Tracking Wolves and Caribou at Denali National Park and Preserve
Denali National Park and Preserve protects 6 million acres of Alaskan wilderness; making it one of the largest national parks in the United States. Its sprawling terrain encompasses tundra, forest, glaciers, and perhaps its most famous feature: Mount Denali, the highest mountain in North America.
The park was originally established in 1917 as a wilderness area, meant specifically to protect local wildlife. Since that time, it’s been incorporated into the National Park System, opening it up to adventurers who come to Denali for activities like hiking, mountaineering, and snowshoeing. Yet it remains a haven for various species including golden eagles, grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, and Dall Sheep.
Like most other parks, Denali welcomes visitors year-round, but what makes it unique is that much of its vast wilderness has been protected from significant human influence, making it ideal for scientific research and study. For the past 36 years, land managers and National Park Service (NPS) biologists have continuously tracked Denali’s wolf and caribou populations in one of the longest-running wildlife monitoring programs in the world. Data gathered over such a long span of time is very rare, but it is crucial for understanding parks and their habitats and wildlife. It allows scientists to investigate questions that would be impossible to answer with only a few years’ data. It helps answer questions on topics such as the effect of climate on ecosystems, how disease circulates within a population, or less understood patterns of animal behavior. At Denali National Park and Preserve, this research provides insights into the predator-prey dynamics between wolves and caribou and how it impacts the rest of the park’s sub-arctic ecosystem.
In 2020, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and a downturn in tourism, funding for this program was dwindling and the legacy of this longstanding research program was in jeopardy. With help from funding from National Park Foundation (NPF), this monitoring program will continue without interruption.
Tracking Denali Wolves and Caribou Today
Thanks in part to this financial support, over the past year, NPS biologists have continued their tracking of wolf and caribou across 2 million acres of Denali National Park and Preserve. Monitoring activities include:
- Tracking wolves via helicopter and GPS collars to observe their movements, space use, pack size, predation, and reproduction.
- Setting up trail cams to monitor wolf den sites including pup counts and rates of pup survival.
- Conducting pregnancy, post pregnancy, and count surveys of the Denali Caribou Herd.
- Conducting aerial monitoring to investigate Caribou survival & mortality rates, as well as their movements and seasonal distribution throughout the year.
- Conducting outreach and education on wildlife and wildlife research in Denali.
- And more!
NPS uses this data to publish and share scientific research covering topics like the impact of disease on wolf reproduction and survival at Denali, pack dynamics, and much more.
Find out more about how NPF's work in Landscape & Wildlife Conservation supports park projects that conduct scientific research to help ensure that our national parks’ wildlife and natural resources are protected for current and future generations.