Wolf death reveals long-distance travels
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The end of a lone grey wolf’s life in the Whiteshell region of Manitoba marked the conclusion of a fascinating journey.
In recent weeks, Whiteshell Outfitters, a local hunting company, found a plastic GPS tracker collared to a legally hunted wolf’s neck.
Brian Roell, a wildlife biologist from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said the hunter reached out to a local biologist, who tracked the tag back to Michigan. It turns out the wolf had been tracked by the DNR since June 2021.
“We had ear tags and a branded collar and were able to track it back,” Roell said. “They asked us if we would provide a map, and we did.”
As the map revealed, the wolf’s vast travels spanned Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota and northern Ontario, before Manitoba.
“He really never did settle down,” Roell said.
For 30 years, the Michigan DNR has been tracking wolves to estimate regional populations and mortality rates and examine movement patterns.
“What’s really changed in the last five years is GPS technology,” Roell said. “It allows us to track wolves over greater distances outside our boundaries, so in this case, we know the wolf was up there.”
Between Michigan and Manitoba, the wolf trailed down the study areas of the University of Minnesota’s Voyageurs Wolf Project. Researchers took a keen interest in the wolf’s journey and shared the map on social media.
Thomas Gable, project lead, has studied wolf migration patterns with the organization since it was established in 2015.
“Right now, wolves in the U.S. or at least in the Great Lakes region of the United States, are an endangered or threatened species,” Gable said. “(This) effectively means that there’s no hunting of wolves in any of these states right now.”
In Canada, however, they are not considered endangered.
Paul Paquet, a biologist who has spent his career studying wolves, said the lack of protected status means the animals can be legally hunted throughout Canada.
Yet, as he explains, this one wolf’s journey demonstrates such geopolitical borders are mostly artificial for wildlife.
“It is, I think, pretty revealing that when we think about these laws and populations that their distributions, what they do and where they are is unrelated to these political boundaries,” Paquet said.
At the same time, inconsistent laws between those borders can be a life-or-death situation for wolves. While it would’ve been illegal to kill the wolf in Michigan and Minnesota, the wolf was legally hunted in Manitoba.
In any case, wolves are a critical part of many North American ecosystems, Paquet said.
“They’re what we refer to as an apex predator,” the biologist said. “They’re really at the top there. So, as a consequence, they have a pretty dramatic influence on all things in the ecosystem.”
While this wolf’s story may have ended in Manitoba, Paquet believes its journey fits into a greater narrative about wildlife movement in North America.
“Much of this probably would’ve been unknown without the advent of technology that allowed us to come to a better understanding of what actually is occurring,” he said.
“We’re seeing these long-distance movements and we’re able to document and confirm them. That suggests that there’s a lot more of this taking place than we might be aware of.”
Updated on Tuesday, January 3, 2023 12:25 PM CST: Added map of the route the wolf took.