Detroit Zoo: Detroit Zoological Society tracks wolf and moose populations on Isle Royale

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) has formed a Zoo-Park Partnership (ZPP) for America’s Keystone Wildlife with Isle Royale National Park to support the recovery of wolves and their relationship with moose on this island in the middle of Lake Superior. The collaborative field conservation efforts of the ZPP focus on understanding how introduced wolves adapt to their new environment on Isle Royale.

With the help of researchers at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, surveillance cameras, strategically installed throughout the island, are helping the National Park Service (NPS) document interactions between the wolf and the moose, document the number of animals and allow estimates of abundance for other wildlife on the island.

The geography of the remote islands of Isle Royale naturally lends itself to genetic challenges in the species that inhabit it. Climate change has reduced the winter ice cover on Lake Superior, which previously allowed the natural gene flow of new wolves crossing the island from Minnesota and Ontario, Canada.

The Isle Royale wolf population was reduced to a single pair of close relatives in 2018. From September 2018 to September 2019, the NPS worked with state, tribal and Canadian officials to reintroduce wolves to the Isle of the upper peninsula of Michigan, Minnesota and Ontario.

Three years later, the current population of the island is over 14 with a proven reproduction over two years. Without the reintroduction of new wolves and genetic lines, wolves would have disappeared from the island. In addition, the critical balance of predators and prey would have been tilted, which would have allowed the moose population to become too large, which would damage the ecosystem of Île Royale.

“Wolves are an essential part of healthy ecosystems like Isle Royale. This collaboration helps protect native Michigan wildlife and wilderness,” said Scott Carter, director of life sciences for DZS.

The ZPP project, hosted by the Wildlife Restoration Foundation in partnership with the NPS and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, recently awarded DZS a U.S. Keystone Wildlife (AKW) grant to fund other aspects of research, particularly the impacts of inbreeding on the wolves of Île Royale. in collaboration with Dr Kristin Brzeski from Michigan Technological University (MTU).

A portion of the AKW grant will fund a new interpretive facility, focusing on wolves and Isle Royale, inside the log cabin at Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness Zoo. The 2-acre habitat, which is home to the Kaskapahtew and Renner Gray Wolves, mimics Isle Royale and includes rolling hills and grassy meadows, native Michigan trees, a stream and pond, dens and raised rock outcrops at from which wolves can monitor their environment.

The DZS also participates in the annual Moosewatch expeditions to the island led by scientists from MTU. In progress for more than 62 years, this research is the longest continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world. DZS staff and volunteers have traveled over 800 miles to search for moose bones that help researchers understand the size, age and health of each moose as well as extrapolate the overall moose population.


This press release was produced by detroit zoo. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.

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