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FAIRBANKS - The National Park Service spent almost $4,000 chasing down a wolf in Denali National Park to remove a cable snare from its neck.
The effort was not to spare tourists the sight of a gaping wound on the animal's neck, said public affairs officer Kris Fister.
"The fact that people could see it wasn't our biggest concern," Fister said. "Our concern was for the welfare of the animal."
Park service officials tracked down the wolf with a spotter plane and shot it with a tranquilizer dart from a helicopter May 2.
The wolf was one of two that escaped with snares. Authorities said the wolves likely were trapped on state land outside the 6-million acre park in mid-February. They may have broken or chewed through the cable snares.
The darted wolf, a gray male weighing about 90 pounds, was seen several times near the entrance to the park at Mile 230 Parks Highway and along the park road. Biologists' attempts to capture the wolf were unsuccessful until it was spotted May 1 near the Savage River bridge at Mile 15 of the park road.
The park service mobilized to find and capture the wolf the next day. Biologist Tom Meier darted the wolf from a helicopter on a high ridge near the Savage River check station. Meier removed the cable snare from the wolf's neck and a veterinarian, Denny Albert, tended the wound and treated the wolf with antibiotics.
The cost of the operation included hiring the spotter plane and the helicopter to dart it, fuel for both aircraft and the cost of the drugs and other supplies to treat the wound, Fister said.
Park officials said the cable was not thick enough for wolf trapping.
"There's no reason this should have happened," said acting superintendent Philip Hooge. "It was poor trapping technique."
The park service intervened because the injury was human- caused, Fister said. Animals in the park suffer natural injuries regularly.
"There are animals that get injured all the time out there ... animals get killed by other animals," she said.
Fister recalled an incident in which a pack of wolves killed a moose on a gravel bar of the Teklanika River within sight of the park road. The process played out over several days and was witnessed by hundreds of tourists. Photos of the scene appeared in National Geographic and the park service received dozens of complaints.
"People were calling us and saying, 'How can you let this happen? How come you're not putting (the moose) out of its misery?"' Fister said.
The answer in a national park is simple.
"It's part of nature," Fister said. "Nature isn't kind."
The other snared wolf, a black male, has not been seen in more than a month.