Eastern Wolf Tracks
Weight: 40-80 lbs
Eastern Wolf Trail
This wolf trail trotted along the North side of the Highway 60 corridor in Algonquin Park. It was made by a lone wolf who seemed intent to wander along the corridor with brief 50 metre ventures into the upland forest to the North of the highway. We followed this wolf’s trail into a forest near the Canoe Lake road and found a sweet little wolf bed on a ridge that overlooked a porcupine den to the South and several snowshoe hare trails.
We noticed tiny spots of blood around the bed. Initially, we wondered if this was from a prey animal but later realized that the blood had been likely coughed up or sneezed out by the wolf. The awareness of this little wolf struggling with either a respiratory infection or perhaps a scratched esophagus was heart-wrenching. I worried about this little one enduring the coldest days of winter without a kind veterinarian to lend a helping hand. Our tracking group noted very little wolf activity along the Highway 60 corridor during the tracking week in February 2015. During that same week, David LeGros, one of Algonquin’s leading park naturalists shared that there are approximately 170 individual Eastern wolves left in the world. 140 of these individuals live in Algonquin Park. In comparison, there are 1600 pandas in the wild. Pandas are an endangered species. Why aren’t the Eastern Wolves listed as endangered? I began to ponder the future of Algonquin wolves and the reasons for a decreasing population. Could numbers of wolves be declining as a result of maturing forests and declining deer populations? Dwight is a small town just outside of Algonquin Park’s west side. I stopped at the local Dwight gas station on my way out of the park and chatted with the gas attendant about whether she had seen any wolf activity. She enthusiastically voiced her concerns about wolves and how they are considered to be a nuisance around Dwight. She also mentionned that they see them all the time. Coincidentally, Dwight has a lot of deer. Interesting thoughts to ruminate on…
Upon dissecting this winter scat, likely from an Eastern or a Red Wolf, we found some mysterious evidence:
Our tracking leader, Alexis shared that when wolves predate deer in the winter months, they eat the fetus of female does as well.
“Scats that are composed of fur and bone persist the longest in nature. Any bone shards that are consumed are accompanied by hide and hair, which surround the bones and protect the innards from puncture. Canines post scats in obvious places, in the middle of trails or roads. Scats may accumulate along regular travel routes and near bedding sites and dens”*. (Mammal Tracks and Sign, page 473).
*Elbroch, M. 2003, Mammal Tracks and Sign, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.
My sister and I had a good chat about this while walking along the Waterfront Trail beside Lake Ontario this summer (2014). She says that another reason why canines eat fur and hair is to help clean out their intestines – like a furry wash cloth. I wonder if this is why my dog, who doesn’t get much fur or hair in his diet, eats grass instead? Maybe grass is a good cleaning substitute for fur or hair? My sister also has a friend who has an energetic dog on a raw meat diet. She has learned that dogs on raw meat diets produce small scats in comparison to dogs that eat processed kibble. She compares it with wild dogs (coyotes and wolves) that use up most or all of the energy from their raw food diet (especially in winter), often leaving behind only bones and fur in their scats (unless they are eating apple). It makes you wonder about domestic dog scat and how much waste is often left behind… and human scat as well. Perhaps we would be more energy efficient on a raw food (processed-food-free) diet? Fascinating!
This urine smelled quite strong. According to Mark Elbroch in “Mammals Tracks and Sign”, the scent of canine urine is strongest in winter before the onset of mating season. Urine that is slightly orange in colour (or red) may belong to a female that has come into estrus. Paul Rezendes describes how the scents of animals are like colours floating across the landscape, with subtle information in every cloud. Perhaps wolves sense the world as a colourful realm of wafting smells.
Wolves and Moose
On February 1st 2015, I completed a Cybertracker Track and Sign Evaluation with George Leoniak in Algonquin Park. On the last day of the evaluation, George located a fresh moose kill on the North side of Highway 60. We went to check it out and determine what had happened to the moose. Upon arrival, this is what we found:
Had the moose been hit by a car? We started to find clues that suggested otherwise. We encountered wolf tracks west of the kill site.
The moose carcass was at the bottom of a steep hill.
We went up the steep hill on snowshoes to find more clues. This is what we found:
There were two moose beds at the top of the hill. The hill was on the North side of the highway, facing South. Upon closer inspection we found evidence that two wolves had ambushed the moose while they were sleeping. We noticed one moose trail heading North into the forest. The second moose trail slid down the hill. Here is a closer photo of the moose bed. Look for two wolf tracks right in front of the bed:
I went to the top of the hill to look down at the carcass. On the hill, I could see moose tracks where the moose had made an attempt to get back up the steep slope.
There were signs of blood splatter at the top of the hill and wolf tracks where the wolf had attacked the moose.
This attack likely caused the moose to slide down the hill again, possibly injuring itself. If the injury was not fatal, the onslaught of the hungry wolves moments later would have been. The carcass was bitten into on the right shoulder.
This moose carcass will provide nourishment for many Algonquin animals that need it, especially during the late winter months when food is scarce and hard to find. We shared gratitude for this moose’s life.