keskiviikko 19. helmikuuta 2014

Wolf-human interactions in Canada and British Columbia

I came to Vancouver, Canada, a month ago to conduct my post-doctoral visiting fellowship at Simon Frazer University.  It feels nice to live in a busy and ethnically diverse coastal seaport city Vancouver in British Columbia. There are circa 603,502 people in the city, making it the eighth largest Canadian municipality. The city is hugely spreading urban region but fortunately the “Sky Train”, city’s metro line, helps to make quick connections from place to place.

In one month’s time, I have already noticed some similarities from media presented wolf news between Canada and Finland. The first one is the polarized debate about fearless wolves that are not afraid of human beings, and the second one is how should humans behave in wilderness so that wild animals (predators) would not become too accustomed to being around people.  In addition, in Canada, there is a current heated debate going on about whether the wolves who lose their fear can become a nuisance especially if these animals would try to obtain food from local people. Many people are also worried that wolves can become more vulnerable and unmanageable when and if wolves would start to step out from the national park areas.

Generally, in Canada, wolves are widespread and abundant, and, all provincial wolf populations are considered fully viable. In British Columbia wolves inhabit most land areas, and their current population number has been estimated to be approximately 6100 to 10 800 wolves. In BC wolves are largely absent only from the southern parts of BC and from the Greater Vancouver area.

During the early 20th century researchers in North America still concluded that free-ranging grey wolves (Canis Lupus) would pose little or no threat to human safety. Things have changed since then, and according to recent local Canadian news (Vancouver Sun, Jan 28th  2012) there has been documented cases of wolf packs, which show no fear of people especially on national parks lands. Some wolves have also been even aggressive towards people, and these kinds of incidents have been on the increase during recent years in Canada (Canadian Press Oct 28, 2011). 

On Vancouver Island, west of Vancouver city, wolves have started their new habituation in the actual Pacific Rim National Park lands. Since December 2010, there has been a dramatic increase in wolf activity in the park and its vicinity. A pack of three wolves existed in year 2010, and a newer pack of five wolves were confirmed to be in the National Park lands in 2012. During wolves mating season, wolves have also become more territorially aggressive.Nearby observations and their close presence to humans have caused some concerns to park visitors. 
In the Pacific Rim National Park the wolves had been observed as close as 50 meters by the national park staff, and a pack of five wolves showed little fear and just lied down in the open while being easily observed by workers. In Vancouver Island, due to sudden observations and fearlessness of the wolves, local hunters were permitted to kill three wolves on Vancouver Island.  In addition, in 2012 two additional wolves were found in a dumpster in Tofino area near the National Park but no charges were made against anyone. In Victoria local people are also being warned that their dogs can be preyed upon both wolves and cougars nearby or in the park lands.

In Canadian National Parks visitors are nowadays advised to keep moving on while walking on park areas, and not to approach wolves at all. Motorists are advised to honk their horns and people visiting park areas are not allowed to feed wolves from passing vehicles, leave any food outdoors or near tent after making their meals there. Even though this advice is stressed to park visitors some people do purposefully leave raw food on grounds in order to get a better photograph of an observed wolf.

In Canadian forest areas human encounters with wolves are extremely rare. But in and when wolves do approach humans, people are being strongly advised that in forests and parks lands people should make loud noises such as yell or throw rocks on them, and use in case of bear a bear spray if a bear or a wolf comes too close to human beings. Some people do think also contrary to these views and say instead that a simple talk or singing to animals would be enough to warn animal that one is human being. 

In conclusion, as I have written about the Canadian wolves, wolves exist around the world. In addition, wolves and humans can become accustomed to each others. Based on my first impression about wolves in Canada, people are not terribly afraid of wolves neither does Canadian government try specifically lead people to co-habituate same land areas with wolves but tries to minimize human-wildlife-conflicts. All in all, Canada is a nice country!