For many hundreds of years, dog has been considered man’s best friend. In fact, there bond goes back much farther than that – wolf bones have been found with human bones dating back more than 100,000 years! As such, we think it only suiting that we give these loyal animals a feature in Wilderness Wednesday this week.
Genetically speaking, domestic dogs and wild wolves are identical. Variations in their dispositions and appearances come from about 35 generations of breeding for specific traits (like floppy ears or pushed-in nose, or behavioural traits like fetching or curling up in your lap), resulting in the creation of what we know as a “dog”. The wolves of Vancouver Island and neighbouring small islands are a distinct population that has been separate from the mainland for a number of generations.
These wolves are loyal to not only their mates but also their packs, which range in size from 5 to 20 members. They are incredibly elusive creatures, and while occasionally spotted on our trips, they are certainly much more likely to be heard than seen. At twilight some nights, their majestic howling will carry clearly across the water – an indication of the beginning of the night’s hunt.
Wolves hunt with their packs, and the alpha male takes the lead. If given the chance, they opt for larger prey; the dominant male distracts unsuspecting victims as he backs them into the waiting remainder of the pack. From there it is a simple game of numbers – with the wolves usually victorious. Failing the availability of any large targets, they will feed on fish and rodents.
While comparatively aggressive to many other forest dwellers, Vancouver Island wolves pose little to no threat to humans. Currently, there are no records of wolves killing humans, and those that have bitten people have been habituated in almost every case. In fact, statistically, you are more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a pack of wild wolves!
The Pacific Wild website has some great footage of Grey Wolves (relatives of those found on the island) located up north a little farther in the Great Bear Rainforest: http://pacificwild.org/site/great-bear-live/raw-pacific-wild-live/wolves.html. Study up and then come on a trip with Spirit of the West for a chance to hear (or, if lucky, maybe even see) the Vancouver Island wolves!