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Vancouver Island Wolf

Wolf at Clayoquot Sound
BC Grey Wolf at the zoo

Vancouver Island Wolf

Canis lupus crassodon

One of the shyest and most elusive creatures on Vancouver Island is the Vancouver Island wolf. A subspecies of the mainland grey wolf, this animal is endemic to Vancouver Island, and is considered an endangered species. Living in packs from five to 20, the wolves usually stay far from human activity. They are most common on the northern portions of the island, and as well within Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds, where most of their human contact takes place. Some controversy surrounds the wolves as they are one of the animals being blamed for the continuing decline of the Vancouver Island marmot.


Description


The Vancouver Island wolf is very similar in size and appearance to its relative, the grey wolf. Weighing between 20 and 60 kg (male, females smaller), the Vancouver Island wolf is generally considered to be lighter in colour overall than the mainland species, with some animals appearing almost completely white. These animals prey mainly on black-tailed deer and Roosevelt elk, only taking smaller game, such as squirrels, rodents, and beaver, when larger prey are scarce. Another hallmark of the Vancouver Island subspecies is their higher living density, up to 14 animals per km2.


Vancouver Island Range


Wolves are top level predators, typically requiring large ranges in order to find a sufficient amount of food. Living on Vancouver Island affords the wolf the ability to live in smaller ranges than usual, and at high densities, due to the abundance of deer. However, these animals still require a large area, as the packs are territorial, and can draw down local populations of prey if forced to remain in one place for too long.

Their distribution on Vancouver Island is restricted to forested and semi-forested areas. Once living up and down both coasts of the island, the wolves are currently most prevalent in the uninhabited northern coastal portions of the island, and as well on the west coast, as far south as Port Renfrew. Sightings occur occasionally on the coasts of Vargas Island and Meares Island in Clayoquot sound, as well as infrequently in Cape Scott Provincial Park.


Major Threats


As a wide ranging top predator, habitat destruction is the primary threat to these animals. Their native range has been greatly reduced by human incursion, and many areas that are potentially habitable are unoccupied due to fragmentation, as the wolf packs are generally unwilling to cross through developed areas, and thus leave those areas unutilized.

More direct threats from humans are common as well. Government sanctioned wolf kills have been conducted in the past, either to preserve the deer population, or to attempt to lessen the pressure on the Vancouver Island marmot. Though the total population remaining is estimated to be under 150 (Ministry of the Environment, 2008). hunting of the wolves does occur on the island, with many guides offering trips. The active hunting of reproductive adult wolves undoubtedly has the potential to extinguish the population on Vancouver Island.

These animals are at serious risk of permanent decline. With only two adults in captivity (Vancouver Zoo), prospects for captive breeding programs are slim. As fewer and fewer packs remain on the island, genetic transfer between the packs lessens, leading to repeated inbreeding and eventual reduced survival as a result.


Why they are Important on Vancouver Island


Top level predators are essential in ecosystems and exert a far reaching effect throughout the lower levels in the food web. Removal of this species, among other things, could lead to a runaway deer population, which could result in overbrowsing of the undergrowth, and the elimination or decline of many species relying on the growth for food or shelter. On top of this, the Vancouver Island Wolf is endemic to the island, and elimination from the island is permanent extinction from the wild.

 

Web site ©: The Institute for Coastal and Oceans Research (ICOR) at the University of Victoria, British Columbia Canada.