a group howl that included perhaps three adults, at the west end of the Lake Superior island. Researchers on the island for this summer’s field season did not detect any sign of reproduction in the remnant pack at the island’s east end. The researchers listen for howls as the first evidence of the wolves but give them wide berth in summer and don’t expect to spot the animals until the winter field season.
With the addition of the new bundles of fur, the population ticks up to at least 10, although the pups must survive until January before they are included in the official census, adding to the iconic population graph of the long-studied population.
This year’s pups don’t necessarily mean that the inbred wolves are out of the woods, so to speak. Michigan Tech population biologist John Vucetich says that it’s “very good news” to know that the wolves are still capable of reproducing, but “it doesn’t really change our overall concern” about the population’s long-term prospects. The National Park Service continues “the process of evaluating options on how to deal with the population in the future,” Isle Royale National Park Superintendent Phyllis Green commented in a press release.