Endangered Species: Grey Wolf

A Report Researched by Valley Institute Elementary School
Bristol, Virginia U.S.A.
Second Grade, Michelle Childress - Teacher

wolf
Kanati, male wolf from Bays Mountain Park pack
photograph courtesy of Michael Jackson
Why Study This Topic? What Was Already Known Search for Information Description of Plant or Animal Habitat Requirements
Adaptations Reasons for Endangerment Restoration Actions What Was Learned Conclusions from Research

Why Study This Topic?

  Wolves are often found in children's stories for young readers. The fact is that many young children know little about real wolves due to the fact that they are no longer found in the wild with any frequency in the lower 48 states in America with the exception of Minnesota. In conducting an informal survey of students to establish their knowledge of wolves, it was discovered that few had ever seen a wolf. Talking about wolves in our fairy tales and stories prompted the children to be more curious about why we no longer see these large predators in our rural community of Southwest Virginia. Many of our students are aware that we DO have packs of wild dogs and some coyotes that roam our farmland. They often take advantage of newborn calves and lambs as prey. But none had ever heard of wolves being seen in this same community. This prompted our class to discover why we no longer have wolves in our area, yet have other large wolf-like predators.
 

What Was Already Known

  The main thing that most students think they know about wolves are that they are not seen in our area. They know what they dog-like features and should be feared for their strengths as a predator. Luckily we have a nature center, Bays Mountain Park, nearby that has established a small pack of socialized wolves for public viewing and education. A socialized pack simply means that wolves were hand- reared by humans as pups rather than remaining with their wolf mothers in a den. These socialized wolves are easier to handle for medical treatment and are more suited to public exposure than the typical wolf found in the wild. Each Spring, our Second Grade classes take a field trip to this nature center and prepare themselves for the experience by studying wolves prior to their trip. During this study we dispel myths about the wolf that have continued through history and explore the pack behavior that gives the wolf the power to be a successful predator.

Search for Information

  During our search for information, we utilized encyclopedias, U.S. Fish and Wildlife information, current magazines, library books, and Internet resources found through searches on the World Wide Web. There are few problems encountered in finding information about the wolf. There have been many recent examples of reintroduction of wolves into the wild in several states that have prompted much to be written about their history and their problems as an endangered animal.

Description of Plant or Animal

  There are two types of wolves in the United States, the grey wolf and the red wolf. The grey wolf is also called the timber wolf and is the largest of the 41 species of the dog family, Canidae. The size of wolves vary with their location. Adults may grow to a length of 164 cm (6.5 ft.) from nose to tip of tail and be about 90 cm (36 in.) high at the shoulders. They may weigh as much as 80 kg (175 lbs.) in weight. The larger sizes are commonly seen in the male wolves.

  The wolf is a powerful, muscularly built animal with a thick bushy tail. The color of wolves vary from pure white, the most common color in the far north of North America, through mottled gray to brown or black. Grizzled gray is the most common color.

Habitat Requirements

  The major prey of wolves are large hoofed mammals, such as deer, moose, elk, caribou, bison, musk-oxen, and mountain sheep. If these larger animals are not available, wolves will also eat smaller mammals such as beaver, rabbits, and small rodents. In summer, berries may also be added to their diet.

  As with any mammal, fresh water is a necessary addition to their diet.

  Wolves require no shelter, although females will dig dens or use existing caves in which to have their pups.

  The wolf prefers to live in open woodlands, tundra, or forests. Wolves live in social groups called packs. Pack size averages from 2 to 8 individuals; but, have numbered as many as 36. Each pack ranges over its own area of land, or territory - which may vary from 50 to 5,000 miles. (130 to 13,000 km) The pack will defend as much of this territory from intruders as possible and use the area as a hunting ground to provide food for the group. The pack stays more in one area during the spring and summer while caring for pups of the alpha female. In autumn and during the winter, they begin to travel again as soon as the pups are old enough to accompany the adults.

Adaptations

  The wolf is a predator that prefers large hoofed animals as prey, but will hunt and eat any mammal or bird that it can catch. The only natural enemy of the wolf is another large mammal - the bear. While the bear does not seek out the wolf as prey, they will fight over killed animals that one or the other may have. As a result, the wolf is usually the loser of either the food or its life.

  The greatest strength of the wolf is the strong social order that is established within each pack. This social order enables the pack members to hunt together, cooperating to run down prey. Order is established by establishing dominance by a male and a female (also called an alpha male and alpha female). It is generally only this mated pair that have pups. The wolves show dominance or submission to one another through facial expression and posture when they meet. Other wolf communication is achieved through scent marking of territory and howling to assemble the pack or to establish the other's positions.

Reasons for Endangerment

  Since the wolf has few natural enemies, the reason for its endangerment status is due to human related problems. Man has encroached upon its territory until the wolf has retreated to only the most wild areas on our continent. The loss of habitat has directly affected the numbers of wolves seen in the lower 48 states of America. The wolf is the only animal that has ever been hunted year-round in every national park in the United States.

  The wolf has been hunted to near extinction by ranchers and land owners. This fear is sometimes due to myths about the nature of the wolf to attack man. Due to the wolf's competition with hunters for wild game animals, they have been known to kill farm stock when no other alternatives were available for food sources. Wolves will usually take the old and injured animals from a herd and thus improve the overall health of those animals that are left. Healthy wolves in the wild are shy creatures that avoid areas that man inhabits.

Restoration Actions

  The wolf has been listed as an endangered animal which protected this species from hunting. There are some breeding programs and reintroduction practices in place in Minnesota, Alaska, and other areas of the lower 48 states. Previous animal management programs designed to increase numbers of large game animals by removing wolves have not proven to be effective. Now in some national parks, the wolf is being reintroduced to do what it does best, balance animal populations naturally.

  Even though the wolf is being reintroduced in some areas of wilderness, the problem of limited habitat still remains. There is no known way to reestablish the vast amount of land that has been lost through the destruction of this animal's habitat. The large tracts of land needed by wolves is only available in a few places and continued development threatens these areas.

What Was Learned

  The research and discussion that took place during this study to find the answers to the questions we had about the wolf made our class aware of just how much impact man has had in the life of the animals in our world. While the wolf is not as close to extinction as it once was, the problem of loss of habitat is a difficult one to overcome. We are glad to know that some breeding programs will increase the numbers of the wolf and that many groups are involved in the education of the general public. Man continues to be the worst enemy of many of our earth's animals and the wolf is no exception.

Conclusions From Research

  The students learned a great deal about group research. We checked out a variety of resources, from a variety of people and places. We then pooled our information in a group report. The children gained valuable experience in the process of locating and organizing information. The most difficult aspect of this process was the acknowledgement of how difficult humans have made the existence of one of the most popular animals in children's literature - the wolf.
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Christiansburg Elementary
Last updated on March 7, 1998