An intrusion of wolves around Victoria and Hillside beaches is likely due to the predators searching out new food sources, experts say.

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An intrusion of wolves around Victoria and Hillside beaches is likely due to the predators searching out new food sources, experts say.

The highly mobile wolves have been affected by a decrease in the number of white-tailed deer in eastern Manitoba, which have been hit hard in recent years by harsh winters and deep snowfall.

They’ve now moved into the east beaches area to stalk a deer population that’s remained healthy in number in part because they’ve been fed by humans.

Daniel Dupont, a wildlife biologist with the province, said the wolves recently been seen in cottage country, and the ones attacking pet dogs, are likely adjusting to the decline of deer in their more traditional hunting grounds farther to the east and north.

"The thing about wolves is that they can be very mobile," he said, adding they are known to travel great distances in short periods of time.

The wolves (sightings are now almost daily) have likely also dispersed from a larger pack so that two or three of the animals are now attempting to establish their own territories.

Dupont said it’s not uncommon for wolves to attack dogs. Minnesota has recently experienced a similar problem, which has led to increased trapping.

"It’s not unusual behaviour," he said Wednesday. "A group of wolves would consider them intruders."

Four dogs have been attacked by wolves in recent weeks, three fatally. The last attack was early Monday on David Road in Victoria Beach when three wolves attacked and injured a German shepherd tethered outside.

A professional trapper with the Manitoba Trappers Association has been brought in by the province to capture the most-problem wolves, the ones which have attacked the dogs. The traps are live traps that do not injure the animals, set in case a dog is accidently caught. However, wolves that are trapped will be killed.

Experts say to attempt to relocate the animal to unfamiliar territory is inhumane as it would most likely die, either killed by other wolves or be hit by a vehicle.

Animals such as these coyote-wolf hybrids, or coywolves, may be responsible for recent attacks on dogs in the East Beaches area of Manitoba.

PLOSONE.ORG / WIKIPEDIA

Animals such as these coyote-wolf hybrids, or coywolves, may be responsible for recent attacks on dogs in the East Beaches area of Manitoba.

"There is no value in relocation," Manitoba Wildlife Federation managing director Rob Olson said. "It doesn’t lead to good things. You don’t relocate the problem somewhere else."

Olson said the wolf population — they are not an endangered species — has appeared to have grown throughout the province despite the decrease in white-tailed deer.

He said that’s because fewer people are trapping wolves for their pelts, which have declined in value. Trapping and hunting are seen as the best way to manage the wolf population. The province has already extended wolf hunting and trapping seasons province-wide in part to help moose numbers recover.

The province estimates there are about 4,000 wolves in the province.

Olson said wolves attack dogs because it’s a lot easier for them than chasing down a deer. It also doesn’t take long for a wolf to become accustomed to stalking and killing a dog or even livestock, and then repeating the behaviour.

"If you’re a wolf, why wouldn’t you turn to dogs?" he said. Wolves also eat smaller animals like mice and voles, and beaver.

He said they have also been known to force bears out of their dens in winter and kill them.

Dupont said the province does not have an estimate on the number of wolves in the east beaches area, and cautioned many sightings may be of the same animals.

He cautioned cottagers that just because traps have been set, it doesn’t mean the problem will be solved quickly. Trapping wolves is difficult at the best of times because the animal is extremely cautious. No wolves had been trapped as of Wednesday.

Dupont said pets should be kept indoors until the situation is resolved. Generally, the wolves will move on once their food source is depleted.

"The big thing to remember is that when there is a confrontation between a dog and a wolf, you don’t get between them," Dupont said. "You don’t want to put yourself in a position where you become the centre of attention for the wolf."

No one is 100 per cent sure just yet, but there’s a growing fear that four recent attacks on dogs in cottage country weren’t carried out by wolves, but by a new predator called a "coywolf."

There has to date been no documented case of coywolves in Manitoba — the hybridization between coyotes and wolves is rare. However, a number of coywolf attacks on pets have been reported in Toronto over the past few years. It’s also been reported that increased hunting and trapping pressure on wolves has led to mating between wolves and coyotes.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca