After his mate was trapped outside Denali National Park and Preserve, the alpha male of the Toklat pack is keeping company with a new female, a federal biologist said Friday.
Park biologist Tom Meier said he spotted the alpha male with the new female Monday while conducting an ongoing study of wolves in the national park. The female is not one of the male's offspring, which still have not been sighted together for some time.
Over the previous several days, Meier saw the radio-collared, alpha male alone, but this time it was with the female.
It was just the two of them, he said.
"It is the breeding season," Meier said. "It looks like possibly they will reproduce this year."
That would be good news for the Toklat pack, perhaps the most viewed pack of wolves in the world.
The pack numbered 11 members, the largest pack in Denali, but trapper Coke Wallace killed the breeding female Feb. 11, raising concerns that the highly studied pack would dissolve.
Wallace later trapped another Toklat wolf, a black female. Both carcasses have been sent to the University of Alaska Fairbanks for necropsies, Meier said.
Gordon Haber, a researcher whose work is paid for by the animal rights group Friends of Animals, said a week ago he believed the pack was being decimated by trappers. He came to that conclusion after being able to locate only two or three wolves in the Toklat pack. He also said remaining members of the group were returning to the kill site of the alpha female, where Wallace has about a dozen traps.
The alpha female was killed on state land within a few hundred feet of the park's northeast boundary and on the outside of a wolf buffer zone.
The Park Service said suggestions of the Toklat pack's demise are premature but concerns remain.
"We haven't heard of more than two being killed. Of course, the one that was killed is the most important member of the pack. We have had pack disintegration when the alpha female is lost," Meier said Friday.
While Meier said he did not see the pups or young wolves during flights from March 4-7, he said it is possible they will rejoin the male and his new partner after breeding season.
The new female was fitted with a radio collar Monday. The younger Toklat wolves are not radio-collared.
He also said the pups and yearlings, which are actually 22 months, can make it without the adults, but it would be unusual for wolves of that age to leave the pack permanently. Once the breeding season is over, the Toklat wolves could regroup, he said.
"It is breeding season and that sometimes causes packs to be less cohesive right around this time of year," he said.
Meier said most young wolves eventually leave their pack and establish themselves elsewhere. In fact, the alpha male drifted into the park just a couple of years ago and hooked up with the Toklat pack, he said.
Denali is home to about 75 wolves. The Toklat pack can often be seen by park visitors traveling the park road.
"These particular wolves are seen by a lot of people," Meier said. "It was the biggest pack of wolves in the park this winter."
Wallace, a 40-year-old guide and subsistence hunter, said he's been receiving threatening phone calls and e-mails since it became known that he trapped the alpha female.
"I am completely legal and within my bounds," he said Friday.
Wallace said he uses the fur for hats, gloves and parka ruffs. He uses the money from the pelts he sells to buy home heating fuel, he said.
Wallace said he traps up to five wolves a winter. He plans to keep his traps in place until the end of trapping season April 30.
"My take is inconsequential on the wolf population. These groups, Friends of Animals, listen to them talk about these wolves like they are a bunch of line-bred retrievers. They're not," Wallace said. "The wolves don't need our sympathy or extra protection. They are undoubtedly one of the most efficient and ruthless predators on the planet."