Wolves have a reputation for hunting prowess, but in Alaska's Denali National Park, even the top dog has to defend its dinner.


This carcass standoff was filmed by Alaska native Tim Peters, who spends his summers working with tourism organisation Denali Backcounty Adventure. For all his experience in the state's wild spaces, Peters had never seen a wild wolf before. 

"I was mostly just mesmerized this was happening," he recalls. "I was in awe that this scene was actually playing out in front of me." 

First glances would have you believe the wolf was attempting to steal a meal from the sleeping bear, but Peters explains the roles were actually reversed. 

"That pile right next to the bear was a dead caribou." he says. "The wolves had taken it down the previous day and over night the bear took it over." In fact, there were several other pack members hovering nearby, hoping to reclaim their hard-earned spoils. 

For Peters, the encounter showed the nuances of predator behaviour that are often overlooked by the media – something he hopes viewers take away from the footage. 

"They're not complete killers," he says. "Had that wolf wanted to, he could've fought that bear, but he knew he'd probably lose. The bear could've gone 'beast mode,' but similarly, those bears don't waste energy if they don't have to."

The brazen carnivore didn't give up though, and according to Peters, persistence did eventually pay off. The wolf managed to snag a small piece of meat before moving along. 

Despite its sooty coat, the canine in Peters's video is a grey wolf. These animals come in shades that range from pure white to mottled grey and the black we see here. Exactly which pack the individual belonged to remains a mystery, but Denali is considered one of the best places in the world to see the elusive predators in the wild. 

Biologists have monitored wolf populations in the park since 1986, and thanks to extensive conservation efforts there are currently 13 packs that roam the area. It doesn't necessarily follow, however, that the Denali wolves are out of the woods. 

"Wolf densities for the past three years have been the lowest in Denali since 1987," explains the National Park Service (NPS). But the reason for that drop is yet unknown. The East Fork pack, for example, was once among the park's largest with nearly 20 members. Today, only three of them seem to be around. Several of those individuals were confirmed shot or snared outside of park boundaries – where they aren't offered the same protections – but it is possible that some pack members simply dispersed to new territory.

"The wolves that inhabit Denali face many natural factors such as weather and availability of prey that may affect their behavior, where they travel and have their dens, and their population size," says NPS. But until park officials get eyes on them, harvest or natural mortalities can't be ruled out. 

"Places like Denali are important to protect because [Denali] gives these animals a chance to be in their natural environment where they can live their lives with as little human interaction as possible," adds Peters, who never tires of seeing Alaska's wildlife in action. "I stopped filming after that initial start [of this encounter] because I wanted to really take in what was happening. These animals are just amazing to see in person."



Top header image: François Xavier, Flickr