National Geographic : 1963 Feb
mate of 600. The moose's favorite food sup plies were riddled: lilies and other water plants, American yew, aspen, birch, balsam, mountain ash, and dogwood. Murie and Hickie recommended imme diate reduction of the herd. If it were not done, Murie said, "the moose will begin to be eliminated by disease and starvation." His prediction was borne out; Isle Royale moose died off to a low level. A ravaging fire in 1936 destroyed large areas of forest, but it also produced some benefits. The big burn developed a new growth of brush-stage vegetation-ideal moose browse. The moose survived, and the herd slowly began to build up again. For naturalists and administrators, intri guing questions arose: What would happen if there were wolves on Isle Royale? Would they strike a reasonable balance with the moose herd and hold it at a level that could be supported by the annual growth of browse? Or would the wolves, amid plenty, get com pletely out of hand and wipe out the moose? No one knew. But while naturalists pon dered, wolves reached Isle Royale across that winter ice bridge. In the late 1940's, observers in Canada reported wolf forays toward Isle Royale. By 1949, wolf tracks were positively identified in the park. 214 While the wild wolves were establishing themselves on the island, an experiment was made with zoo-bred wolves. Four animals from Detroit were released. As predicted, they became a nuisance, pulling clothes off the line at a fisherman's cabin and terrorizing visitors. Two were recaptured and a third was shot. That left Big Jim, who became some thing of a legend. Big Jim, Pariah of the Pack The story of a wolf that might have been Big Jim is worth telling: In February and March, 1957, James E. Cole of the Park Service spent 17 days flying the island with pilot Jack Burgess without radio or base-camp help. When their plane was disabled on Siskiwit Lake with a broken landing gear, they set out across Siskiwit Bay, snowshoeing toward their camp. For six hours, a single wolf ambled along a quarter-mile behind them. When they rested, it lay down and waited. Its manner, said Cole, was that of a "friendly but cautious dog." He suspected that it might be Big Jim. Dave Mech's abundant notes on the winter period in 1959 tell of a lone wolf that trailed along in the rear of the pack of 15. Obvious ly, this one wanted to belong but was not accepted. It cowered and retreated when Detectives on Snowshoes Collect Evidence for a Scientific Inquest Isle Royale's wolves often leave investiga tors nothing but a few bones and scraps of hide. In this case, the jawbone of a cow moose gives telling information to L. David Mech (left) and Dr. Allen. Worn teeth betray her age-about 16 years. Lumpy jaw, a bone infection, probably interfered with her feed ing. Poorly nourished, she proved easier prey for the wolves than a healthy animal. Her skull lies on twenty inches of snow. KODACHROMEBY L. DAVID MYCH Ug N.b.5 . Man's glove spans two pawprints. Wolf's hind foot made the upper impression. Defatted bone marrow (left) attests the weak condition of a moose when the wolves pulled it down. Other victim's whiter mar row still possesses reserves of fat.