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In Praise of Wolves

November 10, 2010

Bill Mason is a hero of mine. Born in Winnipeg in 1929, he became an artist, an outdoorsman, a dedicated canoeist, and an award-winning filmmaker for the National Film Board of Canada. Some people call him the patron saint of canoers because of the great films he made promoting whitewater canoeing. But I prefer his wolf films.
I just watched again his most famous one, Cry of the Wild, a feature documentary made in 1972 that became an unlikely box office smash. Whenever farmers start raising a fuss again about wolves killing their cattle, I think of this film. It, and his two others –Death of a Legend (1971) and Wolf Pack (1974), should be required viewing for anyone who wants a free pass to shoot wolves.
Now it’s hunters who want to shoot them. The moose population is declining in some areas in Manitoba – and especially the northwest of Minnesota where a former population of maybe 4,000 has been reduced to a few hundred. Some are blaming the rising wolf numbers. There are probably 4 to 6,000 wolves in the province.
A strong mature wolf can only take up to four moose a year. So it’s likely other factors that are reducing moose numbers: disease, poaching, “climate change”.
I’ve been lucky enough to see two wolves in the wild here in Manitoba. The first time it was sort of funny, the second time pretty spooky.
When I was a better golfer, I once played a great golf course in Riding Mountain National Park where there was a resident wild population of wolves. First off the tee, I drove the 265-yard short par four, 16th hole and ended up, to everyone’s amazement a foot or so from the hole. Before the next guy at the tee could hit, a mangy tan and grey wolf came out of the bush, loped up to my ball on the green and nosed it away from the hole! Not in the hole, away from it. I guess it was hungry and thought my ball was an egg.
Several years later, a friend and I were out after dark traipsing through the woods behind his house and listening for Barred Owls on a Christmas Bird Count. His goofy Irish Setter bounded around ahead of us, quickly disappearing in the trees. After several minutes we stopped, called the dog, and looked all around for him. Suddenly we noticed a black canine outline behind us. At first we thought it was the dog, then realized that its head was too big and wide for a setter.
It was a boney, jet-black wolf. It eyed us, turned and trotted down the riverbank and across the ice toward a farm, sending shivers up our spines.
The dog eventually came back, none the wiser for the wolf. And not a meal for it either.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Marie permalink
    November 10, 2010 11:12 am

    That kind of gave me chills!! I would kind of like to see one in the wild… but then again maybe a coyote is spooky enough… I’ll watch the video instead!!

  2. November 10, 2010 3:19 pm

    Disturbing news about the moose crashes in Minnesota and Manitoba, and aggravating that with all we’ve learned about predator-prey relationships over the last century there’s still a knee-jerk tendency to make natural predators the scapegoats. To paraphrase what I wrote in reply to a comment about roadrunners and quail, wolves ate moose for millennia before we came along without causing them to go extinct. Moose hunters need to talk with their state/provincial wildlife biologists to find out what’s really going on and how they can help.

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