I saw a wolf today. Not just any wolf – the first grey wolf I’ve seen in Canada, the first coastal wolf I’ve ever seen, and the first time I’ve seen the species that my PhD research is focused on.
It was a beautiful day today. One of those rare blue-sky days on the west coast of Vancouver Island that really aren’t that common not matter what Instagram has you believe. I was with a senior field technicians who maintains the camera trap array to near perfection, and we were just casually chatting about wolves in the area. As we came around the bend on a gravel logging road, a wolf loped up the bank into the trees. The sun shone on its back, illuminating its golden brown and black mottles. It didn’t stay long. It altered its path to duck into the woods and then it was gone, continuing on its way, avoiding humans as it should.
Since starting this project, lots of people have said they hope I see a wolf, and I’ve always replied saying that I hope I don’t because in some cases that is part of the problem I am aiming to solve. In areas of high human activity, wildlife is at risk once it becomes confident around humans. This is particularly true if wildlife learns to associate humans with food – like the macaques or coatis that bite tourists, and the bears or elephants that raid homes. In many of these cases, when human safety is threatened, wildlife is killed as a result.
To help prevent this type of action occurring on the west coast of Vancouver Island, my PhD research aims to explain what makes wolves more likely to interact with people. Ultimately, along with Parks Canada, I hope to help reduce (or prevent if we want to be optimistic) negative human-wolf interactions through positive people management (e.g. closing specific areas or educating on better wildlife-savvy behaviour) in response to the ecology of the wolves.
So, with all that explained, this was probably the best type of wolf sighting I could have asked for. A wolf behaving like a wolf.
If you are lucky enough to see a wolf in the wild, be mindful of the fact that you may not be the only person that wolf ever sees. Follow these guidelines to keep you and wolves safe:
Stay calm – Hold your ground or walk away slowly, don’t run! Never turn your back.
Make yourself big – Lift up your backpack or hiking poles, open your jacket like a sail, pick up children, keep pets close and stand in a group. Never bend down or crouch.
Make noise – Bang your water bottle, shout, yell, clap your hands. Speak slowly, never shriek.
Give the wolf a way to escape – Never approach.
Throw things – If the animal doesn’t move away, throw things.
Fight back (if it comes to it) – Use anything you have as a weapon, try to remain on your feet and face on to the animal.
And lastly, don’t feed wolves or try to make them comfortable with your presence. Enjoy the fleeting glimpse of a wild animal in the wild. Aim to keep it that way.
For more pictures of wolves from camera traps look here.