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The Chilly Work of Saving Ontario’s Algonquin Wolf

Researchers don snowshoes and brave freezing temperatures to learn more about the threatened species

Photos and article by Andrew Budziak, Earth Island Journal

 

Hannah Barron instructs volunteer Suzanne Charron on how to best collect a scat sample without contaminating it. In -20°C weather, this is easier said than done. The scat freezes quickly and often must be cut out of ice and snow. To see more photos, click here.

 

Visibility is less than 100 feet. The snow is not only blinding, it’s making it nearly impossible to keep my car on the road. The car in front of me stops, and I realize I’ve driven over what we’re looking for.

Hannah Barron, a wolf researcher and director of Wildlife Conservation Campaigns for Earthroots, steps out of her car. Barron, her research assistant Adrienne Chalaturnyk, and I are the only people for miles. We’re standing on the side of a road near Ontario’s Killarney Provincial Park and I’ve just run over a set of wolf tracks.

“Sorry,” I tell Barron. 

“That’s ok,” Barron says. “We probably shouldn’t be driving in this weather anyway.” 

The wolf tracks tell us we’re close to what we’re there to document: scat and urine. Ontario’s provincial government is creating a recovery strategy for the Algonquin wolf, known outside the province as the eastern wolf. In 2016, the province declared the Algonquin wolf a distinct canid. Its status was moved to “threatened” which means the province has two years to come up with a recovery strategy for the animal.

I’ve met with Barron and Chalaturnyk as they hunt for DNA samples of wolves in and around Killarney Provincial Park to help better understand their population distribution. Wolf scat and urine provide great DNA samples, and this method of DNA collection is relatively non-invasive when compared to darting or collaring animals.

Barron heads over to the snow bank at the side of the road and starts wiping away the freshly fallen snow.

“If there is urine or scat here, it’s likely just below this recent snow,” she tells me.

 

Read the full article in Earth Island Journal.