Wolf speculation in Atlantic Canada

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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.

Organizations: Natural Resources Department, Dalhousie University

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Atlantic Canada New Brunswick.As North America Minnesota St. Lawrence River New England

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Recent comments

  • Dean
    April 30, 2012 - 07:41

    Last time I looked Labrador was a part of Atlantic Canada, wolves have been around here for ever. They are doing very well and contrary to some comments humans have nothing to fear from them.

  • Taylor
    April 29, 2012 - 23:08

    If wolves are returning to Atlantic Canada after being hunted to extinction 80 years ago, we should regard it as a positive sign of nature's resilience. Also, although ignorance makes people fear wolves more than coyotes, wolves actually pose less of a risk to humans, as the article states. I am glad to see other comments supporting less shooting and more planning so we can peacefully co-exist with nature instead of tryign to destroy it.

  • Fred Penner
    April 29, 2012 - 19:44

    I am no expert on the behaviour of these anilmals but it might be an idea to arm yourself if you are planning a walk in the wild.

  • Johnny
    April 29, 2012 - 15:51

    @Jeremiah and Stephanie: Wolves are not endangered in the first place and there are ideal protection laws for them where they are endangered. This man did not know this was a Wolf in the first place, so what could he do? Not sure where you guys got the idea that we are trying to exterminate them, by shooting them we are managing the population so it does not get out of hand. Shooting something that was thought to have been extinct on the Island in the first place is totally different, there was nothing that he could do.

    • J
      April 29, 2012 - 18:54

      The Newfoundland wolf is completely extinct. Doesn't get much more endangered than that. But that's not my main point. As for where they're getting the idea that extermination is the goal, I refer you back to the article, which stated, and I quote: "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.”" The idea comes from the fact that the government encouraged the destruction of the wolves. It's pretty clear. I'm not against hunting by any means; in fact, I support it. However, I DO agree with Stephanie and Jeremiah because now, two provinces are completely devoid of wolves, which is unnecessary. Who knows, with a few Newfoundland Wolves still existing, maybe less people would die from crashing into moose.

  • Jeremiah
    April 29, 2012 - 14:59

    Stephanie, you are so right. This "shoot anything that moves" yahoo mentality is silly. Manage those animals, don't try and exterminate.

  • Devon
    April 29, 2012 - 14:16

    Well, I hope the results get released next week. In my mind, no doubt that it's a Wolf.

  • Stephanie
    April 29, 2012 - 12:53

    we need to stop shooting these animals and come up with solution besides killing because were just going to get out of hand and endanger if not kill off their existence. Like the many other uncountable species

    • Rosa
      April 29, 2012 - 16:48

      I hate this picture. I am so sick of seeing this beautiful animal's dead eyes looking out of my computer screen. I know wolves and/or coyotes can be dangerous, if in fact this is what it is, but overkill is overkill. Quit printing the picture.