Joe Fleming of Spillar's Cove, near Bonavista, poses with a large coyote he killed on the Bonavista Peninsula. — Submitted photo
By Adam Scotti
THE CANADIAN PRESS
The sightings of two suspected wolves in Atlantic Canada in recent weeks has left experts wondering why the animals may be in a region of the country where they have not been seen for decades.
An 82-pound canine was shot in Newfoundland in early March. At the beginning of April, a 90-pound animal was shot in New Brunswick.
As the first kill of his coyote hunting season, New Brunswick hunter Jacques Mallet couldn’t believe the size of the animal.
“When I killed it, we were a bit nervous weighing it,” Mallet said.
Mallet called New Brunswick’s Natural Resources Department, which took samples for DNA testing.
“If it is a coyote, I think it would be a record for North America,” he said.
Biologists at Natural Resources believe wolves were hunted to extinction in New Brunswick by 1860, two years after legislation was enacted by the government to “encourage the destruction of wolves in this province.”
Fred Harrington, an animal psychologist, has studied wolves and coyotes for over 30 years and says he believes the animals are likely wolves based on their size alone.
Harrington says the average male wolves he encountered while working in Minnesota were between 75 and 90 pounds, with females being 10 to 15 pounds lighter.
He says both animals could have made it to Newfoundland and New Brunswick on ice floes, at which point they would look for territory and mates.
“Finding a territory would be kind of easy because there are no territories as far as I know staked by wolves south of the St. Lawrence River,” he said.
“Wolves can move hundreds of kilometres in search of suitable territory and in search of a suitable mate.”
Harrington says it’s also possible that the animals were kept as household pets and escaped, or they could’ve been deliberately released in a “misguided attempt to bring the animal back to their neck of the woods.”
“There is that sentiment,” he said. “There are people in New England who would love to have wolves back and of course the governments are not in the business of wanting to do that.”
It’s illegal to own wolves in both provinces, so Harrington says he doubts anyone would come forward to claim the animals if they owned them.
Simon Gadbois, a researcher at Dalhousie University’s canid research laboratory, says wolves and coyotes are known to have interbred, pointing to a study published last year that found the eastern coyote had eight per cent wolf ancestry and eight per cent dog ancestry in its DNA.
He said that could explain the animals in New Brunswick and Newfoundland.
“To be of that size, they would have to be recent hybrids,” said Gadbois. “They would have interbred with wolves or coyotes, depending which one is the first, some time probably one or two generations ago.”
Gadbois said if the animals turn out to be wolves, there is little cause of public concern.
“If anything, if there is wolf genes in those coyotes, I would think they would be less dangerous,” said Gadbois.
“Wolves ... keep to themselves typically. They are much less likely to stick around humans.”
DNA results for both animals are expected in the next several weeks.