I always though I would read L. David Mech’s book The Wolves of Isle Royale first, but I found this one browsing the library shelves. It was written very recently- looking back at the first study Mech did on Isle Royale as a young graduate student in the 1940’s. Isle Royale is a large island in Lake Superior- far enough from mainland that few animals cross the ice or swim to the island. There are moose there, and wolves that prey on them. Mech tells about other wildlife on the island too, and how the species have changed over the years- sharp-tailed grouse used to live there but don’t anymore, for example. Foxes and sometimes coyotes also live on the island, lynx have been seen, otters suspected, etc. But the focus of this book is the wolves. As the moose and wolves rarely leave or come to the island, it was seen as a perfect place to study predator/prey interactions. When the study began, radio tracking wasn’t a thing- so Mech counted wolf numbers by flying in a small airplane over the island in winter, when animals were easily visible from the air. There’s none of the intimate detail I usually enjoy in books about wildlife studies- close observations of behavior being scanty- but he got some surprisingly good sightings of wolf hunts. From collecting scat and moose jaw bones on the ground, he was also able to determine more about what other animals the wolves ate, and the condition of their prey- age and general health. At the time, most people thought wolves were vicious wanton killers that just ate anything they wanted, so his findings that they actually failed in most hunts, and tended to eat weaker, sick or young animals, was key in changing popular opinion about them. What I found most interesting was at the very end of the book, where Mech sums up what the years of study revealed- predator and prey don’t exactly live in a perfect balance. Environmental factors had just as much to do with fluctuating moose numbers as the wolf predation. It was something that surprised me, and I like being surprised with learning new things.
Borrowed from the public library.