DE­NALI’S WILDLIFE

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Hunt­ing has never been al­lowed in De­nali Na­tional Park since the park was es­tab­lished (as Mount McKin­ley Na­tional Park) in 1917. As a re­sult, bear, moose, Dall sheep and cari­bou aren’t as skit­tish as in other re­gions of the state. Pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers re­fer to the an­i­mals here as “ap­proach­able wildlife.” Be­cause the an­i­mals are more laid-back, and be­cause the Park Road was built to max­i­mize the chances of see­ing wildlife by travers­ing high open ground, the park is an ex­cel­lent place to view a va­ri­ety of an­i­mals. Usu­ally you can’t drive your own car in the park (un­like in Yel­low­stone, for ex­am­ple), but buses run fre­quently in De­nali. Your fel­low bus pas­sen­gers will be armed with binoc­u­lars for scour­ing the ter­rain for an­i­mals, most of which are so ac­cus­tomed to the rambling buses that they rarely run and hide. Bus driv­ers will pull over for view­ing and pic­ture tak­ing. The best wildlife watch­ing is on the first morn­ing bus.

Bears

In the area of the park that most peo­ple visit (north of the Alaska Range), there are an es­ti­mated 300 to 350 griz­zly bears and around 200 black bears. Griz­zlies tend to in­habit tun­dra ar­eas, while black bears stick to the forests. With most of De­nali’s streams fed by glaciers, the fish­ing is poor and bears must rely on veg­e­ta­tion for 85 per­cent of their diet. As a re­sult, most male griz­zlies here range from around just 325 to 650 pounds, while those on the salmon-rich coasts can eas­ily reach 1,000 pounds. There’s no guar­an­tee of see­ing a griz­zly, but most park bus driv­ers say they spot around five to eight per day along the road.

Wolves

Con­sider your­self lucky if you spot a wolf. De­nali is home to a fluc­tu­at­ing pop­u­la­tion, with around 50 to 70 wolves liv­ing in the 10 packs cur­rently be­ing mon­i­tored. Dur­ing the sum­mer, wolves are less likely to travel in large packs be­cause they cen­ter their ac­tiv­ity around a den or ren­dezvous site, with one or more adults o¥en re­main­ing there with the pups.

Moose

An es­ti­mated 1,800 moose roam the park.

They are al­most al­ways found in stands of spruce and wil­low shrubs (their fa­vorite food). Back­pack­ers should be wary when plow­ing blindly through ar­eas of thick ground cover, es­pe­cially in early Septem­ber, when the bulls clash over breed­ing rights to the cows. Make no mis­take: a moose can be just as dan­ger­ous as a bear.

Cari­bou

The park’s cari­bou (pic­tured at le¥) be­long to the De­nali herd – one of 32 herds in

Alaska – which presently num­bers around 1,760. The best time to spot cari­bou in large groups is late sum­mer, when the an­i­mals be­gin to band in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the au­tumn mi­gra­tion. They’re o¥en spot­ted ear­lier in sum­mer in small bands on the hill­sides. Look for un­usual patches of white that just don’t seem to be­long there.

Other Species

In ad­di­tion to moose, cari­bou, wolves and bears, De­nali is home to 35 other mam­mal species, in­clud­ing Dall sheep, wolver­ines, foxes and mar­mots. There are also 169 species of birds – in­clud­ing the golden ea­gle and more rarely seen bald ea­gle.

A bull cari­bou in De­nali Na­tional Park

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