National Geographic : 1977 Oct
watching the pack hunt moose, the wolf's most formidable prey. These hunts made the famed killers look like amateurs. Of the 131 moose that I saw the wolves detect, all but seven escaped through alertness, speed, endurance, or sheer pugnacity. When the wolves finally did zero in on one of the less canny moose, the results were spectacular. I recall especially an attack on a nine-month-old calf of some 300 pounds that the pack managed to separate from its mother. I asked my pilot, Don Murray, to nose the Aeronca "Champ" down to about 400 feet for a closer look. Most of the wolves were worrying the cow, while two pursued its bolting offspring. After about 150 yards, one wolf lunged at the rump of the calf and held on; the other clamped onto its throat. The calf stopped and began trampling the front wolf into the snow. Still the wolf managed to hold on for two minutes before relinquishing its throat hold. It then stood on its hind legs, placed its forefeet on the moose, and tore at the side of the animal's neck. The calf brushed the wolf off against a tree. The other wolf, however, remained tugging at the calf's rump. The front wolf then dived under the running moose and again fastened to its throat. Continuing to run, the moose straddled the wolf, which brazenly ran right along under it, fangs still hooked into its throat. Then two more wolves reinforced the attack. One grasped the calf by the nose, and the other by its right flank. The struggling moose dragged all four wolves through the snow, then finally collapsed in a heap. A few minutes later the moose calf's flesh was being converted into wolf meat. Law of the Wild Is Still in Force In Minnesota, where the wolves' primary prey is deer, the predators are dealing with an animal of great speed and alertness. Thus their hunting success is not much better than with the powerful moose. The pack usually ends up with the misfits: the immature, old, crippled, sick, or otherwise inferior individ uals. It's the old story of the survival of the fittest. The wolf's culling out of inferior prey ensures that only the healthiest, most vigor ous members of the prey population survive. And those that do survive, having a better share of the food supply, will probably grow healthier, live longer, and so produce a great er number of superior offspring. Hungry as a Wolf: An Apt Analogy Of course, all this useful culling is just what comes naturally to the wolf. It is superb ly adapted to that role. It can survive for two weeks without eating, and thus can hunt and chase great numbers of animals until it finally finds one it can kill. Once wolves make a kill, they can consume impressive amounts of it. One clear, crisp afternoon, pilot Murray and I watched 15 wolves bring down a cow moose at the base of a steep ridge on Isle Royale. The wolves surrounded the carcass and tugged in every direction. In less than three hours they had eaten half of the 600-pound carcass- about 20 pounds for each animal. Usually it's a feast-or-famine proposition with the wolf, but, on the average, a wolf con sumes five to ten pounds of food a day when hunting is best, usually in winter. While hunting, wolves journey far and wide, traveling single file at their tireless rate of five miles an hour along frozen waterways, windswept ridges, and old roads and trails. On Isle Royale I once found a pack covering as much as 45 miles in a day. Between kills this pack traveled an average of 31 miles a day, bearing out the old Russian proverb, "The wolf is kept fed by his feet." Further testimony to the wolf's wandering ways is the size of its range. In Minnesota most packs inhabit territories of from 50 to 125 square miles, and in Alaska much larger ones. There one biologist followed a pack of ten wolves by aircraft for 45 days. They roamed an area some 50 miles wide by 100 miles long, a total of 5,000 square miles. Wolves can also be tracked by transmitter. Doting baby-sitters, all wolves love pups-their own or another's. This wolf, raised in the Alaskan wild by naturalists Herb and Lois Crisler, guards a litter the couple en trusted to it. All members of wolf packs share in the upbringing of the young. Strong emo tional bonds, formed early between pups and adults, become the cement of pack unity. Where Can the Wolf Survive?