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Details of Extensive Movements by
|FIG. 1. Long-distance travel routes of four wolves collared in Minnesota. Double line = wolf 2480, thin single line = wolf 5399, dashed line = wolf 7803 (killed), thick solid line = wolf 7804 (killed). Shaded area represents 1998 range of breeding wolves|
Satellite-collared wolf 7803 left his territory on 12 September 1998 headed directly away from the known wolf breeding range (Fig. 1). His collar collected 55 locations during movements through agricultural areas before he was shot by a coyote (Canis latrans) hunter near Howard Lake, MN on 14 November 1998. He made at least 33 highway crossings. Wolf 7804, also satellite-collared, left on 26 March 1999; during her travels the wolf stopped directional movement for 37 d between Wisconsin Dells and Stevens Point (Fig. 1). This area includes several rugged wetlands with low human presence. The collar collected 274 locations by 21 September, when the wolf returned to Camp Ripley. On 25 September the wolf left again, settled about 40 km east of Camp Ripley and was killed illegally on about 11 November 1999. She made at least 215 highway crossings.
The GPS collar on male wolf 5399 collected 1121 locations on 57 days of the animal's extraterritorial trips. The wolf left the territory on 31 May 1998 and traveled an average of at least 3.55 km/h (n = 220 line segments) during his trip. He made at least 17 highway crossings. He returned to near his natal territory and, therefore, we considered the long movement an extraterritorial foray (Messier, 1985). The wolf may have rejoined the pack shortly after the collar was dropped.
No data are available that would allow an estimate of the proportion of
wolves in the populations studied that make long distance moves because: (1)
with one wolf (2480), a special effort was made to follow it wherever it went,
whereas no such effort was made for other wolves in that study, (2) wolf 5399
was part of a very small sample on which GPS collars were tested (Merrill et
al. 1998) and (3) with the last two wolves (7803 and 7804), a special effort
was made to select predispersal individuals (nonalpha, at least 1-y old wolves)
on which to place the satellite collars.
All four wolves also returned to their territories or nearby after travels as far away as 494 km and periods up to 179 d. Two of the four then left again; one remained about 40 km from its territory for 9 wk (wolf 7804, 7/29 - 9/21); we could not follow the fourth wolf after its return. Wolves returning to their natal territories after long periods away have been documented before (Fritts and Mech, 1981; Messier, 1985; Mech, 1987; Mech and Seal, 1987; Fuller 1989).
In two cases, the wolves we followed made large loops to return, whereas one wolf (wolf 5399) returned on almost the same route by which it had left (Fig. 1). The loop returns suggest that even at distances of 494 km from their territory and for absences as long as 179 d, wolves remember their territory location. This finding extends earlier work showing that wolves moved as far as 63 km from their capture points for as long as 24 d can return (Fritts et al., 1984).
Several remaining questions about distant wolf travels include "What constitutes wolf travel barriers?," "Are there travel corridors (Hobbs, 1992) that wolves favor?," and "To what extent do wolf populations adapt to travel barriers and corridors?" (Mech, 1995). With aerial VHF telemetry, relatively few locations are obtainable during long wolf travels (Table 1), so these questions are difficult to address. Satellite and GPS telemetry, however, provide the first opportunity to examine these questions in greater detail.
|Table 1. Summary of information about Minnesota wolves that traveled long distances from their pack territories|
Fate of animal
|2480||M||73/5/17-73/6/30||183||490||14||1||Unknown while traveling|
|5399||M||98/5/31-98/7/27||185||566||308||17||Unknown after return|
|7803||M||98/9/12-98/11/12||118||1054||55||33||Killed during travel|
|7804||F||99/3/26-99/9/21||494||4251||274||215||Killed during travel|
|* State, provincial or interstate highway only|
Studies reviewed by Fuller (1989) report high, human-caused, wolf mortality
rates. Much of this mortality was from motor vehicles, suggesting that roads can
hinder wolf travel. In our study, however, collared wolves safely crossed major
highways. Three of the four wolves studied (7803, 7804 and 5399) crossed
numerous interstate highways and many more smaller roads during their travels.
This behavior supports findings that wolves in the Midwest are rapidly adapting
to human presence (Thiel et al., 1998). The fourth wolf (2480) traveled
mostly through wilderness, likely encountering few human structures.
Nevertheless, the long distances the other wolves traveled through mostly
human-dominated landscapes illustrate that few structures or landscape features
could be considered travel barriers for these wolves. Roads will continue to
pose risks to any wolves crossing them, but their function as travel barriers is
perhaps more a question of probability than of permeability.
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