A Gray Wolf (Canis Lupus)
When a hunter in Manitoba, Canada legally shot and killed a Gray Wolf in early December 2022, a radio collar found around its neck was the first clue to the incredible journey this animal had been on. The Wolf had been collared in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the summer of 2021, and its GPS data since then showed this Wolf’s multi-state and two-country trek was one for the record books.
A map plotted by Michigan Department of Natural Resources researchers showed this male Wolf travelled through Wisconsin, then Minnesota, made a short stop in North Dakota, crossed the Canadian border into Ontario, then swung up into the Whiteshell area of Manitoba, where the hunter’s bullet found him. In all, this Wolf had travelled 4,200 miles in about 18 months.
This map from Michigan DNR shows the lengthy trek of a collared Gray Wolf from the Upper Peninsula, through other northern states and into Canada.
“The use of GPS collars will certainly add more insight to the movement of these amazing animals and likely show that others may make similar movements over time, but I suspect this will stand as a record for some time for Michigan,” said Brian Roell, a wildlife biologist with Michigan’s DNR.
Use of Wolf Collars
Michigan’s Wolf population has been stable for the last several years, with anywhere from 600 to 700 Wolves spread out across every county in the state’s Upper Peninsula. There’s been evidence a few Wolves have crossed the Straits of Mackinac to enter the Lower Peninsula, but there’s no documented population there so far, the DNR says.
State biologists have run a Wolf-collaring program since 1992. Currently, about 30 of the U.P.’s Wolves are wearing collars. Researchers can typically get about three years of data from a Wolf before the newer GPS collars stop working. Each spring, the DNR catches and collars new Wolves. They try to target Wolves from specific packs they want more information about – packs that might have overlapping territories, where researchers want to get a better handle on the pack boundaries. Or packs that are reportedly getting too close to livestock farms. By tracking any troublemaking packs, the DNR can use hazing methods to try to push them away from specific areas.
Beyond just population measurements, Roell said the collaring effort has given biologists lots of important information on Michigan’s 130 to 140 Wolf packs. “It also gives us insight into biological information on Michigan Wolves, their movement, their territory sizes.”
A Well-Travelled Wolf
But this lone Wolf making the 4,200-mile trip was unusual in the breadth of his roaming, researchers agree. The 92-pound male was collared in the summer of 2021 near Lake Gogebic. This is in the Ottawa National Forest in the north-western part of the U.P.
“It did not stay in Michigan very long after that,” Roell said the GPS data showed. “So it really never settled down.”
The DNR has documented other Michigan Wolves that have taken long trips. One showed up in Missouri. Others have been found in closer locales like Wisconsin or Minnesota. Some have crossed into Canada.
“The new technology that we have been using … has really given us some insight into these long-distance movements,” Roell said. “Often it seems like some of these animals are destined to stay loners.”
As for this particular Wolf, “we know this animal had been going for a while,” before it was legally harvested, he said.
Great Lakes Wolves: One Big Population?
Another group that was interested in this Michigan Wolf’s long trek was the Voyageurs Wolf Project, researchers who study Wolves and their prey in and around Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota. This Michigan Wolf walked though part of Voyageurs – and through at least two Wolf pack territories in that park – on its way north to Canada. When the group recently shared this information and the Michigan DNR’s maps on social media, the post amassed thousands of likes and shares.
A Pack Of Wolves On The Ice At Voyageurs National Park
But beyond just sharing the information, the Voyageurs group said this Michigan Wolf’s trek helps expand people’s understanding of the “Lone Wolf” concept. And it shows how Wolves in the Great Lakes region are more connected than some people might think. After all, Wolves don’t know when they’re crossing state lines, or stepping into another country.
“The travels of this Michigan Wolf, along with many others that our project and other researchers have documented, show how Wolves across the Midwest states and Canadian provinces are connected,” their social media post reads.
“Although we tend to think of Wolf populations based on geopolitical boundaries (e.g. the Wolf population in a given state or province), which are useful for management and conservation decisions, there isn’t much to indicate that these boundaries actually denote the boundaries between Wolf populations.
Four Of The Great Lakes Gray Wolves Population Howling
“Instead, probably the best way to think of Wolf populations in the western Great Lakes area is to think of them as one large, connected population with dispersing Wolves moving between provinces and states all the time.”
Originally posted by Michigan Live.
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