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Dance of Death On Assignment

Dance of Death On Assignment

Dance of Death
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.

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Text and Photographs by Yva Momatiuk and John Eastcott

Wolves (and bears) move in for the kill as a wounded moose makes his last stand in Alaska's Denali National Park.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

The scent of blood and infection combined with the noisy calls of ravens eventually lured several bears to compete with the six wolves for the prize. Scrambling for position, a female grizzly approached the moose, but when the wolf pack threatened her cubs, she turned to defend them.
Running, leaping, pawing, pacing, snapping—all the animals were tense and hyperalert and could have killed one another. Even the wounded moose was dangerous, lashing out with his feet and antlers. Yet killing him would mean a big payoff. The hundreds of pounds of flesh and organs could provide life-sustaining calories (and the bone marrow a succulent snack) in Denali's cold, barren mountains.
This is how wolves usually kill: One experienced hunter jumps on the moose's rump and gouges its thigh muscles. Another wolf sinks its teeth into the moose's bulbous nose. Others in the pack clench and rip whatever parts of the body they can to help bring down their prey.

Remarkably, this moose had survived the initial attack, battered but not yet beaten.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

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A pack of wolves tormented a wounded moose for about 10 days before killing it, a scene witnessed by park rangers, photographers, and visitors passing along a nearby road. The rangers followed their policy of nonintervention, but some observers disagreed. What actions, if any, should the rangers have taken?
Hands On or Off?
Park rangers and others witnessed a moose being wounded and tormented by other animals over several days. Under such circumstances, should people interfere with nature?
Yes      No

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Did You Know?
Our national parks were created to protect the natural ecosystems they represent, not to protect only some portion of the animals or lands that occur in them. In contrast to the policy of extirpation of some native predator species that was practiced at the beginning of the last century, it has been National Park Service policy since the 1930s to let each species "carry on its struggle for existence unaided."  (Threatened species would be exempt from this, of course.) However, it took several more decades and the Leopold Report of the 1960s to revive the idea that  "naturalness should prevail" and make it an important part of natural resource management within the park system.
What image comes to mind when you think of our national parks? Sweeping vistas of grasslands with grazing animals, majestic mountains with glacier-fed streams, or thick stands of old-growth trees? Most of us relish the gentler side of nature. But what about a wolf or a bear attacking a moose? These types of scenes can be a little harder to stomach.
Yet, every once in a while a few of us get a glimpse of the harsher side of nature. The events described in "Dance of Death" unfolded right next to Denali's Park Road, so a handful of professional photographers and dozens, maybe even hundreds, of park visitors witnessed some part of it firsthand. One visitor to Denali commented that "the park should change its policy about 'hands off' of wildlife situations" and park personnel should have "gone out there at night with a silencer and shot [the moose]."
Surely others there felt the same way, but does that mean humans should have intervened?  What would that have meant to the animals? The moose was already severely wounded and probably would have died anyway. By being allowed the opportunity to kill the moose, the wolf pack, including several pups back at the den, got the food they needed to survive. Furthermore, the younger members of the pack practiced and learned valuable hunting skills. Several bears, including two cubs, also received nourishment from the kill, as did ravens. Events such as the one described in our article occur practically every day in the wild. We just seldom have the opportunity to witness them. They are a reminder that nature can be brutal as well as beautiful.
—Alice J. Dunn
Did You Know?

Related Links
Denali National Park and Preserve
Explore the history and grandeur of Denali. You'll also find useful information to help you plan your own visit to the park that's home to Mount McKinley, North America's tallest mountain.
History of Conservation in U.S. National Parks
Find out more about conservation and link to informational reports on NPS conservation practices.
Preserving Nature in the National Parks: A History
Read and learn about the history of natural resource management within the Park Service.
International Wolf Center
Learn about wolves, resources for educators, kids' activities, how you can become involved with wolves, and more. It's all right here on this informative website.


Heinrich, Bernd. Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds. Harper Collins, 1999.
Lopez, Barry Holstun. Of Wolves and Men. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978.
Mech, L. David, and others. The Wolves of Denali. University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
Mech, L. David, and Luigi Boitani, eds. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. University of Chicago Press, 2003.
Smith, Tom S., and others. "Interactions of Brown Bears, Ursus arctos, and Gray Wolves, Canis lupus, at Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska." Canadian Field-Naturalist 117 (forthcoming).
Stahler, Daniel, and others. "Common Raven, Corvus corax, Preferentially Associate with Grey Wolves, Canis lupus, as a Foraging Strategy in Winter." Animal Behaviour  (August 2002), 283-90.


NGS Resources
Goodman, Susan. "Animals of Denali." National Geographic Explorer (January/February 2004), 16-21.
Lange, Karen E. "The Evolution of Dogs: Wolf to Woof." National Geographic (January 2002), 2-11.
Newman, Aline Alexander. "They've Got Personality." National Geographic World (April 2002), 14-19.
Chadwick, Douglas. "Grizz Survival: Their Fate Is In Our Hands." National Geographic (July 2001), 2-25.
Chadwick, Douglas. "Denali, Alaska's Wild Heart." National Geographic (August 1992), 62-87.
Preston, Lydia. "Watching the Wild Things." National Geographic Traveler (November/December 1992), 12.


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