A large, gray wolf frequently seen by visitors to Denali National Park has a good chance at survival after a snare was removed from its neck.
The wolf was one of two that escaped snare traps set legally by trappers outside of the Denali park boundaries this winter, wildlife officials said.
The gray wolf, one of Denali's more visible wolves for tourists because it would stay close to the park road, was spotted by park employees several times, but always managed to give them the slip.
On Friday, though, park wildlife biologist Tom Meier and a veterinarian spotted the wolf's tracks in fresh snow atop a ridge and went after it. Meier immobilized the wolf with a tranquilizer dart and veterinarian Denise Albert removed the snare, cleaned the gaping wound and gave the wolf antibiotics.
The snare had cut deeply, as much as 2 inches, into the animal's neck, but Meier said the wolf probably will survive.
"It survived two months with the snare. This is an improvement," he said Monday.
The fate of another Denali wolf also seen this spring with a snare around its neck is uncertain. That wolf, a black one, hasn't been seen for weeks and Meier said it may have died.
Some trapping allowed
Denali National Park has about 100 wolves in 18 packs. The black wolf belongs to the Toklat Pack, whose members are most sighted by tourists inside the 6-million-acre park in interior Alaska.
Denali's wolves in winter tend to head for an area outside the park's northeast boundary that is the traditional wintering grounds for caribou, moose and sheep. A special no-trapping buffer zone was created to protect wolves but they move outside the zone to follow prey.
The trappers know that, too, said independent researcher Gordon Haber, who has studied Denali's wolves for decades. At least three trap lines were set this winter, and as many as 19 wolves were legally trapped, Haber said.
Snares are normally made of metal cable in the shape of a loop that cinch tighter as the animal tries to pull free.
Buffer around the buffer?
The park's many summer visitors — expected to reach at least 458,000 visitors this year — come to Denali in hopes of seeing wildlife, said park spokeswoman Kris Fister.
The wolves are considered a "high value" animal for wildlife viewing, said Fister, adding that the park would support efforts to keep a similar scenario from arising in the future.
"If trapping is done well, it shouldn't have happened," she said.
There already is a buffer outside of the park to avoid situations like this, said Alaska Trappers Association President Randy Zarnke.
"From the perspective of our organization, what's the answer? Do we create another buffer around the buffer?" he said.
"Animals move, and if they move outside of the park, we have to have some area where we agree that's the boundary," Zarnke said. He also called the situation with the gray wolf a "shame."
"It's a bad deal for the wolf, for the people who had to see it and the trapper," Zarnke said. "It would have been better if it hadn't happened that way."