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Living with Wildlife

Wolves

The Living with Wildlife column is published monthly in the Rocky Mountain Outlook to create awareness of living with wildlife challenges. We also work with local newspapers, radio and television stations to promote wildlife safety issues through the media on a weekly basis.

Wild, majestic, and savvy, wolves have captured the imagination of people over generations and across cultures. Because wolves and humans require similar resources, we must strive to balance our needs with the needs of the wolf.

Historically, many cultures perceived wolves as savage killers: people of the middle ages believed that the gaze of a wolf would cause blindness; werewolves portrayed wolf-human hybrids as monstrous killing machines; and in fairy tales such as the Little Red Riding Hood, and the Three Little Pigs, wolves are depicted as blood-thirsty villains. However, times have changed, wolves are better understood, and the public’s current tolerance level has increased markedly.

People relate to wolves, possibly because of the canine’s complex social behaviour and relative intelligence. Wolves live in a pack of typically 8 individuals, which is lead by both an alpha male and an alpha female. The pack relies on each other via a complex division of labour, including cooperative hunting of large ungulates such as caribou, moose, and elk. Raising the young is also a communal task. Usually the alpha male and female are the only members that breed, producing a litter of 4-6 pups. These pups are dependant on their parents and other adult pack members for approximately 20-30% of their lives. Such dependency equals that of humans! Not surprisingly, much of wolf behaviour is learned rather than instinctual.

The strength and endurance of wolves are inspirational. Wolves can reach speeds of up to 65 km/h when chasing prey for short distances, and can travel on average 50 km/night. One researcher in the valley estimated that it took 4 days for her team to walk the same distance the wolf pack traveled in one day! Long term dispersal is also impressive. One collared wolf traveled 840 km, ranging from the Flathead Valley in Montana to Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway!

While people have a more balanced understanding of wolves today, conflict with the species still occurs. Human tolerance of all predator species is correlated to the abundance of prey. Thus, wolves lose favor with the public when they hunt valued wildlife species such as caribou, and rancher’s livestock.

Wolf abundance varies by location. In the Bow Valley, wolf survival has been compromised by human activities involving habitat exploitation and transportation. Wolves prefer the same type of habitat we do: low elevation, gentle slopes, and proximity to water. Consequently, human development has reduced the amount of available wolf habitat. Our transportation corridors have also impacted wolf survival. A large percentage of wolf mortality in the valley is due to collisions with cars and trains.

What can you do, as an individual to help wolves survive in our valley?

  • Please drive the speed limit, and watch for animals darting across the road.
  • Avoid recreating in marked wildlife corridors, so that wolves can travel between habitat patches relatively undisturbed.

If you see a wolf or wolf tracks when outdoors, treasure the experience but do not follow the wolf. Doing so will cause it unnecessary stress. Finally, share these tips with your friends and neighbors.

Thank you to our sponsors whose generosity has made WildSmart a reality.

Residents are encouraged to report any sightings of bear, cougar or aggressive elk to 403-591-7755.
For all public safety emergencies call 9-1-1.

 

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