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Fauna Series No. 5








Dall Sheep



Grizzly Bear

Red Fox

Golden Eagle



Fauna of the National Parks — No. 5
The Wolves of Mount McKinley
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WOLF (continued)

Home Life

In 1940 and 1941 wolves were found denning on Toklat River but extensive observations on these Toklat wolves were not made. In 1940 a few notes were made regarding a family on Savage River, but in 1940 and 1941 much time was devoted to observing a family at a den on the East Fork of the Toklat River (known locally and hereafter referred to as East Fork or East Fork River). These three wolf groups will be discussed separately.


In 1939 no special effort was made to find dens because there were so many other phases of the field work which could not be neglected. The finding of dens sometimes seems simple, and at other times most difficult. To illustrate, in 1940 ex-trapper Frank Glaser, Agent of the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Wildlife Ranger Harold Herning of the National Park Service spent all their time from early March to early August in search of dens in Mount McKinley National Park. During this period they worked hard but found only one family of wolves and that was in a Toklat River den which was known to have been occupied on at least two previous occasions. Of course, their inability to find more may have indicated a scarcity of dens.

In a letter to O. J. Murie, former Ranger Lee Swisher gives an interesting description of his efforts to find this particular den on the Toklat River: "This past season I had great difficulty in locating a den. On two occasions, I saw (with the aid of binoculars) an old wolf carry meat from a sheep carcass in Polychrome Pass, then go down Toklat River. I spent many days searching over the country where it seemed the den should be. There was a well-beaten trail for over 5 miles along the Toklat bars, then onto a bench where I could follow it no more. One morning while scouting along this bench close to the timber through some weeds I had no difficulty in following this trail which kept in the timber for about 2 miles where it then emerged onto the river bars again for another 5 miles or more where I located the den on a small timbered island along the river. I estimated that this wolf was carrying food to its young over 12 miles."

The Toklat River family was living about 12 miles north of the highway and 2 miles north of the sheep hills, on an island of spruces about 1 mile long and a third of a mile or less in width. Gravel bars surround this spruce island and sometimes the numerous channels of the Toklat River flow on both sides of it. The general level of the island rises only 2 or 3 feet above the gravel bars.

Following directions given me by former Ranger Lee Swisher, I first visited the den in the fall of 1939. It was located about 20 yards from the edge of the timber, in sandy loose soil in which a few cottonwoods grew along with the spruces. The wolves had renovated a fox den for their own use. The foxes had, as usual, a number of entrances, there being eight or nine of them in an area 20 feet across. One of them, leading under the roots of a spruce, was enlarged by the wolves when they took possession. It led to a chamber in the center, about 3 feet below the surface. According to reports, this chamber had been exposed by a trapper about 1937, and seven pups and a gray female were destroyed. In 1940 the wolves had used the same entrance but had dug 10 feet at right angles to the former burrow. Four pups were inadvertently removed from the den before I had an opportunity to observe it. There was no nest material in the chamber. The entrance was 16 inches high and 21 inches wide.

A narrow trail through the woods, 7 to 9 inches wide and 280 yards long, connected this den with another which also had been first occupied by foxes and later was taken over by wolves. It was located in a sandy rise in which a few cottonwoods grew with the spruces. One of the many holes had been enlarged and there was a large mound of dirt at its mouth. The entrance was 15 inches high and 20 inches wide. At least five well-defined trails led out in different directions. In 1940 this den showed some use, but this may have been in connection with the den from which the four pups were taken. Later in the summer it was evident that it had not been used after the first visit to it in May.

In 1941 the second den was occupied by a family on June 23. When I approached the den I saw four brownish pups playing near the entrance. The main burrow had been enlarged some since the previous year, as had two or three of the smaller ones which were used by the pups. Along a wash in the woods 50 yards away there were five beds in the dirt, all dug out a little, one to a depth of 8 inches. It was not known how many adults were in the family. The den near this one, raided in 1940, was unoccupied.

Continued >>>

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