A new study states that the gray wolves of Isle Royale National Park are on the verge of disappearing as the most recent census showed that only three remain.
The study, which is going on for the past 57 years, is tracking the declining wolf population on Michigan’s Isle Royale, an island in Lake Superior. It is now showing that only three gray wolves are remaining in the Isle Royale National Park, and more importantly that number could become zero by next year.
According to the researchers, when the study began the Isle Royale wolf population neared 50. However, it has been declining for some time now. A decade ago there were just 30 wolves on the island, last year that number was down to ten.
According to Michigan Technological University researchers, who lead what they describe as the world’s longest-running study of a predator-prey relationship in a closed ecosystem, interbreeding and illness appear to have caused a sharp drop-off in wolf numbers on the Lake Superior island wilderness. The researchers have now urged National Park Service to bring more wolves to the island to reinvigorate the gene pool. However, they believe that it may be too late to rescue the current population, which likely consists of one mating pair and a pup.
John Vucetich, associate professor, School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University, and the lead author of the study, said, “These are the last dying gasps. One thing we know with great certainty is that wherever there are large herbivores like moose, elk or deer you have to have a top predator to maintain ecosystem health.”
Meanwhile, park authorities have stated that they prefer letting nature take its course. However, they also acknowledge that humans have left a big footprint on the island environment. Wolves have fallen down mine shafts and died from parvovirus spread by pet dogs. Climate change also could make future ice bridges rare, further affecting the ecosystem.