WOLF NEWS #4
When Spirit Way Inc completed the wolf mural on Highland Tower in 2005, a great deal of unexpected public and media interest was unleashed. CTV produced a half hour TV show on “Manitoba Moments”. The Toronto Globe and Mail wrote an article. The Winnipeg Free Press did the same. Even unsolicited public donations were received from strangers who wanted to contribute to the proposed wolf park at the Thompson Zoo. After the first 24 painted wolf statues were released in 2006, public interest, donations, and support kept increasing. In 2012, the first international Wolf & Carnivore Conference was held in Thompson. Magazine editors and independent writers starting writing about the Wolf Capital of Canada until an American wolf education institute stated, “You guys should be the Wolf Capital of the World because of all the different wolf projects you have going”.
During this time, one nagging question kept arising by local people who said, “I’ve never seen a wolf around Thompson. How can we be the Wolf Capital?”. In response, in 2009, the Spirit Way Board launched a campaign to encourage the public to post any public wolf sighting within 100 miles of Thompson on www.thompsonspiritway.ca. That has developed into a $55 (North of 55) monthly prize for the Best Wolf Photo of the Month.
What has become evident is that the north’s dense boreal forest and the elusive nature of wolves keeps them hidden often, but not always. As wary as wolves are of humans, they are an intelligent and curious apex predator species. Even if you don’t see them, they may be watching you as you camp, fish, hunt, canoe, or just drive by on the road. Human/wolf conflict issues are extremely rare even if you see a wolf close by. The paramount bit of advice wildlife managers will state is “DO NOT FEED THE WILDLIFE”. Once a wolf (or any carnivore) gets used to people food or garbage, they can become habituated to humans and that will sooner or later cause a conflict. If that conflict has to be resolved by wildlife officials, it may mean the death of the animal.
Over the past few years on www.thompsonspiritway.ca, some remarkable photos and video clips of wolves have been posted by the public. Often from fleeting glimpses as a wolf is seen and vanishes. Many sightings occur, but people have mentioned that once they dig their camera or smart phone out of their pocket, the wolf is gone! Whether you get a photo or not, Spirit Way still requests you post the text information… Where? When? Details? This provides valuable information about movements, occurrence, health, density, etc. Some of these are also posted on Facebook/Wolf Capital of the World.
Some fascinating photos now show – wolves in summer when their fur is thin; wolves with a parasitic mange condition that does not bode well to last the next winter; wolf pups playing along a river shoreline; gray wolves (canus lupus) of different colors – tan, white, black, and various shades of gray; and many other photos of beautiful and majestic predators.
One video clip posted on January 11, 2016 by Armann Jonasson, on Facebook/Wolf Capital of the World, of a wolf howling in front of his truck and listening to the alpha male or female howling in the background while the pack is on a hunt, has received a remarkable 212,000 views from all over the world! This is a Facebook record for Thompson.
Recently, Kristie Crate was traveling about 20 miles north of Thompson when she spotted a black wolf and white one crossing the highway. When she stopped her car, the white wolf disappeared in the forest. The black one stayed at the edge and watched with curiosity. Was this the first time this wolf had seen a human? Kristie took out her camera with a 300 mm lens and took a photograph of a black wolf with its piercing eyes. This striking image (see photo) represents the beautiful nature of our Canadian wilderness in the North. Kristie won the prize of the month.
As the humans become more urbanized (82% of North America), fewer people globally get to experience wilderness and wildlife. Even if you never see or hear a wolf in the Thompson region, be grateful that they are out there as they have been for tens of thousands of years doing their part towards keeping a balanced ecosystem of prey and predator.
YOUR photo or your text of a wolf provides proof that wolves roam in northern Manitoba and helps to build a wolf economy in Thompson and region in the fields of science, research, education, eco-tourism, conservation, events, art and culture. Keep posting!
WOLF NEWS #3
The first phase of the newly recreated Boreal Discovery Centre has been developed, and Spirit Way Inc is in the progress of the final touches to turn this labour of love over to the Boreal Discovery Centre Board of Directors. Over $240,000 has been raised and spent towards a world class wolf habitat and education centre. Volunteers spent four years researching how to design and build the best wolf park by visiting sanctuaries in Minnesota, Idaho, and British Columbia, and consulting with wolf curators and landscape architects to utilize optimal ideas from each. Other wolf sanctuaries provided input into the final design for Thompson.
This exhibit, created over a 1 1/4 acre combination of disturbed and pristine boreal forest, is by far the most state-of-the-art facility amongst its type in Canada. The wolf habitat meets or exceeds international standards, as well as space per animal. It is a gigantic 52 times larger than the previous wolf enclosure in Thompson built in 1983! It includes earthen berms, two dens, a pond with waterfall, natural virgin forest, and a retirement zone for older wolves and high ground features to reduce stress in pack animals. Life expectancy of captive wolves that have been rescued and live in a natural space can exceed double their life span when roaming in the wild. The natural treed area in the park is as beautiful as any of the over 100 wolf parks and refuges in North America including the one at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg. The solid and double fencing allows wolves to be unseen and undisturbed when they retreat into the forest. Yet, in winter, their curiosity will draw them close to the viewing windows with children peering from the inside.
The Boreal Discovery Board must follow strict Wildlife Branch regulations before wolves are eventually brought to Thompson. No animals can ever be taken from the wild, nor can rescued wolves ever be returned to the wild.
Compliments and praise have been received from architects and planners on this development. Support and accolades for the design have come from various sources:
– A CAZA director stated, it’s an “impressive project”.
– Community Places provided $50,000 for this project.
– A senior UCN Executive made an unsolicited, personal $1000 donation.
– An independent wildlife film maker, who owns two rescued wolves, visited Thompson and said, “This is the best habitat space I have ever seen for wolves. I’d like my animals to retire here.”
– UCN Elders toured the site in August of this year with Board directors and commented… “We did not expect to see an exhibit of this size for the wolves.” Actually seeing is believing.
Spirit Way Inc’s goal was to exceed current CAZA (Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums) standards, and President Marion Morberg is proud to say that they have achieved this. The goal is turn over the wolf habitat after the Wolf Viewing and Study Centre building is complete which is the next and last phase. An architectural concept has been prepared for a beautiful 2000 sq ft building that allows for viewing of wolves all year around. Interpretative displays in this education centre will enable students, families, and visitors to learn of the important value of this apex predator in a balanced eco-system. Outside experts have mentioned that Thompson and region can be an example to the world of “best practices in all things wolf” as human/wolf conflicts are rare in northern Manitoba.
The quality animal care standards that are being incorporated into the landscape will carry on into the next phases of development as the Boreal Discovery Board moves ahead with its ambitious plans for caribou, lynx, gray owls, eagles, and sturgeon, all species in the northern boreal forest. This facility will eventually provide strong educational programming that will stimulate all guests to value the boreal forest and the plants and animals that live therein. It will become a tremendous asset for Thompson over the next few years.
Stay tuned for the grand opening in the future, and they will love to show you their vision and other plans!
WOLF NEWS #2
Since Dr.Alistair Bath, Professor of Geography, from Memorial University, Newfoundland, attended Thompson’s first international Wolf and Carnivore Conference in 2012 as a keynote speaker, Spirit Way Inc. (SWI) has been communicating with Canadian universities on wolf related projects. Dr. Bath became intrigued with a small city in northern Manitoba where there are no major wolf/human conflicts and residents are willing to co-exist with the top predator in the boreal forest.
“I don’t see this anywhere in the world, where I have facilitated sessions in the field of human dimensions, that in Thompson people and businesses are supporting the drive to be the Wolf Capital of the World,” stated Dr. Bath. One of Bath’s Master degree students, Bonnie Bishop, started her thesis work on researching the perception of Thompsonites toward wolves. Over 700 surveys with more than 100 questions were delivered at random to residents. The feedback showed a majority base of support for wolves in general and the idea of developing a Wolf Centre of Excellence. Bishop’s three year thesis will be completed in late 2016.
Ulf Runesson is the dean of the faculty of Natural Resources Management at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He met some of the SWI contingent at the Wildlife Society conference in Winnipeg in October 2015. Runesson’s faculty team of students had a display of drones that they design and build for government and industry research projects. Discussions with Volker Beckmann, volunteer project director of SWI, soon led to ideas for wildlife research in Northern Manitoba, that has been labeled as a “researcher’s dream world” by author Erin McCloskey (“Wolves in Canada”). Very little is known about wolves in the North regarding population densities, diet, movement, prey/predator relationships, etc. Dr. Paul Paquet, one of Canada’s foremost biologists and a wolf expert and researcher, has stated that there is very little scientific knowledge about wolves in northern Manitoba. He felt it would important to gather base data about prey and predators while the North’s boreal forest was still in a pristine state, and before all-weather roads, hydro dam electrical corridors, and climate change might change animal movements forever. Indigenous traditional knowledge may no longer apply in the future, he commented.
Dean Runesson saw the opportunity and took it back to his classes at Lakehead U. A few phone calls and Skype sessions later with Volker Beckmann and Daryll Hedman, Northern Wildlife Manager, several Master degree students expressed their interest in wolf research. Discussions were held with Hedman for guidance and approval. Larissa Hutton will now be the main university student to come to Thompson in early winter to determine wolves and moose populations using thermal imagery. The objective is to determine wolf density and prey/predator ratio around the Thompson area, and that compares to other regions in Canada where moose are in decline.
Discussions have been held with professors at several Manitoba universities about more research projects for under and post graduate students. In recent weeks three students in the Environmental Science and Studies Program at the University of Manitoba have contacted Spirit Way Inc. to undertake a wolf project in the Thompson area. Their professors, Dr. Rick Baydack and Dr. Dave Walker, were involved in some of the first wolf research in northern Manitoba for Manitoba Hydro during 2010-12.
These students are interested in studying wolf population and dynamics in the Thompson region and how this could relate to eco-tourism opportunities. All big game including wolves and the hunting or trapping thereof in Manitoba is managed by the Department of Sustainable Development. Currently, the Province is also doing wolf research in eastern Manitoba to determine interaction between wolf and moose in the region.
Spirit Way Inc. is currently fund raising to launch a wolf and polar bear research project along the coast of Hudson Bay that would be of interest to international researchers. Wolf biologists at the University of Winnipeg and Calgary have expressed interest in this research because of the unique dynamics between two megafauna that is not well understood.
As Thompson and the surrounding boreal forest region become recognized for its study, research, and education opportunities, it will become an important hub for wildlife and environmental knowledge and continued learning. Spirit Way Inc.’s volunteer Project Director, Volker Beckmann, explained a long term goal is to develop a best practices model for “all things wolf” that would be unique in the wildlife and conservation sector world wide.
“Wolves are being hunted for sport and culled in many American states and Canadian provinces.” said Beckmann. “That does not happen in northern Manitoba because people have a more positive attitude towards wolves”. This co-existance acceptance is what continues to attract attention from outside universities and wildlife organizations to northern Manitoba.