Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
YUKON FLATS: Routine Moose Survey Reveals Surprise Observation of Wolf Kill
Alaska Region, March 16, 2011
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During a recent aerial moose survey, Yukon Flats Refuge biologists caught a rare glimpse of two wolves pursuing and killing an adult moose.  Since biologists only watched the last ten minutes of the exciting chase, it’s unknown how long the wolves trailed the moose before attacking.


The wolves were first seen 100 feet from the moose.  The moose didn’t appear tired but its health was unknown. Within minutes, the wolves began a rapid and persistent attack of the moose, striking at its upper haunches.  After several minutes, the moose went down but recovered and stood-up.  One wolf began to attack the moose’s throat while the other continued to strike at the haunches.  In response, the moose kicked aggressively with its back legs.  It was not observed but the rapid death suggests that a wolf was able to suffocate the moose by grasping its throat.  Towards the end, two additional wolves arrived and likely were inexperienced young of the year.   It is worth noting that the shallow snow depth did not appear to hamper the moose. 

First-hand observations of wolves taking down prey are extremely rare.  On 2 million acre Yellowstone National Park, researchers have observed an estimated hundred wolf kills of elk where the road system provides long distance views. On roadless, forested half-million acre Isle Royale National Park, Dr. Rolf Peterson estimates he’s seen just 12 kills by wolves of moose in 40 years of research. Lack of roads and the vast distances of 9 million acre Yukon Flats Refuge make observing wolves from airplanes extremely challenging.  This first-hand observation was relevant to Refuge wolf research since biologists learned key points, namely, just two wolves can rapidly take down an adult moose, not all individuals in a pack may be involved in the kill, and wolves are effective even when snow is not deep.


Contact Info: Bryce Lake, 907-456-0503, Bryce_Lake@fws.gov
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