When Wolves Get Too Friendly

60ii, wolf, minutes, gray

Denali National Park in Alaska is one of the wildest spots on the continent. But some are in danger there and it is not the people but the wolves.
CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone reports on what happens when wolves become too friendly with people.

The howl piercing the Alaska wilderness in Denali National Park is the distinctive call of a somewhat frustrated wolf biologist, Gordon Haber.

The beeps from radio collars tell Haber wolves are close by but they refuse to show themselves.

Haber points, saying, "The pups and the female are right over there."

There are, however, a few wolves in Denali that don't mind being seen. They are all members of the same pack, a family of gray wolves that researchers have named the Toklat family.

The only road in Denali runs right through the pack's territory, and over many years now the Toklat wolves have learned to accept cars and buses - and humans.

"They're highly habituated; these wolves have no fear of people," says Haber.

But trusting people becomes dangerous each winter when the wolves go just beyond park boundaries looking for food.

"These same wolves go outside the park," says Haber. "And the next person they see is a hunter. It's like taking candy from a baby," he adds.

Last year the family was almost wiped out, reduced from a dozen members to just two. So now the Toklats' admirers are asking for a ban on wolf hunting in a small area just outside the park.

"We're hoping to get an emergency closure here," says Leo Keeler.

Wildlife advocates Leo and Dorothy Keeler have been traveling Alaska with a slide show trying to build support for hunting restrictions to protect the Toklats, a wolf family the Keelers call unique.

"We have photos of adults taking 5- to 6-week-old puppies leading them toward people and passing a vehicle," says Leo Keeler.

"I don't know where else in the world you can see that," adds Dorothy Keeler.

In the vast expanse of Denali National Park, across some 6,000 square miles, there are only 40 to 50 wolves, most never seen, biologists say. If part of the natural beauty here is seeing a wolf in the wild, then the Toklat family is an essential part of Denali.

But park officials say there is no need to restrict hunting because in the park there are plenty of wolves, perhaps double the 40 or 50 that biologists have actually been able to see to count.

"You could perhaps argue that these animals need to be protected, but others would argue, 'Well you're already protecting them in 6 million acres. How many more acres do you need?'" says Gordon Olson of the National Park Service.

Park officials say if the Toklats die or are killed off, other packs will take their place. The Keelers say other packs are not like the Toklat family.

"There's no food to get. There's no history of being rewarded in any way by approaching humans, but yet they chose to do o. What an honor!" says Dorothy Keeler.

For now, the Toklat family is growing again and teaching new pups to trust humans. But many worry that without more protection, that trust could prove fatal this winter.

For more on the campaign to protect the Toklat wolves, go to Alaska Wildlife Alliance Web site.

For John Blackstone's first person account, go to The Wolves Of Denali and for more John Blackstone reports on how animals interact with humans in the Alaskan Wilderness go to A Dangerous Wilderness and The Bears of Hyder.

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