Death of a Mod­ern Wolf

To most of us, wolf at­tacks ap­pear to hap­pen at ran­dom. But the staff of Bri­tish Columbia’s Pa­cific Rim Na­tional Park Re­serve know bet­ter: the an­i­mals are now ac­cus­tomed to hu­mans, and it’s all our fault.

Reader's Digest (Canada) - - Contents - BY J.B. M KINNON AC FROM HAKAI

To most of us, wolf at­tacks ap­pear to hap­pen at ran­dom. But the staff of Bri­tish Columbia’s Pa­cific Rim Na­tional Park Re­serve know bet­ter.


Morn­ing surfers and beach walk­ers were still ar­riv­ing at Floren­cia Bay, on the west coast of Van­cou­ver Is­land, when staff from Pa­cific Rim Na­tional Park Re­serve showed up and po­litely—this is Canada, af­ter all— asked them to leave. When the coast was clear, lit­er­ally, Parks Canada sen­tries blocked off each pub­lic ac­cess point. Then a two-per­son team was sta­tioned mid­way down the bay— which is long and beau­ti­ful and curves back on it­self at each end, like the ra­zor clam shells scat­tered on the sand—with 12-gauge shot­guns.

They were wait­ing for a wolf.

They didn’t have to wait long. The tawny male emerged from the for­est around noon, rec­og­niz­able by the ruff of black fur that framed his face. Per­haps sens­ing the lurk­ing hu­man pres­ence, he ducked back into the for­est, just like any nor­mal wolf should.

An af­ter­noon passed, prob­a­bly the qui­etest that Flo Bay, as the lo­cals call it, had wit­nessed in a long time. It was May 28, 2017, and or­di­nar­ily would have been a fine day to spend on the coast of Bri­tish Columbia: sunny, warm, with a light breeze. But this day, re­source con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cers, who are mem­bers of the park’s con­ser­va­tion staff, were keep­ing a grim watch.

At last the black-faced wolf reap­peared. By then it was dusk, the sun de­clin­ing toward the bro­ken tip of Quisi­tis Point to the north­west. The

an­i­mal had cir­cled be­hind the of­fi­cers, where it quickly picked up their tracks on the beach. Then it started to move toward them—and there was noth­ing at all nor­mal about that.

TWO MONTHS EAR­LIER, I had joined Todd Windle, Pa­cific Rim’s hu­man­wildlife co­ex­is­tence spe­cial­ist, for a walk in wolf coun­try. As we pre­pared to set out, he armed him­self with pep­per spray and dropped var­i­ous noise­mak­ers into his pock­ets. “If we see wolves, we are ac­tively go­ing to try to scare them away,” he said.

Back in Novem­ber 2016, Parks Canada had is­sued a bul­letin warn­ing of “bold be­hav­iour” by wolves, in­clud­ing one that faced off with a run­ner and his two dogs un­til po­lice sirens from the man’s 911 call fi­nally scared the an­i­mal away. Sim­i­lar in­ci­dents had played out spo­rad­i­cally since, and park staff were in­creas­ingly con­cerned that some Pa­cific Rim wolves had been given food by vis­i­tors. The most re­cent en­coun­ters had oc­curred not far from where Windle and I stood; one in­volved a wolf that ap­proached a park em­ployee even af­ter a close-range blast from an air horn.

Windle led me to two wildlife trail cam­eras, each sen­si­tive enough to be trig­gered by the body heat of even a bird. Yet when Windle scrolled through the photos, which spanned the late win­ter, most of the wildlife wasn’t wild at all.

“Dog. Dog. Dog. Two dogs,” said Windle, wind­ing back through the months. Each hound and labradoodle was ac­com­pa­nied by its hu­man. Sud­denly: a wolf. The way it ra­di­ated sen­sory aware­ness, even in a pho­to­graph, brought the sheer obliv­i­ous­ness of all the peo­ple and pets into sharper re­lief.

FRESH-FACED, chest­nut-bearded and ev­ery bit the kid who has grown up to do “the coolest job in the world,” Windle is fond of quot­ing the Amer­i­can ecol­o­gist Aldo Leopold: “Wildlife man­age­ment is com­par­a­tively easy, hu­man man­age­ment dif­fi­cult.” Pa­cific Rim may be a rain-soaked tan­gle of for­est, sand and stone hold­ing its own against the sea, but the park’s core, the Long Beach Unit, is just 25 kilo­me­tres long as the gull flies and sees 700,000 vis­i­tors a year. Im­me­di­ately north of the pro­tected area is Tofino, an earthy tourist town that still likes to pre­tend that it doesn’t need traf­fic lights; to the south is the ham­let of Ucluelet, 10 years be­hind its north­ern neigh­bour but quickly play­ing catch-up.

For decades, there were no wolves here. Van­cou­ver Is­land, the largest is­land on the west coast of North Amer­ica, once had a ge­net­i­cally dis­tinct wolf pop­u­la­tion, but it was wiped out dur­ing a se­ries of gov­ern­mentspon­sored ex­ter­mi­na­tion cam­paigns in the early 20th cen­tury. Yet enough an­i­mals en­dured on Bri­tish Columbia’s main­land to swim across and

at­tempt to re­col­o­nize the is­land. Again and again, they were killed off. Only in the 1970s did they be­gin to sur­vive long enough to re­claim the ter­ri­tory.

Van­cou­ver Is­land’s wolves are a va­ri­ety of grey wolf known as coastal wolves or sea wolves. Smaller than most grey wolves, they have shorter, coarser coats that of­ten have red­dish or golden tones as well as shades of white, black and grey. In other places, gray wolves hunt mainly un­gu­lates such as moose, elk and deer, but coastal wolves also eat from the sea: wa­ter­fowl, ot­ters, shell­fish, even seals and sea lions. They fish skil­fully for salmon.

Un­til re­cently, the planet’s sur­viv­ing wolves were so closely as­so­ci­ated with re­mote and wild places that they were pre-em­i­nent sym­bols of wilder­ness. By the time wolves made their Van­cou­ver Is­land come­back in the 1970s, it was unavoid­able that they would be shar­ing their habi­tat with hu­mans. The is­land’s pop­u­la­tion was ris­ing toward half a mil­lion (it’s close to 800,000 to­day), with most res­i­dents crowded along the shore­lines. The coastal wolves moved onto an is­land of coastal peo­ple.

There were other pres­sures, too. Pa­cific Rim park, founded in 1970, awak­ened the world to the rugged, mist-breath­ing beauty of Van­cou­ver Is­land’s tem­per­ate rain­forests. To­day, the is­land is span­gled with pro­tected ar­eas busy with fish­ers, kayak­ers, beach­combers and surfers.

At the same time, log­ging com­pa­nies were rapidly felling un­pro­tected old-growth forests. Each cleared area of­fered 15 to 20 years of good for­age for deer as new growth filled in, and

Deer were starved out of the forests to crowd along shore­lines and into ru­ral yards. The wolves fol­lowed.

then decades in which dense stands of ma­tur­ing trees choked out veg­e­ta­tion on the for­est floor. As more and more of the is­land reached the lat­ter stage, deer were starved out of the forests to crowd along shore­lines and road­sides, and into ru­ral yards and even towns them­selves. The wolves fol­lowed.

In Pa­cific Rim park, wolf sight­ings were recorded per­haps only a half­dozen times up to 1997. But by the end of 2003, just six years later, the num­ber of wor­ri­some en­coun­ters be­tween peo­ple and wolves in the Pa­cific Rim area had ac­cel­er­ated to 51; wolves had killed at least seven

dogs, and one per­son had been badly wounded in an at­tack. Re­mark­ably, sim­i­lar re­ports be­gan crop­ping up else­where—in Alaska, in the Cana­dian Rock­ies, in On­tario. Wolves were in camp­grounds, on pop­u­lar beaches, in back­yards. As Bob Hansen, a veteran park war­den who was named Pa­cific Rim’s hu­man-wildlife co­ex­is­tence spe­cial­ist in 1997, put it, “We are in a new wolf era.”

That era has a name: the An­thro­pocene, or Hu­man Epoch, a new ge­o­log­i­cal epoch that sci­en­tists ar­gue be­gan around 1950. Its sig­na­ture is the dom­i­nance of hu­man in­flu­ence on the planet’s sys­tems, from cli­mate change to de­for­esta­tion to the rise of the chicken as the world’s most nu­mer­ous bird. Ev­ery species now has its An­thro­pocene story.

And so, as Windle led me into a sur­real land­scape of rain­for­est ris­ing from shift­ing dunes, we were on the trail of the mod­ern wolf. Windle stooped to read a set of tracks. “These are dog, not wolf. Off leash,” he said, and laughed rue­fully. “That’s pretty much our num­ber one at­trac­tant with wolves.”

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween wolves and dogs is com­plex: wolves can seem cu­ri­ous about them as ca­nine cousins or at­tack them as ter­ri­to­rial in­vaders. In Pa­cific Rim, they mainly, as Windle del­i­cately put it, “tar­get them as a prey item and con­sume or par­tially con­sume them.” In ev­ery case that he was aware of, the at­tacks had been made on dogs that were off their leashes.

TO THE CA­SUAL READER of daily news, a wolf at­tack, whether on a dog or a hu­man, is a bolt out of the blue.

On July 2, 2000, a kayaker who was sleep­ing un­der the stars awoke to find a wolf sit­ting on his sleep­ing bag.

To Pa­cific Rim staff, such in­ci­dents are al­most in­vari­ably the cul­mi­na­tion of a process.

Con­sider, for ex­am­ple, the only known wolf at­tack on a per­son in the Pa­cific Rim re­gion, which took place in July 2000. The at­tack hap­pened out­side the park, on Var­gas Is­land, a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for the out­doorsy. For more than a year, ru­mours had cir­cu­lated that vis­i­tors were feed­ing wolves, in­clud­ing pups. The wolves were be­com­ing ha­bit­u­ated, mean­ing they were los­ing their nat­u­ral wari­ness of hu­mans, and they’d learned that they

could scav­enge our lit­ter, raid our sup­plies or even be of­fered treats.

“They had been hand-fed pieces of a whale car­cass that was sit­ting there,” Windle told me, re­mem­ber­ing one of the more wor­ri­some re­ports. In the weeks lead­ing up to the at­tack, at least four se­ri­ous en­coun­ters oc­curred be­tween peo­ple and ag­gres­sive, fear­less or food-seek­ing wolves in the area. Fi­nally, on July 2, 2000, a kayaker sleep­ing un­der the stars awoke in the night to find a wolf sit­ting on the end of his sleep­ing bag. An­other cam­per scared it away, but it re­turned, this time pulling on the sleep­ing bag with its teeth. When the kayaker be­gan shout­ing and fend­ing off the wolf, it at­tacked. By the time the wolf was chased away again, the man had bite wounds to his back, hands and head. It took 50 stitches to close the cuts on his scalp.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cers killed two wolves on Var­gas Is­land. If they had been hu­mans, we would have said that they were “known to the au­thor­i­ties”—they were the food-con­di­tioned pups, all grown up. WHEN WOLVES RE­TURNED to Van­cou­ver Is­land in the 1970s, they didn’t just find a dif­fer­ent land­scape—the peo­ple, too, were chang­ing. The older set­tlers, prone to shoot­ing wolves on sight, were giv­ing way to a new breed of hu­man that ac­tively wanted to in­ter­act with them. Around Pa­cific Rim to­day, sto­ries abound of peo­ple who tried to lure wolves into their base­ments with dog food or ap­proached wolves to take self­ies.

The strat­egy for peace­ful co­ex­is­tence with wolves seems straight­for­ward.

Many peo­ple be­lieve that get­ting close to wild an­i­mals is a way of liv­ing life to the fullest.

Keep a clean camp. Never ever feed wolves or leave food out. Avoid hik­ing alone and at dawn, dusk and af­ter night­fall. Keep your chil­dren close and your dog on a leash. Sim­i­lar rules, fo­cused on food stor­age and garbage man­age­ment, rad­i­cally re­duced con­flicts be­tween hu­mans and bears 20 years ago.

Many vis­i­tors fol­low these guide­lines for wolf co­ex­is­tence, but more than enough do not. Tough­est of all for peo­ple to ac­cept is that they should frighten away wolves they see, at any dis­tance: “Scare, don’t stare” is

a phrase coined by the mayor of Ucluelet. In­stead, de­luded by forces rang­ing from Dis­ney to wildlife doc­u­men­taries, from spir­i­tu­al­ism to so­cial me­dia, many be­lieve that get­ting close to wild an­i­mals is a way of liv­ing life to the fullest.

Windle un­der­stands the mag­netic ap­peal of wolves. Ear­lier in his ca­reer, he guided wildlife watch­ing tours, and if he saw a wolf, he’d linger, bask­ing in the an­i­mal’s wild mys­tery. Only later did he re­al­ize that, while a wolf is a rare sight to mod­ern hu­man eyes, a mod­ern wolf may be en­coun­ter­ing peo­ple all the time. “To have an in­ter­ac­tion with a wolf is pretty pow­er­ful,” Windle told me. “Ev­ery per­son calls it a once-in-a-life­time ex­pe­ri­ence. They don’t re­al­ize that the wolf has that same once-in-a-life­time ex­pe­ri­ence that day, and then an­other once-in-al­ife­time ex­pe­ri­ence later that day, and again the next.”

He stopped cold: he’d found wolf tracks, fresh ones. Even to my un­trained eye, they were easy to dis­tin­guish from dog prints, not so much for their large size (though some nearly match the span of my hand) as their greater sense of pur­pose—the straight-line ef­fi­ciency of an an­i­mal go­ing about the daily busi­ness of sur­vival. We fol­lowed the tracks for only a few paces be­fore they were over­laid with boot and dog prints. When we emerged onto a beach, I promptly counted 20 peo­ple on foot, plus seven surfers and a dog. A quiet shoul­der­sea­son day. Windle took in the scene.

“In many ways,” he said, “I think the wolves show a lot of re­straint.”

While a wolf is a rare sight to hu­man eyes, a mod­ern wolf may be

en­coun­ter­ing peo­ple all the time.

Three days later, in this same spot, a wolf at­tacked a Jack Rus­sell ter­rier, which walked away with only a bro­ken jaw af­ter its owner and sev­eral other peo­ple drove the an­i­mal off. None­the­less, it was the first known at­tack by a wolf on a leashed dog in Pa­cific Rim’s his­tory. The wolf in ques­tion was de­scribed as a large male with a black face.

TWO MONTHS PASSED. Then, on May 14, just two weeks be­fore the pair of re­source con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cers would be de­ployed there with 12-gauge shot­guns, a young woman named Le­vana

Mas­trangelo walked down Flo Bay beach to check an­other wildlife cam­era.

Mas­trangelo had placed the cam­era as part of a ge­og­ra­phy field course she was tak­ing, choos­ing as her site the mouth of Lost Shoe Creek, where wa­ter spills out of the rain­for­est to rush across the sand.

Mas­trangelo re­moved the cam­era and, joined by three other stu­dents, sat down to load the photos onto her lap­top. Then she hap­pened to glance across the stream and saw a liv­ing, breath­ing wolf.

“I took a cou­ple photos, and it just felt re­ally wrong,” Mas­trangelo told me. “I put down my cam­era and I just kind of watched her, and that’s when I got the mes­sage. And the mes­sage was that this wolf is very sad. This wolf needs help. It was say­ing, ‘Help me. I’m go­ing to die.’”

Mas­trangelo was more in­clined to think deeply about the en­counter than

Yu­ułuʔiłʔatḥ, most of us might be. Her mother had been born into the or Ucluelet First Na­tion, whose tra­di­tional ter­ri­tory in­cludes the south­ern half of Pa­cific Rim Na­tional Park Re­serve, but as a child had been re­moved and placed in Canada’s res­i­den­tial school sys­tem. Only in the past three years, as a uni­ver­sity stu­dent, had Mas­trangelo be­gun to re­con­nect with her Yu­ułu ił at roots.

Work­ing as a re­searcher for the Yu­ułu ił at govern­ment and later as its lands and re­sources co­or­di­na­tor, Mas­trangelo had learned that her fam­ily came from Quisi­tis Point. She also Yu­ułuʔiłʔatḥ. learned that wolves are sa­cred to the

In fact, they are the cen­tral fig­ures in one of the world’s most ex­tra­or­di­nary cul­tural rites.

“I put my cam­era down and watched the wolf,” says Le­vana Mas­trangelo. “It was

say­ing, ‘Help me. I’m go­ing to die.’”

An­thro­pol­o­gists have com­pared the Tlo:kwa:na, or Wolf Rit­ual, to sim­i­larly epic Indige­nous cer­e­monies around North Amer­ica, such as the Hopi Snake Dance and Sioux Sun Dance. Per­formed by var­i­ous Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties on Van­cou­ver Is­land and the Wash­ing­ton coast, the rit­ual can last 10 days or more. In it, peo­ple take on the role of wolves in or­der to cap­ture young peo­ple for ini­ti­a­tion into im­por­tant cul­tural prac­tices.

“In our tra­di­tions, we don’t kill

Yu­ułuʔiłʔatḥ wolves,” said Mas­trangelo, who now rep­re­sents the in on­go­ing

talks about wolves with Parks Canada and other gov­ern­ing bod­ies in the area.

Writ­ten records from the early 1900s Yu­ułuʔiłʔatḥ de­scribe the rite’s im­por­tance to the

town of Hi­tacu, just across a nar­row in­let from the broader com­mu­nity of Ucluelet. In those days, Hi­tacu’s re­la­tion­ship with wolves was so close that Tlo:kwa:na ini­ti­ates, howl­ing as a part of the cer­e­mony, might be joined by a cho­rus of liv­ing wolves in the nighttime for­est, and in­cor­rect per­for­mance of the rite—even singing the wrong words to a song—was said to cause wolf at­tacks. It’s a tra­di­tion, Mas­trangelo ex­plains, that asks us to look first at hu­man be­hav­iour when wolves’ be­hav­iour changes. From the per­spec­tive of Tlo:kwa:na, hu­man-wolf con­flict is a mes­sage to think harder about hu­man-wolf co­ex­is­tence.

As Mas­trangelo con­tem­plated her en­counter with the wolf at Lost Shoe Creek, she found more and more mean­ing in the wolves’ be­hav­iour in Pa­cific Rim. She re­al­ized, for ex­am­ple, that Novem­ber was the tra­di­tional sea­son of the Wolf Rit­ual, and it had been Novem­ber when Parks Canada is­sued its warn­ing about “bold be­hav­iour” by wolves, which led into months of hu­man-wolf con­flict.

“That’s when they made their first ap­pear­ance. That’s when they made their first kind of at­tack, their first ini­ti­a­tion, like, ‘Hey, we’re here right now, and this is what’s hap­pen­ing,’” Mas­trangelo said. “That was ac­tu­ally more pro­found than peo­ple may think.”

ON MAY 28, THE TWO re­source con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cers were wait­ing on Flo Bay. That morn­ing, a wolf had at­tacked a

Parks Canada doesn’t re­veal the names of staff who kill wolves. It’s

an un­pleas­ant, last-re­sort act.

golden re­triever as it was be­ing walked—the park’s sec­ond at­tack by a wolf on a leashed dog. The in­ci­dent took place on the beach below the Green Point Camp­ground, one of Pa­cific Rim’s busiest lo­ca­tions.

Once again, the wolf in­volved was a large male with a black face—a wolf with a his­tory. He had been seen heading south, toward Flo Bay.

Parks Canada doesn’t re­veal the names of staff who kill wolves in such cir­cum­stances. It’s an un­pleas­ant, last-re­sort act, and many peo­ple are typ­i­cally in­volved in the de­ci­sion.

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