Susan C. Anthony
Wolf

Wolves on the Lake

November 3, 1999

Note: The wolf photo was taken by our friend Tim Grams. Used by permission. Find more great photos of Alaska animals on Tim's web site: http://www.timgramsphotography.com.

Soon after we arrived at the cabin on a short trip to haul in gasoline and components for a solar energy system, Dennis saw something move on the lake. It was below zero in the cabin, so the binoculars and scope fogged up when we tried to use them, but not before we determined that four wolves were running across the lake.

Excitedly, we took snowmachines down the trail to where we thought they might be headed. We stopped and waited, crouching in the bushes. Soon a big black wolf appeared on a frozen pond below us, running full out through deep snow in our direction. He disappeared into a draw, then topped a ridge only 50 yards away, still running straight towards us. When he finally saw us, he stopped short, staring at us for a LONG minute before turning and racing off in another direction. Our adrenaline was pumping!

The next night a big wolf sat on the lake staring at the cabin. We had propane lamps burning in the twilight. It must have been an unusual sight for him to see light coming from such an unlikely place in the midst of the wilderness.

We were inside the cabin a few nights later when we heard a mournful howl quite close by. We took chairs onto the deck to watch northern lights sweep across the sky, set to the echoing music of wolves.

Wolves howl their eerie songs across moonlit tundra.  Ghostly notes echo from distant mountains, acscend the crackling northern lights, and pierce the star-studded sky. The sound shatters the stillness and the cold earth shivers.

One year we went home for just a few days and returned to find that wolves had killed two or three caribou just 30 yards from our cabin. Nothing remained but small pieces of hooves. Another year we arrived after dark in the winter and heard wolves nearby on the lake making terrifying sounds. We went to investigate the next day and found nothing but blood in the snow and a fox's bushy tail. 

A few interesting facts about wolves:

  • Alaska is home to the largest population of gray wolves in the United States, some 7,500 animals. Wolves are not the least endangered in Alaska.
  • Wolves can be any color from black to white. The most common colors are gray and black.
  • Adult wolves measure 30 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 115 to 145 pounds.
  • Wolves live about six year in the wild.
  • The average wolf pack has 6 to 7 wolves but larger packs can have up to 30 wolves. The territory of a pack is about 600 square miles. They roam about 12 miles a day looking for food.
  • Only the dominant male and female in a pack mate. Pups are born in May or early June in deep dens in well-drained soil. All members of the pack take turns caring for and feeding the 4-5 pups in a litter.
  • Wolves hunt in packs, taking turns dogging large mammals until the prey becomes exhausted.
  • A single wolf can gobble 25 pounds of raw meat at a sitting! They eat anything they can catch, from mouse to moose. Each wolf eats the equivalent of 12 moose or 36 caribou a year.
  • There is no recorded case of a wolf attacking a human being in North America. It was a European wolf who threatened Little Red Riding Hood. Wolves have, however, attacked dogs and other pets.
  • Despite controversies surrounding wolf hunting, predator control works! The natural tendency of wild populations is to peak and crash, peak and crash. Said David Johnson, retired wildlife biologist, "Romantic notions of the 'balance of nature' lead easily to the false conclusion that if we simply 'let nature take its course,' abundance will naturally result." In fact there were very few animals in Alaska's Interior when it was first penetrated by explorers, and the native peoples were starving. Proper predator control smooths out natural peaks and valleys in game populations, resulting in more prey,more predators and less starvation.

Go on to read Caribou Migration
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