Updated with video at 4 p.m. April 6, 2017, and audio at 4 p.m. April 7, 2017
The surprise last-survivor of a wolf pack the Alaska Department of Fish and Game once marked for death has died.
She had been scavenging for food in and around Anchorage since at least the summer, and in the end she perished the way most loose canines do in Alaska’s largest city.
She was hit by a car on busy Tudor Road at the start of the morning rush hour Wednesday. She was estimated to be 10 to 12 years old, a ripe old age for a wolf in the wild.
Somehow she survived a planned, 2011 execution as a member of the dangerously brazen Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson pack of four- to six-wolves. The state decided to kill those wolves after they began confronting people with dogs.
Years before that decision was reached, the pack had started preying on loose dogs. That was troubling to the owners of the dead pets, but the state refused to do anything until the wolves started attacking dogs out for walks with their owners.
In May of 2010, the wolves treed two terrified, female dog walkers, who stayed up the tree for two hours afraid to come down. One of them, 5-foot, 4-inch mountain guide Jess Walsh, now tells her story in “The Stare Down” at SnapJudgment.com.
She describes what started as magical encounter only to become a nightmare that only got worse after she threw a rock at the wolf to try to drive it off.
“I thought good. Maybe we can scare this thing away,” she said. “Then it takes another step towards us.”
More rocks were thrown. The wolf ignored the rocks. The wolf ignored a lot of yelling. The wolf ignored the big stick the two women were waving at it.
“And the wolf kept coming, and then we see a second wolf come out from the brush,” Walsh said.
The two women went up a steep embankment to a tree with a low branch. The wolves followed. The women climbed up the tree. The wolf lunged at the last of them. One of their dogs, Winny, intervened and was grabbed.
With the dog at the base of the tree, there was a standoff for an hour. But the wolves eventually left and Winny survived.
After that episode, officials reluctantly decided they had to act before someone got hurt. The state eventually killed 10 wolves. Six were trapped. Three were shot. And one was rundown.
They then shut down their culling operation thinking they’d gotten all of the Elmendorf-Richarson Pack.
“They killed the entire pack,” Walsh said. “I felt like it was our fault, and I carried that with me for a long time.”
But the wolves weren’t all dead. The pack’s breeding female had somehow survived. She was identified by the non-functioning radio-collar still around around her neck when she first popped up on the edge of the city years later.
An aging, lone wolf by then she was apparently wise enough to recognize her chances of survival were better in and around people than straying into the territory of another wolf pack, where she was likely to be killed. So she took to roaming the city, and the city edge looking for whatever she could kill or scavenge.
A trail cam along the “Bulldog Trail” at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson captured her sniffing around there in February in the constant search for food that is a wolf’s life.
Video courtesy Donna Gail Shaw
Far more timid alone than when backed by a pack, she appeared to pose no threat to humans, and state wildlife biologists decided to let her be. They even tried to stifle some reports of her presence in Anchorage.
When she killed a moose calf along the Campbell Creek bike path this summer, some biologists wanted to remove it for public safety reasons – the carcasses can attract bears. But others decided to just drag it off into the woods and let her eat.
They expected then her days were numbered. The oldest known wolf to survive in the wild was believed to be age 14. But he was in Idaho where deer and elk make for far easier prey than the moose of Alaska.