Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lone #wolf chasing snowmobilers in Voyageurs National Park

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 4, 2015
Voyageurs National Park officials took the action.

A lone wolf that has followed several snowmobilers in Voyageurs National Park has prompted park officials to close and reroute small sections of trails there.

Normally, a wolf wouldn’t get close to humans, which makes the behavior odd, according to park officials and a top wolf researcher. The trail changes are being done to protect visitors and the wolf, said park Superintendent Mike Ward.

The wolf, who appears to be alone and without a pack, trailed or ran alongside the snowmobilers in three separate incidents over a 10-day period in the park’s Ash River area, Ward said. The wolf sightings were within a mile of one another near a junction of three trails in the 218,000-acre park along the U.S. and Canadian border, he said.

The snowmobilers who were tailed by the wolf had different reactions, Ward said. One was nervous by the behavior; another group likened it to a dog that was being playful. But no one described the wolf as being aggressive, he said.

A wolf running with snowmobilers is unusual, said renowned Minnesota wolf researcher Dave Mech. “I don’t know of another case like that here,” he said. “There was one case in Canada a few months ago and that wolf was rabid. But I don’t think this one is. There’s no record of rabies in wolves in Minnesota. Never has been historically.”

Instead, Mech suspects the wolf is just “naive and young.”

Young wolves generally leave their pack between 1 and 3 years old, usually before 2 years old in Minnesota, Mech said. “There’s plenty of these lone wolves around this time of year looking for a mate and some empty space,” he said. “They’re looking for a place where there are no other wolves and adequate prey. They have their own litter of pups and start their own pack.”  The wolf breeding season generally is over by the end of February, he said.

So it could be that this particular Voyageurs wolf didn’t find a mate, which explains why it was alone, Mech said. “But it doesn’t explain why it was chasing snowmobiles.” Wolves instinctively chase prey that’s running, he said. “And if it’s a normal situation, it’s usually deer. They chase it and kill it,” he said. “You can understand why every now and then one of them might get off base and start chasing something that isn’t edible. It’s sort of like dogs chasing cars. There’s no good reason for it,” Mech said. “They just do it.”

Mech doubts the wolf would attack a snowmobiler. “My guess is if the snowmobiler stopped and the guy got off of it, the wolf would turn around and run like the deuce.”

Mech likens the young wolf’s odd behavior to that of the young moose that ends up in southern Minnesota, far from its normal territory. “These are really young animals that really don’t know what they’re doing and they’re going off looking for a place to live,” Mech said. “Sometimes they don’t get things right.” 

So while Voyageur’s snowmobile-chasing wolf tries to figure life out, park officials will reroute portions of the Green and Yellow trails. “Because we can’t ask the wolf what it’s doing, we just need to separate humans from the wolf and try to figure it out,” Ward said. Biologists have gone out in search of the wolf to gather additional information, he said.