Juneau Wolf may be Losing its Fear of Humans

CONCERNS: Lone animal may be getting accustomed to people, illegal handouts

The Associated Press / Anchorage Daily News / February 17, 2004

JUNEAU -- A wolf that began enchanting Mendenhall Lake visitors last June now is drawing too much attention, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.

"It's very exciting. People don't often get a chance to see wolves," said Dennis Chester, a wildlife biologist for the Juneau Ranger District of the Forest Service. "But my preference is for people to leave it alone and not encourage it so it can go back to being a wild wolf."

Cold spurts earlier this year froze Mendenhall Lake, formed below Mendenhall Glacier, one of Juneau's biggest tourist attractions. The ice allowed many residents to get a close look at the wolf.

Recently, the wolf has been approaching dogs and following humans.

"The wolf has become habituated," said Michelle Warrenchuk, an information assistant at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. She sees the animal several times a week.

"People have let their pets interact with the wolf," she said. "There have been reports that people have been feeding the wolf."

Wolves near Juneau feed mostly on deer and supplement their diet with beavers, goats and snowshoe hares, Chester said. An inspection of the Mendenhall Lake wolf's scat found evidence of dog food.

Feeding a wolf or game animal is a violation of state law punishable by a $110 fine, according to Alaska State Troopers.

No incidents between the wolf and dogs or humans have been reported to the Juneau Ranger District, said David Zuniga, district law enforcement officer.

"The majority of people understand that he's out there, and they do take all the precautions necessary," he said.

Those precautions include keeping dogs on leashes, hiking in groups and backing away slowly if the wolf approaches, Zuniga said.

The Forest Service has had one report of people letting their dogs loose near the wolf in hopes of breeding the animals, Zuniga said.

"We'd like to get people to understand that it's not illegal to mate (a dog) with the wolf but it's illegal to have any wolf hybrid dogs," he said.

Biologists have been unable to identify the sex of the wolf.

"My suspicion is that it got separated from the pack for some reason and has found some easy food and some company from the dogs that are out there, and that's why it's sticking around," Chester said.

As friendly as the wolf may seem, it is still a wild animal, Chester said.

"We're coming into the breeding season and its behavior could change," he said. "It could become more aggressive."

Ideally, the wolf will go back to the wild and avoid humans, Chester said. If it doesn't, biologists consider whether trapping the animal and relocating it is feasible.

"It's kind of like a half-domesticated wolf at this point," Chester said.


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