Decline and Extermination of an Arctic Wolf Population in East Greenland, 1899–1939


  • Ulf Marquard-Petersen



Arctic wolf, High Arctic, extermination, poison, Greenland, harvest


The decline and extermination of an arctic wolf population in East Greenland between 1899 and 1939 were investigated through analysis of 40 years of archival data, which contained records of 252 sightings of wolves or their tracks. Prior to the start of exploitation by Europeans, this small, isolated wolf population probably consisted of about 38 wolves during an average year. Of 112 wolves sighted in early winter, 31.3% were lone wolves, 23.2% were in pairs, and the rest were in larger groups. Mean pack size was 3.3 wolves, and packs of more than four wolves were rare. The population was concentrated in the central part of its range, making it vulnerable to exploitation by Danish and Norwegian commercial hunters, who exterminated the population. Poison was the primary agent of destruction. There was no evidence that other proposed causes of the decline were influential. This study provided the first evidence of an arctic wolf population that was eradicated and highlights the vulnerability of small, isolated wolf populations to excessive harvest. Wolves in the High Arctic may be particularly vulnerable because of their exceptionally low densities, smaller pack sizes, lower pup production, infrequent reproduction, and insular or disjunct distributions.