The Wolf (Canis lupus) also known as the grey wolf, western wolf, and northern grey in BC, is the largest of the North American canines. It is estimated that there are approximately 8,500 wolves in BC.
Wolves are closely related to coyotes and domestic dogs but have noticeable differences. Wolves are larger than coyotes and have a broader snout and rounded ear tips. While running, wolves tend to carry their tails out behind them unlike coyotes that will carry their tails downwards.
Wolves can have a variety of coat colours including black, mottle gray, brown and white. The black coat color is a result from wolves interbreeding with dogs over 45,000 years ago.
Wolves can weigh from 30-50 kg in BC with females being about 20% smaller.
Wolves are opportunistic carnivores and will also feed on carrion (dead animals). Wolves predate on moose, deer, caribou, elk as well as small mammals such as beavers, hares, and many small rodents. The wolves’ primary prey changes according to their region, for example some wolves have learned how to utilize salmon on coastal streams. When there is a surplus of food wolves will bury these items as a cache much like cougars do.
Wolves are very social animals using a large repertoire of sounds, scents and body language to communicate with each other. Howling is used by wolf packs to communicate over long distances while lone wolves remain silent to protect themselves from detection.
There is rigid hierarchy set in place in a wolf pack. Wolves packs are led by a dominant breeding male and female that will have one litter per year of 4-6 pups. Pack size usually consists of 4-8 animals but can expand if the pack preys on larger prey sources such as moose and bison. Breeding occurs in late winter and the pups are born in the den around the end of April or early May. The pups will not venture far from their den until the summer, and by late fall they will begin to travel with the pack to then eventually disperse to form other packs. Pups experience high mortality rates and adult wolves on average will only live to about five years of age in the wild.
Wolves are very territorial animals and will defend against incursion by other wolves. This defensive nature often leads to fights amongst wolves and can cause high mortality rates. Wolves will also attack off-leash dogs as they often see them as competition and a potential food source.
Wolves play an important role in the structure of predator-prey relationships. They often interact with predators like cougars and bears when competing for prey, and can influence prey populations, such as the number of deer or moose in an area.
Wolves tend to be elusive animals that avoid contact with humans, however as their habitat continues to be disturbed by humans, more wolves are starting to inhabit shared spaces. This means that we need to learn how to be safe around these animals and how to avoid conflict with them.
Wolf attacks on humans are very rare but attacks on dogs are quite common. Therefore, it is important to remember that while you are in wolf-country you should ALWAYS have your dog on leash, to ensure that your dog does not wander and become a threat or food source for wolves nearby.
As with most animals it is important to avoid wolves with young or wolves on a kill as they are often defensive and territorial in these circumstances. If you encounter a wolf and it is showing signs of aggression, you can use bear spray as a deterrent much as you would with a bear or cougar. If you are without bear spray and a wolf begins to approach you, be assertive with the animal by throwing rocks, yelling, making yourself appear large and threatening. It is important that you NEVER play dead with a wolf. When you are safe, be sure to call the Conservation Officer Service reporting line 1-877-952-7277 to report the incident. It is important that we report incidences like these as soon as possible to ensure the safety of others.
Wolves account for approximately 400 calls to the Conservation Officer Service reporting line every year. In order to reduce conflict with these animals and keep you and your neighbourhood safe, consider the following attractant management tips:
Pets and pet food
- Keep your pets indoors, especially at night, to avoid attracting wolves and other predators
- Feed your pets indoors if possible
- If your pets are fed outside, clean up all food afterwards and store bowls indoors
- Store your pet food indoors or in a bear-resistant bin
- Use a properly installed and maintained electric fence
- Store your feed in a secure location
- Ensure feeding areas are clean and free of attractants (feed attracts rodents which can in turn attract wolves)
- Clean up any accumulated seeds under the feeder to avoid attracting rodents which in turn attracts predators such as wolves
- Place the feeder as high as possible to avoid attracting prey species such as deer
- Take your feeders in at night
- NEVER feed deer or prey species as they can attract large predators such as wolves
- Urban deer present their own set of problems for your neighbourhood