We’re sure that right now you’re rereading this article’s title to make sure you read it correctly. And we can assure you that yes, Canadian wolves are actually being airdropped into Michigan. If you’re picturing a Wile E. Coyote style character comically parachuting into Michigan all geared out and ready for war, then you’re not alone; because we’re totally doing the same. However, this is anything but a cartoon.
Four gray wolves (3 males, 1 female) have been dropped off via air into Michigan for what is being called a “super important assignment”. They are currently only being helicoptered onto the Isle Royale National park, which is 2,3000 square kilometers of island terrain. Currently, there are no plans to drop the wolves off at any other locations in Michigan, but conservationists are hoping to add 14-24 more over the course of 3 to 4 years. They will also join a pair that was introduced to the island last September.
And for those who are concerned, no the wolves aren’t actually parachuting into the wilds. Sure, parachuting wolves falling from the sky was probably a hilarious sight to see, although we doubt the moose were laughing, but isn’t there a better way of getting the wolves onto the island? As it turns out, the wolves are transported via helicopter to the island (since it isn’t easily accessible) and then released on the ground. So don’t worry! There aren’t any wolves dropping from the sky in Michigan.
Why are they being dropped off?
We’re sure that this is the question that has been at the forefront of your mind since the article began: why exactly are we dropping wolves off onto the island? Well, there are actually two reasons. The first and primary reason being that the island’s moose population has exploded in recent years due the absence of natural predators. Since they’re not hunted and wolves no longer frequent the island, the moose population has grown exponentially.
While at first glance you might not think this is a problem, it’s actually a pretty big deal for both people visiting the park and the moose themselves. Having a park jam packed with moose might sound like a great photo op, but moose aren’t really that friendly. They can cause severe injury and even death to humans so the park has stopped seeing a lot of tourism. No tourism means little funding for the public park as well.
Just like with the deer population, moose need to be culled as well. If left to their own devices, the species is prone to over population. This means that they’ll start competing for dwindling food sources because of their expansive numbers and become extremely aggressive towards each other. They’ll also start dying off from lack of food source while their numbers steadily grow. Thus, it’s the wolves’ jobs to start thinning the herds. Without a natural predator to keep them culled, the moose population will continue to grow into worrisome numbers and there are deadly consequences.
Due to their large size, moose can easily outcompete other herbivores that are interested in the same food resources. This can led to other herbivores dying off from starvation and like the wolves, disappearing completely from the islands. And because of their size, moose must consume a LOT of food, which can be detrimental to the environment.
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (ORNF for short) are also hoping that these wolves will start repopulating the island. This conservation technique is called “rewilding” and the wildlife specialists are hopeful that the wolves being currently dropped off will begin reproducing. They also hope that the future additions (the 14-24 that are being planned) will also help with the burden of repopulating the island.
So in short, these “special ops” wolves have two missions: thin the moose population and begin repopulating the park with their own offspring.
What happened to the original wolves and why aren’t others coming to the park?
At one point in time, Isle Royal national park had a large wolf population and more joined and left as they felt like it. There used to be ice bridge that connected the island to the mainland for about 50 days out of the year. The wolves used this ice bridge to come and go as they saw fit. This meant when food was scarce for them in other areas, they could traverse onto the island in order to hunt and feed their offspring. Afterwards, they could return to their homes.
Unfortunately, climate change has really effected the ice bridge. It’s now incredibly unreliable and has left many wolves stranded on the island. Since the island isn’t familiar territory to these wolves, they face the struggle of finding shelter and water. No surprise, this caused the wolves on the island to die out. Even those that were able to secure shelter weren’t in a much better situation; with a lack of companions, there were no new offspring to introduce to the island. So once the original wolf passed away, there was nothing to take its place. And since no new wolves could easily access the island, the hunting came to a grinding halt as well as breeding potentials.
In 1980 the island had an estimated 50 wolves (a record high for the island), but as of 2016 there were only 2 on the island.
Like every good idea, there are potential problems. Finding the right wolves for the job is a bit harder than you’d expect. After all, not all wolves are created equal. “You can’t just choose which wolf you trap,” John Vucetich said. Vucetich is an ecologist from the Michigan Technological University. He and his team are responsible for the Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale project. “The wolf could be old, injured, or too young when trapped to work effectively on the island.”
In other words, it’s a roll of the dice as far as what wolves they’re getting. And when it comes to taking down prey as large as the moose, they need to be some of the best.
Another issue is that the relocation stresses out the animal. These animals have been taken out of the comfort and familiarity of their territory, transported a good distance in cages via helicopter, before being released into brand new terrain with complete strangers. “Like dogs, wolves live in families or packs so when they’re dropped somewhere new with strangers from company, it’s stressful. They don’t know where to find food or shelter either so that further adds to the tension,” Vucetich said.
If you’ve ever found a raccoon or other undesirable wild animal in your home, wildlife rehab centers and wildlife workers will all tell you that you can’t relocate it more than few miles away. It knows where food, water, and shelter is in this general area and if you move it elsewhere, it might not be able to find these things. It’s not necessarily like a dog where you can pick it up from the shelter or a store and in a few days, the dog is comfortable with his/her surroundings. Well, the same applies to the wolves in this case.
There’s also no guarantee that the wolves will breed much less get along. However, if they want to take care of the moose population, they will have to learn to work together.
Luckily according to wildlife experts, things are going well so far with the wolves. They are already traversing their terrain comfortably in packs and experts are hopeful that this will be a continuing trend. Of course, this could always change as new wolves are introduced over the years but for now, things look promising.
How can a wolf take down a moose?
If you’ve ever seen a moose in person then you know firsthand just how large these creatures are. If you haven’t, Google some images of moose standing next to cars. These animals tower over them! So due to their size alone, moose are definitely a challenging meal ticket for wolves. Not to mention they can also inflict large amounts of damage and even kill predators with their hooves and racks.
However, for what the wolf lacks in size in comparison to the moose, they make up for with intelligence and collaboration. Wolves work together and hunt in packs in order to subdue larger animals. The wolves will often surround their prey and take turns “picking” at it in an effort to wear it down enough to kill it. Although there are cases were wolves have taken out large prey by themselves, it’s very uncommon and it’s incredibly risky for the wolf.
Wolves are also incredibly patient hunters who are in it for the long haul. They don’t “surprise” their prey or try to overtake them with pure power or aggression. They will often follow their prey for days over long, harsh distances. Some have even been known to travel a few miles in order to find the right opportunity and meal ticket. Once they have selected their prey, the wolves work together with members of the pack taking on a specific role during the hunt depending on their gender, age, and social standing.
As mentioned earlier, the wolves may trail their prey for a number of days before making a move; this is especially true of larger animals like caribou or moose and others that move in dense packs. During this time, the wolves assess the herd or individual and look for signs of weakness or injury. They will also work to separate the animal from its herd to make it easier to take down.
Wolves must also factor into account both the terrain and weather. Wide-open plains favor the wolf’s meal. If healthy and full-grown, the moose can easily outrun the wolf; especially on level terrain. Crusty snow, ice, and dense terrain (think a lot of trees and natural blockades) will definitely favor the wolves. Their large, round paws keep them from sinking into the now and they can easily traverse it whereas larger animals like moose will get slowed down by the sinking of their hooves into the snow.
Vucetich also said that the large males introduced to the island, whom are all around 90 pounds, will “definitely know what to do when they come across a moose and will be able to successfully take it down.”
Gray wolf facts
We decided that the best way to end this article was to include some interesting facts about the gray wolf. We didn’t really know much about them before the start of this article and we wanted to learn more. So we assumed that you did too!
- Gray wolves will eat anywhere from 20 to 30 pounds of meat in just one meal. However, they have been known to go two weeks without food without any real consequences.
- There are five subspecies of gray wolves here in North America. Their fur colors are snow white, brown, gray, black, and cinnamon.
- Wolf pups are born extremely vulnerable. They are both blind and deaf at birth. This means that they must be carefully tended to until they fully mature (this occurs around 10 months.)
- Gray wolves are highly social animals that “talk” to each other. They do so via body language, growling, barking, “dancing”, howling, and even scent marking.
- Gray wolves are the largest wild members of the dog family. The males are also larger than the females. Typically a male wolf will range in weight from 80 to 110 pounds while the female wolf weighs in around 60 to 80 pounds. Height wise, the wolves are pretty even; both males and females range from 26 to 32 inches high.
- Gray wolves live 5 to 9 years on average in the wild, but some have stretched to 13 years. In captivity, they live much longer; averaging 14-15 years.
- They breed once a year and their litter includes anywhere from 4-6 pups on average. And once the female chooses a mate, they often stay paired together for years.