Help Us Find & Protect Rare Wolves
Help us fund a wolf survey in between the park protection zones so we can better understand where these rare wolves live and how best we can protect wide-ranging wolves, their family packs, and ultimately their species.
We need to start surveying immediately, and I have an opportunity to go to an area home to a lone Algonquin wolf to determine if there is now a whole family pack living close to one of the protected areas. If there is, we can fight for their protection. I am trying to raise enough money to start next year's wolf tracking project early to take advantage of this opportunity between Christmas and New Year's Eve. Wolves travel many kilometres in a day - it's now or never for this particular survey. It would be the best holiday gift I could ask for to raise the funds we need to do this!
An Algonquin wolf (AKA eastern wolf) near Algonquin Provincial Park Photo courtesy of Wes Liikane.
Timing is great for other reasons too - surveying wolves is best done in the winter when we can track their movement in the snow. Researchers also know that most wolf pups leave their family pack around this time of year, hoping to find a mate and territory of their own to raise a family in. Sadly, when they leave protected areas, they are killed before being able to do this - 80% of radio-collared wolves that left the protected area of Algonquin Provincial Park were legally trapped or shot within 1 year.
Since Algonquin wolves and eastern coyotes look so similar, DNA tests are needed to identify them to species. To prevent harm and disruption inherent to GPS-collaring of wolves (which entails either net gunning from helicopters, or foot snares and anesthetics), we get DNA from non-invasive samples (urine, hair and scat - otherwise known as wolf poop!) and have it analyzed in a lab at Trent University. We find the wolves, but the wolves hardly notice we are there. Freezing cold temperatures in winter keep the DNA in perfect condition, which allows us to learn the gender of individual wolves and how closely they are related to each other after they are ID'd to species. We also use trail cameras to keep tabs on the health and family structure of wolf packs.
Here's an image of 2 Algonquin wolf pups captured on a trail cam near Algonquin Park in 2013:
Last month, researchers published a study using past non-invasive DNA wolf surveys showing that the Algonquin wolf population is likely so low that they are at risk of going extinct in the short-term. I had the distinct pleasure to manage that DNA wolf survey for a field season, and when I realized the dire situation these animals were facing, I left research behind and began working for Earthroots , where I now spend my days trying to protect the wolves I used to study in the wild. As it turns out, to protect wolves you need to be a researcher and an informed advocate.
In order to recover this amazing, unique wolf species, we need to survey Ontario to find more wolves and wolf family packs. Once we know where they are, my organization stands a much higher chance at protecting them with strong hunting and trapping restrictions.
The money we raise here will be used to:
- buy a GPS unit to track our own tracks and sample locations
- buy DNA sampling kit supplies
- pay a dedicated field team for a week of sampling, including vehicle, accommodations in wolf habitat, and thermoses of piping hot coffee to keep us going and warm our fingers when they are too numb to move (collecting frozen urine with nothing but latex gloves on your hands in -20 degree weather is cold work)
- buy a professional trail cam and set it up
If we raise the money in time, to help show our gratitude me and my dog Charlie Dickens (whose ancestor was a grey wolf) will howl outside for joy. With your help, the wolves will howl back!
Charlie Dickens, preparing to howl:
- Hannah & the Earthroots Team
P.S. Want to sign up as a Wolf Defender and find out what the survey reveals? Email sign-up is easy right here .
P.P.S. If we raise more than we ask for, I will use the funds to do more surveying later this winter - the more funds we raise, the more wolves I can find and fight to protect!
Hannah Barron is a Master of Science candidate and Director of Wildlife Conservation at Earthroots Coalition, a Toronto-based non-profit organization that advocates for improved protection for Ontario's wilderness, wildlife and watersheds.
Until then, here's an overview of what we accomplished over the holidays:
- tracked wolf/coyote trails across back roads, the Ganaraska trail, hydrolines and deep into crown land forests where we collected a total of 7 urine samples
- scouted trail cam locations
- met with folks interested in opening up their land for the Ontario Wolf Survey team
- identified high-priority areas for more surveys
- planned a meeting to educate a cottager association about wildlife in their area, and how we can all coexist
For those of you itching to know more about the unique genetics of Algonquin (AKA eastern) wolves, and how the samples we collect are used in DNA profiling and data analysis, you can read about the Eastern Wolf Survey from Trent University that I contributed to in 2013/2014:
Rutledge et al. 2017. Patchy distribution and low effective population size raise concern for an at-risk top predator. Available from Diversity and Distributions at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1111/ddi.12496/full
I continue to use the same methodology, and our data will be delivered directly to provincial researchers and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry following expert DNA analysis that will be conducted out of Trent University's Natural Resources DNA Profiling and Forensics Centre.
Want to learn more about non-invasive wolf sampling? Dr. Linda Rutledge, lead researcher at the Eastern Wolf Survey, shows how we get DNA from wolf scat and the reasons we choose these sampling techniques over collaring and blood sampling.