Few experiences embody the essence of Canadian wilderness like the haunting howl of wolves in the chill air of a backcountry night. Even better is a glimpse of wild wolves prowling a river’s edge or loping along a distant skyline. As paddlers we seek these encounters, like wolves on a scent. However, our feral romance of wolves quickly fades when a 70-kilogram predator enters our campsite.
In 1996, a biologist was killed at a wildlife preserve in Haliburton, Ontario, while feeding captive wolves. In 2000, a kayaker was attacked on Vargas Island in British Columbia by wolves that had been fed by previous kayakers and most recently, a Canadian folk singer was fatally injured from a coyote attack while hiking Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia.
Once humans are associated with food, it is only a matter of time before curiosity and hunger overcome fear, increasing the chances of close encounters that almost always result in extermination for the wolf, and can result in injuries or death for humans. Curiosity in wildlife is natural, and it is our responsibility to ensure that any interest in our campsites is never rewarded. The same principles used to protect wild bears from human carelessness should be applied to wolves.
1. Keep your campsite clean:
Locate your kitchen at least 100 metres downwind from your tent site. Hang all food and toiletries out of reach, or use animal proof storage devices provided at some campsites. In treeless areas, stow all food and kitchen equipment in animal-proof containers. Do not burn food scraps in fire pits—pack them out.
2. Frighten wolves away:
If wolves approach your campsite, scare them away with loud noises or by throwing sticks and rocks. While this may appear to cross the lines of wildlife etiquette, you are doing them a favour by convincing them to give humans a wide berth. In most cases, your simple two-legged presence should be enough to frighten them off.
3. Secure your gear:
Wolves are very curious, and any unsecured gear—drybags, shoes, and jackets—is fair game. Clip dry bags to your tent and leave shoes and loose items in your tent. This will alert you if an animal is trying to sneak off with your gear.
The last unprovoked, unfed wolf kill in North America has been traced back to 1922. However, with an estimated 60,000 wolves roaming the untamed regions of North America, and an ever-increasing number of humans searching for solace deep in the heart of their habitat, encounters between our two species are sure to increase. It is up to us to ensure that our dances with wolves remain distanced and friendly.
Dave Quinn is a wildlife biologist and wilderness guide based in Kimberley, British Columbia. He has worked extensively with carnivores and has led many expeditions into the heart of wolf country.