Denali was originally created as Mt. McKinley National Park in 1917 mainly due to its vast wildlife resources. Denali is well-known for its diversity of wildlife. There are 39 species of mammals, 169 species of birds, 14 species of fish, and one species of amphibian known in Denali. There are no reptiles recorded in Denali.
Animal life and activity in Denali is dictated by the seasons. Winter is the longest season and the animals that are year-round residents are well-adapted to life in the subarctic. The brief spring season brings the return of 80% of Denali's bird life, the waking of hibernating bears, and an increase in activity levels of wildlife. Summer is a time for raising young and preparing for migration, hibernation, or survival during the winter. Summer also brings hordes of insects, including mosquitoes. In late summer king and chum salmon run in the multitude of streams and rivers. In autumn, migrating birds fill the skies and bull moose gather their harems of cows for the mating season.
Year-round residents include all the mammals, fish, about 18 species of birds, and the one lone amphibian, the wood frog. Mammals survive the long subarctic winters in many ways. Some species like grizzly bears and arctic ground squirrels hibernate. Other species like mice and voles live under the snow in tunnels and burrows. Caribou, Dall's sheep, and moose are active throughout the winter and are constantly on the move searching for food and evading predators. Wolves are also active year-round, and like their prey, are constantly moving in search of food. Full time resident birds such as gyrfalcons, ptarmigan, black-capped and boreal chickadees, and redpolls are efficient at finding food and conserving energy.
Subsistence hunting is permitted in the 1980 land additions to the park, and sport hunting is permitted in the preserve portions of Denali. Local people harvest many different species of animals for food including moose, ptarmigan, grouse, and fish. They also harvest fox, marten, lynx, wolverine, beaver, and wolves for their fur.
For many years, scientific interest in Denali centered on the large mammals because the park's status as a game refuge offered scientists the unique opportunity to study the life histories of unhunted animal populations. More recently, Denali offers scientists a living laboratory to study how animals respond to changes in their environment in a naturally fragmented ecosystem.
Denali's animals are well-adapted to life in the subarctic. We expect that some populations of animals in Denali will be significantly affected by global climate change. Climate change impacts are predicted to be greater in the high latitudes of North America and exaggerated in the mountainous regions due to a combination of rugged topography, low sun angle, strong seasonal differences in solar radiation, and extreme ecological zonation in relation to altitude. Further, the frequency and extent of chaotic weather events are expected to increase with climate change. Denali offers scientists and the public opportunities to learn how animals respond to these and other changes in their environment.
Did You Know?
Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska is over 6 million acres (9,419 square miles) in size!