On wolves and coyotes

Paul Smith
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We discovered just recently that the large predator shot by avid hunter Joe Fleming on the Bonavista Peninsula was a full-breed Labrador wolf.

The 82-pound critter was shot back in March and we outdoorsy people have been waiting patiently ever since to find out its true nature. Was it a big, oversized, brutish coyote or maybe a wolf and coyote hybrid?

We have been told for many years that there are no wolves in Newfoundland; so much for that theory. There was at least one. Who knows how long he was roaming about here on the island, a long jaunt from his home territory and kin? And there may be more.

Apparently, sorting out wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs isn’t a simple matter.

Memorial University, in co-operation with the University of Idaho, tested tissue samples from Newfoundland coyotes, Newfoundland dogs, Labrador dogs and Labrador wolves. Only then could they make a confident determination on the mystery critter that we now know was a wolf.

Many of us oversimplify things. Maybe we watch too many “CSI” crime shows, where samples are sent to the lab one day and the bad guy is arrested the next morning. Real-life science is more complex than that.

So, Fleming is the first hunter to shoot a wolf on the island of Newfoundland in 92 years. From what I read on The Rooms’ website, the last wolf shot was near Daniel’s Harbour in 1920.

The last sighting was a pair of wolves crossing Birchy Lake in the winter of 1922-23.

There were unconfirmed reports after that date, but what we do know for sure is that our wolves disappeared into the mists of time; extinct, we call it.

For many years, there was a bounty on wolves, five pounds sterling, established in 1839 to encourage the killing of wolves in the colony. Actually, the bounty, or Killing of Wolves Act, wasn’t repealed permanently until 1963.

I find it rather disturbing that we as a people, country and province kept a law on the books to encourage the killing of one of our native species all the way to extinction.

Although, from what I’ve read, the bounty and wolf hunting were only minor factors in the Newfoundland wolf’s demise.

The drastic drop in caribou numbers from 150,000 in 1915 to only about 5,000 by 1925 seems to be the final nail in the wolf’s coffin. Notwithstanding, we hunted them when only a few remained. If left alone at their lowest point, they may have bounced back and survived.

Many would say good riddance to the Newfoundland wolf. We are better off without them. We got them bloody coyotes killing our caribou and trotting around city streets. Isn’t that enough? Would you want your kids walking to school with wolves in the vicinity? Those beasts are even bigger and nastier than the coyotes.

For my part, I’m not so sure about all this wolf negativity.

First off, wolves have been given a very bad rap that they don’t really deserve. In the past 100 years, in all of North America, only two humans have allegedly been killed by wolves. These attacks occurred in 2005 and 2010 where garbage was being illegally dumped and many large predators were frequenting the area.

In any case, wolves are not the man-killers that many people make them out to be. Fiction writers and TV have encouraged our fear of wolves beyond all reason and logic. Many more people have been killed by domestic dogs. Moose have trampled more humans to death.

And with regard to killing caribou, the Newfoundland wolf lived in harmony with both caribou and Beothuks for many centuries until Europeans entered the mix.

Sometimes our actions come back to bite us hard on those tender buttocks. That might be what happened here in Newfoundland with wolves and coyotes. It’s well established by ecologists that wolves don’t like coyotes wandering around their territory. Wolves will kill coyotes.

I know they must be a lot better at hunting coyotes than yours truly. I haven’t had much luck yet, but I’ll keep trying.

This is pure speculation and theory on my part, but I wonder: would the coyote have gotten a secure foothold in Newfoundland if our native wolf population had been alive and well?

I’m confident wolves would have taken action a lot faster than our politicians and bureaucrats. It took close to a decade before us hunters were even allowed to shoot a coyote. The wolves would take care of business quicker than that.

What we have at present is nature thrown out of balance with the skyrocketing coyote population. No doubt things will settle down into some sort of equilibrium, but those thousands of predators are surely not helping our troubled caribou populations.

We’d be better off today if we had kept our wolves. From what I’ve learned about coyotes, we aren’t getting rid of them any time soon.

And on a parting note: to those who believe in the conspiracy that coyotes were introduced intentionally by whomever — they argue coyotes couldn’t walk over to our fair island on the ice — you’d better tell that to Joe Fleming’s wolf, unless you think someone sneaked him over to St. Barbe on the Apollo.


Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at


Organizations: University of Idaho

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Birchy Lake, North America

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Recent comments

  • Jeff
    June 04, 2012 - 06:32

    This article is completely contradictory. You take a first stance of on human vs wolves, stating how they were hunted to extinction and have a bad rap. Then you speak about how you hunt coyotes, and wish we had been able to do it sooner. Up until that point I thought I had known where you were headed.

  • Howard
    June 03, 2012 - 11:41

    Great article Paul! Joe Fleming also said that he saw more huge tracks in the area like one he shot afterwards. Many other hunters in central and western parts of the island have saw huge tracks for years. One hunter this past year saw three sets of 5 inch tracks together after a caribou. He has pictures of them on NewfoundlandWaterfowlers (an NL trapping site). The other hunter has seen large tracks for so many years now over in Central NL, four videos of these tracks have been uploaded to youtube by this person. Look up "NFLD wolf tracks2" and go to his profile to view them. I am sure some people have heard about the wolf in Gander that never made the news. A hunter snared what he supposedly thought was a wolf, he brought it to wildlife and they confirmed it to be a wolf. All of the evidence provided above supports the idea that wolves have a breeding population established on the island.