WOLVES OF THE RAIN FOREST
Canis lupus ligoni
By: Terry Moore, Volunteer
Prowling the lush temperate rain forest of Southeast Alaska's panhandle region is another of Alaska's Gray Wolf subspecies Canis lupus ligoni or the Archipelago Wolf. Unique in many aspects, Archipelago Wolves tend to be smaller than their northern cousins, averaging about 85 IBS for males and about 15 IBS less for females. These wolves also have a tendency to be darker than the wolves in the interior and perhaps their most unique characteristic is that many of these wolves live on islands.
Research indicates that wolves possibly followed migrating deer, which colonized this region some 8,000 or 9,000 years ago. Climatic and geographical changes in the region have since prevented both deer and wolves from leaving.
As with all wolves, a pack's size and range is dependent on a number of factors including availability of prey. For island wolves, the most predominant prey species is the Sitka Blacktail Deer. However, beaver, waterfowl, salmon and harbor seals are also important food sources for the wolves.
Archipelago Wolves are also found on a narrow strip of mainland west of the coastal mountains, a formidable barrier which has prevented the eastern expansion of these animals into Interior Alaska. The mainland range extends from Dixon Entrance north to Yakutat. Ironically, only islands south of Frederick Sound contain wolf populations and islands that are inhabited by brown bears such at Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof which are void of either wolves or black bears.
Archipelago Wolves are excellent swimmers and have been known to swim up to 3 miles in open oceans in order to access other islands in search of deer and other prey. Studies may reveal whether this myriad of islands lie within a particular packs range or if perhaps these voyages are random excursions necessitated by fluctuating prey populations.
Recently, a great deal of research has been conducted on the Archipelago Wolf to determine the impacts of large scales commercial logging in this region. The unique biodiversity of Southeast Alaska may be in peril if over harvesting of timber continues here. In order to gain deeper insight intothe secret world of the wolves of the rain forest, researchers must radio collar certain individuals. This is accomplished by capturing wolves through the use of a leg hold trap. Trapped wolves are anesthetized to prevent undue trauma or injury to allow blood sampling and the taking of toenail clippings. Clippings will later be analyzed to determine the presence of isotope, an elemental form of nitrogen found in organisms, which live in seawater. This will help researchers to determine the extent of marine mammals in a wolf's diet.
A general physical exam is then given to each animal to determine age, sex, general health, and any apparent injuries or evidence of parasites. The wolf is then weighed and a radio collar is attached which will assist the researchers in monitoring the pack's location.
Hopefully, by learning more about the Archipelago Wolf, biologists, environmentalists, loggers, and trappers may all work together to assure that adequate tracts of old growth rain forest remain intact to insure the survival of these unique and remarkable predators.