Written by Peter Schleifenbaum
It has been a while since the last update on the status of our wolf saga was posted. It has been almost as long since we had a reliable, confirmed sighting of our two male wolves. To be exact, it was on February 18th and the location was app. 2 kms south of the Wolf Centre.
Over the entire time since we "kept the doors open", that is the doors of our "trap", which is the outside fence to the Wolf Centre compound. Our hope was that during mating season, which is now coming to an end, the males would have an increased incentive to approach at least the two adult female wolves remaining inside (additional to the 3 pups from last summer). Add to this the attractant of food, which we kept fresh by exchanging beaver carcasses every few days ... and I was very hopeful that one by one we would be able to recapture our two males. But so far, that was not to be. Another feature in our favour was the weather, which presented us with considerable snow, now at least 2 feet deep across the entire forest. This would have made travel and the search for food more difficult and certainly our two outside wolves must be hungry. But none of these elements made the males return and recaptured. There was a flurry of activity around March 1st, when suddenly the trap door was shut one morning. Soon after two separate, fresh sets of tracks were observed around the entrance into the "trap", which was closed once again. One staff, familiar with tracking, confirmed that those tracks were those of large wolves, possibly our two males. But that is the last observation we have.
I recently was asked if I was not happy knowing if/that the two males were able to survive and live out a free life in the wild. My response was this:
If I really knew that our two wolves were able to survive on their own and independent from human support, I would be happy for them. But we know that this is not the case. The alpha male was observed at least on one occasion on the local landfill. That is not what I consider a life in the "wild" and "free", not even considering health aspects. The two males, for most of the winter also fed on bait, which we kept outside the Wolf Centre in order to keep them around and close by.
But the other consideration, which is of concern is genetics. Just as much as I hope that local dogs, which are very close relatives to wolves – only 15,000 years removed in evolutionary terms – will not interbreed with wolves in the wild, I hope that our Wolf Centre wolves will not contribute to the local genepool. The latter animals are western timber- or grey wolves, while our local wolves are "Eastern" or "Algonquin" wolves, probably as far removed from western wolves in evolutionary terms as our dogs are. The fact alone, that our alpha male is black and black wolves in southern Ontario in the wild are basically unheard of, should convince us of the different genepools. I guess, if, within the next year or two we see "wild", black wolves showing up at Haliburton Forest, we will have confirmation that our two males have in fact reverted back to the wild and joined the local wolves ... and their genepool.
Unless there are new developments in this 2 month long saga, this will be the last post on the wolf release story at the Wolf Centre. I am as sad as most visitors and readers of this story that we were unable to have it come to a happy end. I can assure you that we have done everything we could think of and in our power to recapture our remaining pack members. Did we make mistakes? We certainly did, especially in hindsight ... but hindsight is exactly that. But trying to remain objective, I do not know that if we had done everything "right" we would have been able to recapture our two male wolves. But we also learned a lot about wolves and capturing wolves. What all of us at Haliburton Forest are very appreciative of and grateful for is the overwhelming support we have received from the public throughout this ordeal. Thank you very, very much for that !!!